Did you ever wonder how much a rape is worth in the marketplace or at the governmental level? No? Neither have I, but apparently some do. Earlier this month, India’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley raised a storm of protest when he reflected, “One small incident of rape in Delhi advertised world over is enough to cost us millions of dollars in terms of lower tourism.” The “one small incident” was the 2012 gang-rape and murder of a young woman, now known as the Nirbhaya case. Nirbhaya means fearless.
When protests exploded all around him, the Finance Minister regretted his words, and of course the ways in which they had been “misconstrued”. As so often happens, the perpetrator becomes victim if he argues long enough, has a big and high enough pulpit, has loads of money and moneyed friends, and is a man. Check, check, check, and check.
As witness to his recantation, the formal, published version of the Finance Minister’s talk removed the word “small.”
While the diminishment of a terrible event of violence against a woman, and of violence against women, was horrible, and according to many of the responses and critiques much worse, the reduction of sexual violence to an economic equation is equally problematic and wrong. If the `one small incident of rape’ only cost, say, a thousand dollars, would it then be fine? Would it then not be a matter of concern for India’s Finance Minister? Is finance exclusively and only a matter of hard, cold cash, and curiously that of other nations?
There are calls – from the victim’s family, from women’s groups, and from the general citizenry – for the Finance Minister to resign. It’s not enough. Words of repentance and regret are fine, but they do not suffice. Arun Jaitley is part of State power. He has been for years, both in the opposition and now in Cabinet. Let him and his colleagues say less and do more. If he and his colleagues want to show any kind of remorse, show it in the national budget. Invest in those organisations in India that are sisters to organisations such as Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust in South Africa, organisations made up of women and men, made up of individuals and communities, hard at work at the coalface of sexual violence. Don’t talk about the millions of dollars lost to “one small incident of rape.” Invest the millions of dollars, rupees, rand in one major issue: stopping violence against women. Be fearless.
Dan Moshenberg writes at Women In and Beyond the Global and at Africa Is a Country, and is Director of the Women’s Studies Program at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.