Last week, in India, men in public office added to the longstanding tradition of prominent men in decision-making, powerful public office explaining sexual violence to women and to the world. As always, they explained it away.
In response to the horrific events in the village of Katra Sadatganj in Uttar Pradesh where two Dalit girls were gang raped and then hanged, and where police did less and worse than nothing, abusing the family and friends when they came to report the event, Babulal Gaur, the home minister responsible for law and order in the state of Madhya Pradesh, opined, “This is a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong.” Sometimes rape is right, sometimes rape is wrong?
In response to a question concerning violence against women in Uttar Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav explained, “First, girls and boys become friends. Then, when differences occur between them, the girls accuse boys of rape. Boys may make mistakes, but should they be hanged for it?” Mistakes, like rape, happen, right? To be clear, no one was suggesting hanging anyone. The question posed concerned the responsibility of the State to stop violence against women and girls.
Then Chhattisgarh Home Minister Ramsevak Paikara just had to jump in, “Nobody commits such incidents(rape) intentionally, it happens by mistake.”
And the tradition goes on.
In 2007, current Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa Mogoeng Mogoeng denied an appeal from a man convicted of having raped a 14-year-old girl. While doing so, the judge found time to excavate the tenderness of the rapist and the rape itself: “One can safely assume that [the accused] must have been mindful of [the victim’s] tender age and was thus so careful as not to injure her private parts, except accidentally, when he penetrated her. That would explain why the child was neither sad nor crying when she returned from the shop, notwithstanding the rape. In addition to the tender approach that would explain the absence of serious injuries and the absence of serious bleeding, he bought her silence and cooperation with Simba chips and R30….[The victim] claims that the sexual intercourse was very painful but there was clearly nothing about her to suggest that she was in any pain when she arrived home. There is no mention of limping or crying or anything of the kind, notwithstanding the complainant’s assertions that she was heartbroken and limping as a result of the sexual intercourse.”
Language matters. Evidence matters. Police matter. Judges matter. And above all women matter and girls matter.
Last week, people gathered in Cape Town at a Judges Matter conference, organised by UCT’s Democratic Governance and Rights Unit. They spent their time studying the work of the Judicial Service Commission, the body that effectively controls the selection of South Africa’s judges.
Alison Tilley, of the Open Democracy Advice Centre, explained, “Where gender and law meet, where the intersection is most transparent, is rape judgments.” In rape judgments, in South Africa, in India, and around the world, judges decide that the law really doesn’t matter that much. In rape cases, in South Africa, in India, and around the world, elected public officials decide there’s a law higher than the law of the land, and that’s the law of the brotherhood.
As Tilley put it, “If we say the process is broken, that’s what we mean.” In India, South Africa, and around the world, it’s broken. How would you fix it?
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.