A section of the media and the polity have been consumed by an ill-founded need to divulge the identity of the Delhi gangrape victim. They have launched virulent debates on the need to change equations in the “blame game,” and insist it would shift the onus of rape by “divulging the victim’s identity” onto the accused and magically banish the psychological “guilt,” felt by the victim. It is a half-baked attempt at righting a wrong that completely misses the point.
It all started with Union Minister Shashi Tharoor who favoured making public the identity of the Delhi gangrape victim followed by his hailing a Thiruvananthapuram family for “openly acknowledging” the tragedy of their daughter who was raped and murdered by an auto-driver.
That a mandatory lifetime concealment of identity hasn’t managed to instill enough confidence among rape victims to report the offence is reason enough to conclude that more needs to be done to protect victim. The rape victim is, more often than not, consumed with fears of “being blamed,” for the act and having to “face consequences” of exposure. Divulging her identity is exposing her to “face consequences”– the very reason for her refusal to report the crime.
A person’s identity isn’t restricted to just a name. It reveals a community, a political history, a social lifestyle, beliefs and triggers associated bias. Divulging a rape victim’s identity exposes her to the fury of the very perpetrators who attacked her, and this time, it’ll be her moral status, her social standing, her religious leanings, her sexual preference, the style of her clothing, the colour of her hair and her entire community which will be attacked.
It is hugely the fear of social rebuke that prevents a rape victim from registering a case. The mere notion of her identity being exposed ensures a victim doesn’t come forward to register the offence. Behind every ‘strong’ rape victim who reveals her identity in print and public and talk of her story of survival there are a thousand others who will identify with her story, even laud her efforts to make public the cause, but never ever come out in the open themselves. For all the wrong reasons, but yet!
Within a fortnight of the event, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s supremo Raj Thackeray blamed Bihari migrants for the rape. And, that is what divulging does. To conclude that an entire community’s men are depraved on the basis of a single gangrape is as dangerous as attributing immorality to women going for late-night shows with male friends or wearing hair colour.
In a state where simply belonging to ‘a’ community is associated with ‘an act’ or ‘moral standing’, revealing the identity of a rape victim places the onus of guilt, however illogical, on women of the entire community. And, that will be counter-productive to all efforts to stem the crime.
Rape, in most of India’s interiors, is an act of hate directed against a socially-deprived group such as Dalits — case in point being the Khairlanji rape and massacre. And, unreported as they come, most of the rapes occur frequently in homes and within families. Any attempt toward divulging the identity in both the cases will only instill more fear in victims against reporting the crime. How many victims, if identified, will report a rape against a family member or against a member of a powerful community?
In India, by law, the name of a rape victim is not be disclosed to ensure it does not invade the privacy of the victim or render her prone to further indignity. Yet, Zee News aired an interview of the rape victim’s friend in violation of the said section followed by the Delhi Police registering a case. Across borders, UK Daily Sunday People carried an interview of the victim’s father revealing her identity as saying, “We want the world to know her real name. My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, she died while protecting herself. I am proud of her.” Even Wall Street Journal carried a report detailing the gangrape victim’s job schedule even the colour of her hair in a ball-by-ball account of interactions she had with her friend and family on the day the crime occurred. The violations aren’t just legal in nature. It’s coarse sensationalisation in the guise of reportage, which thwart years of work towards rehabilitation and sensitisation.
Revealing the name of a rape victim is punishable under Section 228A Indian Penal Code which prohibits the disclosure, not only of the victim’s name, but also of facts that could lead to the identification of the victim, such as the place of residence, identifying or naming the victim’s family or friends, university, or work details. Concurrently, the Press Council of India has issued norms for journalistic conduct, which provide that when a journalist is reporting a crime involving rape, personal character and privacy of women, the names, photographs of the victims or other particulars leading to their identity shall not be published.
The risks of giving out a rape victim’s identity far outweighs the benefits. Rabid rhetoric in print and social media on the issue of divulging a rape victim’s identity sharply retards cumbersome attempts to convince rape victims into reporting crime and needs to be addressed. Any talk of making public a rape victim’s identity will only lead to the crime going unreported. It not just serves no purpose but does worse — it quashes the very attempt to expose the rapist!
Khergamker is Editor, DraftCraft. The views expressed here are the author’s own.