What I would do to a rapist...

  • Castrate him? Spit in his face? Report him to the police? Would I have the courage and the presence of mind to do any of these when he has trampled on my body and my self-worth?

I am regurgitating these questions because they must be, especially if you read the letter I got in response (reproduced at the end). No one will sit in at Jantar Mantar for an 18-year-old who was raped in Delhi and then when she cried for help was again raped by those helping her. Our Home Minister was concerned about Delhi culture before the Commonwealth Games and roads and potholes. Has he looked into this culture?

I have already stated how wary I am about the media reportage of rape. Some cases do gather momentum, but the TV channels use them to project themselves as ‘saviours’. That is the reason I was hesitant to watch No One Killed Jessica. The other day I watched it on television and it was not as sensational as the promos made it out to be; I do not know whether it was heavily edited, but the journalist character who initially refuses to cover a ‘soft’ crime later becomes this grand do-gooder when she shamelessly takes over the ‘story’ peppering the urgency with invective.

On an earlier occasion during a love-making session when she gets a call, the hard-nosed hack gets up to leave. The guy asks, “What happens to me?” And she says, “Fly solo.” This was considered bold. We are such an immature society that a woman talking to a man she is intimate with speaking like this is seen as bold. More importantly, what was the point: to tell us that she does manage to get laid despite being a bazooka professionally? Or was it to contrast with the rape case she was taking up to give it to the big guys?

It is always about big guys. The small people and crimes against them don’t make us sit up and think.

But can rape, an intensely personal crime, be adequately covered? That is the reason for the queries at the beginning from a piece I had written on August 20, 2004.

I can only reproduce it with the same headline to express how I feel even today:

Castrate him? Spit in his face? Report him to the police? Would I have the courage and the presence of mind to do any of these when he has trampled on my body and my self-worth?

Would I kill him? Would I want to see him killed? These are cold questions confronting me because in one week I have had to contend with two faces of such brute behaviour.

Were I a slum-woman in a small town in India, would I have lynched a rapist? This is precisely what happened in the Indian city of Nagpur on August 13. 400 women stomped into the courtroom where dacoit Akku Yadav was being tried for murder and extortion; they knew he would be let out on bail. Such was life in their locality – he would walk into houses, drag women out and rape them. This was not lust. It was an assertion of his clout.

Why did these women take ten years to get rid of him? I do not know what snapped. That day they walked into the courtroom, threw chilli-powder at him and, as he was rubbing his eyes, they stoned him and stabbed him to death. Can I see myself as part of such a group? Does bonding in a sisterhood lessen one’s personal pain? Does every woman react to rape in the same manner?

We all have emotional scars which we bear in the silence of our hearts. What we lay bare are the tombstones that pronounce the demise of a part of ourselves. A lone woman speaking out becomes a chaalu cheez. The fact that this was a group has given it a different dimension altogether. The public display will at some point ghettoise them. What will happen to the young girls who would want to go to school, find jobs, get married?

Activists have applauded these “incarnations of Durga”, the goddess of redemption. I am scared that this could set a precedent. The courts in small towns may start believing that they do not have to play a vigilant role and the women can fend for themselves. Should every woman carry chilli-powder now? After she has been overpowered and humiliated, will she have to forget about the pain and the shame, and fumble to find that mirchi? And then gather the strength to kill her molester?

I would not be able to do that. I remember this vignette from an Indian play: the intended rape victim takes out a gun from her bag and makes her tormentor cut off his penis. Then she throws some money for his taxi fare and hands him her handkerchief to staunch the blood, mocking him with a “Thank you, I liked it”. I’ve never shied from calling myself a feminist, but I just could not connect with this.

Then, do I think it appropriate for a rapist to be hanged? Dhananjoy Chatterjee, who was the first person in nearly a decade to face the death penalty in India, refused to accept his crime. As his end drew near he listened to bhajans and read religious texts.

People are saying that capital punishment does not act as a deterrent, and as if to prove this, there has been a spurt of reported rape cases. Far worse, re-enactment of the hanging episode has become a new pastime; in one such case, a 12-year-old girl died while playing with a noose round her neck. So, has the punishment served its purpose or has it become some kind of melodrama that will spawn dialogue- baazi and amateur mimicry?

If I were the mother of Hetal, Chatterjee’s 16 year-old victim, I would have wanted the creep to live and suffer. Instead, today in his village he is seen as a martyr. Before he was taken to the gallows his family had threatened to commit mass suicide and had to be provided with police protection.

There are many such potential “heroes” roaming the streets. I was once at a beach resort in South India and a group of very young men kept passing crude comments. I got up from my deck chair and went up to the worst of the lot and tried to lecture him a bit; he started blowing cigarette smoke in my direction. That is when I lost my cool and punched him in the face. The rings on my fingers left red blotches on his cheek. But he held on to his ciggy, his machismo. Although I did leave some money, in case he needed first aid, I returned to my hotel room and cried. For a few months I even gave up wearing those rings. All I felt was remorse and guilt; at no point did I feel elated.

And that was, in comparison with the enormity of rape, a minor incident. We tolerate many such little offences in our subcontinental bazaars – elbows nudging breasts, bottoms being pinched. I begin to wonder whether our bodies are really our own. And just as I feel desperately low, I hear news of a young Muslim woman living near Kolkata being forced to marry her rapist, when the judge made that the condition of his release.

What would I do to a rapist?

(Farzana Versey)

- - -

This is the letter I had received in response. It sucks...

"Dear Versey:

This is in regard to your article you wrote. You were raped!!! whoa! and the rapist is about to be released. At the end you wrote that "What would i do to a rapist?". So i sujest that you should try to get over it and don't get confused. If you really like that guy you can always marry him. One of my friends married her rapist 17 years back. Now she has 3 kids and so she is living a happy married life now apart from the routine quarrels of husband and wife."

I find it strange that people cannot understand even the most straightforward writing. Worse, this guy had the audacity to expect a reply to let him know if I found his letter pathetic.


  1. I agree with you when you say that not many women would dare to react or have the presence of mind. However this is because women are taught to be docile and submissive. Western cultures specially in the later part of the 20th century have taught their women to stand up for their right. Not necessarily bashing up men but protecting themselves. Having what we lack- presence of mind.
    I also think it is because our media sensationalize women and crimes against women and we know that we can get away with nearly any crime thinkable. Castrate them? Wont work. Spit in their faces? Wont work again. This only spurs them on more. Stricter rules and a society that is more conscious about protecting itself could be a beginning.

  2. Farzana,
    At the outset , Thanks for bringing the terribly heinous crime in "fore-fronted discussion" at your blog. My own anecdotal experience here....
    An year or so back traveling in train from my own "birth city" (and visiting several close relatives there...) from Nagpur I ran into a NGO group travelling back to Mumbai. A cursory discussion revealed their agenda. The group was focussing on "male attitudes" as they found it to be "principal contributor" to the problems in man-woman relationships. "Sensitisation of men" appeared to be the agenda. Ironically, the group was all male. Ever heard of Tracy Chapman's "Sorry" was my question . With all hands were raised I was reduced to lamenting my first brush with the song via my ex.
    p.s.: Was a bit in travel - our own discussion on some of the previously un-concluded topics at your blog will continue in near future.

  3. This was such an intense post, FV.

    One would wish that the handling of rape cases would be strong and uncontroversial. But, sadly, one doubts that will ever happen.

    Perhaps you have heard of the incident at Yale- that Ivy of the Ivys- this past October? Prospective frat boys marched past the Women's Center, chanting "No means yes. Yes means anal."
    What is worse is that the editorial in the college newspaper then had the audacity to chide the Women's Center for its furious and aggressive response. Being too harsh on the high-spirited little boys, they were...

  4. I feel ashamed that I am part of a society where rape is either not acknowledged properly or is explained in chauvinist terms. However, rather than blaming individuals, we must focus on the oppressed sexuality of the Indian society as a whole. It is unnatural. We must understand that dehumanisation is a condition as applicable to a rape victim as it is to a rapist. We ought to become more open and objective about matters of sexuality. Indians owe this to themselves.

  5. Sexual inhibition in Asian societies is a recent phenomenon (historically speaking) Not that ancient ones were very liberal but that they were not always so rigid. West has gone through its own sexual revolution in the 1960s.

    But, more often these crimes are matter of control and dominance rather than sex per se. There is high prevalence of it in western societies still even after genuine empowerment of women (suffrage, reproduction rights, economic independence etc.) Only good thing is that here the criminals get punished except when they are catholic priests.

    So, it really comes down to culture.

  6. Agent Mulder:

    Those were rhetorical - and angry - queries I posed in the beginning. However, I am disturbed when you say such reactions will spur the men. Is it a win-win situation? I am also not sure about how western independence can prevent rape. I agree with you about the media portrayal.


    I do believe this should be in the forefront and try to act on it whenever I can. Re. Male sensitisation, it is imperative where crimes are concerned but as a matter of their own well-being and not as a gesture of understanding.

    ('Sorry' has such deep resonances. Had posted it here a while back)


    The Yale example only proves that such attitudes are pervasive everywhere, only the degree and reactions differ. The response to the angry female students is so reminscent of how women in our part of the world are often told, "She asked for it".


    You mention oppressed society, but what about those sections that are exposed to liberal thinking and behaviour? Why do they commit such crimes when they can have relationships, even those without strings attached if it is mutually acceptable?


    The sexual revolution in the west did not ensure that crimes against women would not be committed. Our tribal societies are more open in this respect but once they are sought to be made 'inclusive', their mores are forced to adapt because of outside exploitation.

  7. Farzana,
    For a change and despite our very sharp differences on several issues - including the ones under current discussion on other topic at your blog - I feel compelled to "publicly appreciate" (not that you are asking for the appreciation) this comment of yours.
    " Re. Male sensitisation, it is imperative where crimes are concerned but as a matter of their own well-being and not as a gesture of understanding. "
    Excellent and Wonderful. My feeling is - it goes beyond "Sorry" . And yes - let us continue debating and dissecting our positions harshly as we have been doing at this blog.

  8. Thanks, Mahesh, for the public appreciation. I did not ask, but I never do, and it therefore makes it all the more precious.

    Now tell me, was it necessary to mention our differences as a prefix?

    The two issues are apples and oranges and for someone from Nagpur (as you mentioned in another comment) the difference should not only be obvious but you ought to be possessive about the oranges!

  9. excellent article! i don't think i can add anything to it! keep writing more.

  10. Thank you. I can only hope we remain sensitive to our others and ourselves.

  11. The letter was indeed pathetic and it does not deserve reply; however this one needs reply
    What would I do to a rapist?
    I would ensure that the rapist does not continue in the commission of crime hereafter , and I would all possible means to do that - an excellent post

  12. Rizwan:

    As I indicated in an earlier comment on the new post, we can make spread social understanding, not legal or even ensure security.


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