Graduation Speech: Victims Of Sexual Violence

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I stand before you today not as Sunitha Krishnan, but as a victim of sexual violence. I stand before you today to bear witness to the blatant violation of human rights and the prevailing culture of denial of its existence.

As the co-founder of Prajwala, an organization that rescues and rehabilitates victims of sexual violence in India, I have worked on many rape cases. The other day, I came across a story on The Tribune news website. The headline reads: “Delhi’s Shame: Girl battles for life after gang-rape in bus”. Here’s what it tells you: the victim was a 23-year-old paramedical student. She was stripped naked, brutally beaten up, raped and thrown out of a moving vehicle by six men. Here’s what it didn’t tell you: it was not just an ‘unfortunate’
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The article began with a gory description of how the incident unfold, written from the perspective of the perpetrator: “Nothing beat the excitement he felt when he heard her muzzled screams, saw her writhe in extreme pain and watched the blood spurting from her young body.” The first time I read it, I found myself numb on the place, more defeated by the nauseous portrayal of the event than the the fact that it was another attack on women’s dignity. It was like reading lines from a piece of crime fiction. A crime fiction so skillfully written that one could become so absorbed in it and lose touch with reality.
This is the kind of bystanders we have allowed ourselves to become: inconsiderate voyeurs with heads full of straw.

A pattern has been constructed regarding rape reporting in India’s English-language press. Imaginative Observations. Explicit details. Dramatic elements. Racing one another to boost sales, journalists are driven to this unavoidable trend of sensationalism in order to provoke public excitement. As if the event itself was not inherently traumatising enough. As if the act of raping only would not have been as brutal if the rapist didn’t “thrust his tightly clenched fist into the womb of the bruised and battered 23-year-old.” Such focus on the gory details of the event explicitly diverted our attention from the real underlying issue of the male-dominated status quo deeply
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In fact, every 15 minutes, a woman is reportedly raped somewhere in India and that does not include cases that go unreported. 24,923 rape cases were recorded in 2012 but rarely any them made the headlines in national newspapers.
Until the Delhi gang rape.

I want to ask you the questions I have been asking myself over and over again. Why did we need such a horrific incident to finally come to our senses? Why were thousands of other incidents not enough to trigger our outrage? It saddens me to say that our society has come to care more about sexual violence victims only if they are the right victims.

The english-language press in India mainly serves people of the higher class. It is rare for a crime committed in some dark corners of society to have any kind of resonance with the readers. It is human nature to want to distance ourselves from someone who is marked with so much shame and disgrace. We label them as damaged. And so these ‘unqualified’ victims return to the traditionally voiceless segment of society. Their stories, their pain and their struggles slip away like they never existed and the cycle repeats again. This is what I call the ‘People Like Us’

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