ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On Understanding the Incomprehensible - I

The editorial “Understanding the Incomprehensible” (EPW, 29 December 2012) on the brutal gang rape of a young woman and the vicious attack on the young man accompanying her is disquieting for several reasons. For a journal that usually does not see any other event or issue as “incomprehensible”, and has taken strong stands against state, class, communal, and caste violence against the margins in our society, why has this expression of violence against a woman suddenly become incomprehensible? There have been innumerable cases of stripping, parading a naked woman, and gang rape in rural and urban India that have hit the public domain, at least since the campaign around Mathura, which have been brutal too. Mention may also be made of the cases of Manorama in Manipur, the Khairlanji murder of two dalit women in Maharashtra, and Meena Xalxo and Soni Sori in Chhattisgarh. The women’s movement has confronted and written about such ghastly acts of sexual violence, thus rendering the phenomenon comprehensible in many different locations, from the home to the neighbourhood, and from the streets to the frontiers of the nation.

As women in both rural and urban India have been victims of a continuum of sexual assault – from lewd remarks at one extreme to rape at the other – what is truly incomprehensible is the editorial’s repeated suggestion that the present case is somehow exceptional. By insisting on the rarity of this case, and further, by setting it apart from pre-planned assaults on women during communal or caste violence because there was “nothing premeditated” about it, the editorial bypasses the ongoing application of male power by ordinary men as well as police and military personnel that all too often culminates in spectacles of sexual violence. The impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of these heinous assaults may well be responsible for the brazenness with which sexual assaults are happening with sickening frequency now.

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