Why the CBI Director’s Rape-Speak Can’t Be Excused

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Photo: Dijeshwar Singh
Photo: Dijeshwar Singh

Despite the overwhelming outrage over the CBI director’s analogy between ‘legalising betting’ and ‘enjoying rape’, one can sense an undercurrent of sympathy. ‘It’s just an analogy after all, what’s the big deal?’; ‘he’s being quoted out of context, that’s not what he really meant’; ‘he may not have an English-medium schooling, why this hair-splitting over his loose usage of an English phrase?’ ; ‘he used college lingo inappropriately, we’ve all done it’ ; ‘he’s expressed regret, what more do you want?’ – these are just some of the sentiments I’ve encountered on Twitter. Meanwhile, former cops too have expressed the same sentiments: Kiran Bedi said his problem was just one of poor communication, and now that he’s expressed regret, everyone should move on, while former CBI Chief Raghavan, while saying he won’t attempt to defend Sinha’s indefensible remark, also asked, “Should he be executed for it?”

Let’s address some of these sentiments.

To begin with, was Sinha misunderstood? Were his words taken out of context? Did he actually mean the opposite of what’s being attributed to him? Reading out his formal regret statement, Sinha claimed that in fact, he had been ridiculing rather than endorsing the idea that ‘if you can’t stop rape, enjoy it.’

Some might argue that even if that were the case, the use of an ‘enjoy rape’ analogy would be unacceptable. But I think the intent behind the analogy does matter. For example, if I were to say, “justifying dalit massacres by accusing the dalit struggles for wages, land, and dignity of being ‘provocative’ is like justifying rape by accusing women’s clothes or freedom of being ‘provocative’”, it would be an acceptable analogy, because it is grounded in a firm rejection of any justification of rape. Were Sinha’s remarks inviting us to share an abhorrence of the idea that rape, if it can’t be stopped, can be enjoyed? Or were they inviting us to share the widespread notion that rape, like betting, is an inevitable yet pleasurable vice, a forbidden yet naughty pleasure that we can choose to enjoy? Let’s take a close look at his actual words, and his subsequent explanation.

Speaking about whether or not betting should be legalised, he said, “If there are lotteries in states, if we can have casinos in tourist resorts and if government can declare schemes for voluntary disclosure of black money, what is the harm if we legalise betting? Above all, do we have the enforcement agencies? If you can’t enforce it, it is like you can’t prevent rape, enjoy it. It is better to legalise it and earn some revenue rather than throwing up your hands.”

Sinha’s explanation for this was: “I gave my opinion that betting should be legalised and that if the laws cannot be enforced, that does not mean that laws should not be made. This is as erroneous as saying that if rape is inevitable one should lie back and enjoy it.”

So, what purpose was Sinha’s rape analogy serving here?

There’s no debate here, that Sinha was arguing for legalising betting. Was he saying, as he subsequently claims, that laws legalising betting should be made even if we can’t enforce them; if not it would be like arguing that ‘if one can’t prevent rape, enjoy it’? It is all too clear that this interpretation of the analogy simply makes no sense, since rape laws make rape illegal, and Sinha was arguing for laws to make betting legal. Sinha wasn’t talking about the inability of enforcement agencies to enforce laws legalising betting, he was talking about their inability to enforce laws that punish betting. The only coherent interpretation of his use of the ‘enjoy rape’ analogy is: ‘If we can’t enforce a ban on betting, let’s legalise it; just as if you can’t stop rape, you can enjoy it.’ His disingenuous claim that he used the rape analogy to say: ‘if laws cannot be enforced, that does not mean laws should not be made’, could be credible only if he were arguing for laws penalising or banning betting.

There are a range of acceptable analogies Sinha could have used to make his point about legalising betting: such as ‘If you can’t beat them, join them’ or ‘What can’t be cured must be endured.’ If an analogy about ‘enjoying rape’ came to his lips instead, it’s because he does not, in fact, see anything very wrong in suggesting that rape could be enjoyed by women.

So, let’s be very clear. Ranjit Sinha hasn’t apologised. He hasn’t said, ‘I am appalled that I used words that suggest that women might enjoy rape. ‘Rape’ and ‘enjoyment’ are mutually exclusive categories – morally, legally, and in the spirit of the Indian Constitution. I would like the rank and file in the police force and CBI, as well as all the boys and men hearing me, to understand that any jokes or flippant remarks about rape being enjoyable, whether in private or in public speech, are unacceptable and condemnable.’ His expression of ‘regret’ and avowal of ‘respect for women’ doesn’t in fact reflect an iota of respect for the criticism women are levelling at his remark. Instead, what he’s done is to try and smoothly ‘mansplain’ his remark to us, telling us we didn’t have the sense to understand it in its right context, but that he’s still generous enough to ‘regret’ his words if we chose to be hurt by them, because he ‘respects’ us. Not good enough, Mr Sinha.

So do we need to keep demanding that Sinha’s head should roll for his remark? We’ve made our point, can’t we now let it rest? Why should he have to lose his job? The answer to this question came home to me with stunning clarity when I heard former Delhi Police Commissioner TR Kakkar’s take on the issue on national television. Kakkar said that he had heard the ‘if you can’t stop rape, enjoy it’ jokes being used in a variety of contexts for decades – in Army barracks and so on. Ranjit Sinha’s only mistake, according to Kakkar, was that he failed to realise that Indians (i.e. Indian women) lack a sense of humour.

There, you have it. We can’t let Sinha’s remarks go, we can’t move on, precisely because the sentiment he expressed about rape is widely prevalent among top cops, Army officers, politicians,  and so on (not to mention college youngsters who will grow up to be cops, army officers, politicians etc). The frightening fact is that top cops – even a former Police Commissioner of Delhi – believe it’s perfectly acceptable, even funny, to conflate rape with ‘enjoyable’ sex. Another former Delhi Police Commissioner, KPS Gill (himself indicted for groping a female IAS officer), had declared, “Delhi is the worst city” for rape, and “for this I would blame the women who try to keep in tune with the trend. They are the ones who provoke them.” A former Mumbai Police Commissioner recently declared, again on national TV, that 90 percent of rape complaints are false, because the complainants are not injured badly enough to be hospitalised. Clearly, this top cop had trouble differentiating between rape and ‘enjoyable’ sex unless the victims are either dead or brutally injured enough to be hospitalised.

Sinha’s sentiments have consequences for women who suffer rape – those are the sentiments she will face from the police when she chooses to make a complaint. There are other consequences too. The very idea that a joke about ‘enjoying rape’ is acceptable and women should be able to laugh it off is a justification of sexual harassment. Jokes about sexual harassment and rape, are indeed the staple of many comedy routines. I was attacked on social media by many for objecting to a poetry show in which a certain Hindi poet-turned-politician ‘performed’ a series of sexual innuendos/advances on a woman performer, who repeatedly and wittily, ticked him off for it. I was told it was a mutually consensual performance, a humorous and witty one, mere banter, why object to it? The extremely popular film 3 Idiots also had ‘balatkar’ jokes, presented for the humour and enjoyment of college audiences. The question I ask – and that I hope we can all ask ourselves, is – by making sexual harassment and rape the stuff of jokes, aren’t we telling women that they should learn to take sexual harassment and even rape in their stride, as they should learn to take a joke? Aren’t we promoting a culture and an atmosphere where women are discouraged and even ridiculed for objecting to unwanted sexual advances and rape jokes?

I can understand the sense of injured bewilderment expressed by Sinha and his cop colleagues and many other men too, at our outrage. In the ‘men’s club’ culture that prevails in most workplaces, homes, and social gatherings, such trivialisation of rape is perfectly acceptable. ‘I’ve made rape analogies and jokes since I was in college, why am I suddenly being reviled for it?’ is what many are feeling. The answer could lie in a closer look at the 16 December movement. In that movement, there were of course those who raised outraged cries for death penalty and castration. Those sentiments did nothing to challenge victim-blaming, sexual harassment and rape jokes. If anything, they bolstered the idea that brutal rape and disembowelment of a woman deserved hanging/castration – but that in a less ‘open-and-shut’ case, it would be acceptable to raise questions about the complainant’s character and motives. But what was truly path-breaking about the 16 December movement, was the fact that a very substantial number of the protestors expressed outrage against a culture that trivialised rape and blamed victims for it; that spoke of ‘protecting’ women to justify attacks on women’s freedom; and that expressed an unwillingness to further tolerate victim-blaming and rape-trivialising sentiments anymore.

What those protestors were saying – and what we’re saying now – is that we’ll confront rape jokes, rape culture and victim-blaming in our homes, our college canteens, our workplaces, in Honey Singh songs and 3 Idiots movies. We’ll argue, we’ll persuade, we’ll protest such sentiments in the society we live in. But we’ll demand swift and summary action when cops, judges, elected representatives and political leaders express such sentiments – because their views aren’t ‘private’ views, they are duty-bound to express public policy. When cops conflate rape with enjoyable sex, it isn’t just a gaffe or a faux pas. Their views shape the policy adopted in the investigation of rape complaints. When the chief of India’s top investigating agency says this, it simply cannot be tolerated or excused, because to do so would be to make our peace with a public policy that demeans rape victims and trivialises rape.

This is why we’re demanding that Ranjit Sinha should step down or be made to quit as CBI Director. And we’ll not stop at demanding Sinha’s ouster. We’ll demand that judges who declare that women who have pre-marital sex must not cry rape, or who suggest that women invite rape on themselves, should no longer remain judges. We will demand that political parties take action against those leaders who make irresponsible remarks against women. We’ll pursue our demand that senior police officers and judges be appointed only after rigorous screening to ensure that their views on women, oppressed castes, religious and ethnic minorities, and queer people pass the test of Constitutionality. Of course it’s important to ensure that CBI directors are not corrupt or ‘caged parrots’ of those in power. But it’s no less important to ensure that they understand and are committed to upholding and enforcing Constitutional values.

Kavita Krishnan is Secretary, AIPWA and Politburo member, CPI(ML)

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