View-Points by Rita Banerji

Rita Banerji

Rita Banerji
January 13
Founder, Director
The 50 Million Missing Campaign
Writer and gender activist. Author of 'Sex and Power: Defining History, Shaping Societies,' (Penguin Global, 2009). Founder and Director of The 50 Million Missing Campaign (a global, online advocacy campaign fighting female genocide in India).

Editor’s Pick
JULY 18, 2012 3:13AM

The Politics, Of Rape, Sexuality and Government Meddling

Rate: 7 Flag

Recently India has been seriously pondering over the most ridiculous question.  Is Pinki Pramanik a rapist? Well, that’s not the stupid question.  The stupid question is:

Is Pinki Pramanik male or female, because she apparently can be charged with the rape she’s accused of, by her female partner, only if it’s proved she is male!!

Pinki Pramanik is an Indian track athlete who has won numerous medals for India for the women’s track races at various international events.   Earlier this year, her live-in partner, another woman, brought charges of rape against her.  Apparently this partner shared pictures of Pinki thatshowed she had ‘male’ genitalia .

An earlier test from a private clinic appears to establish Pinki as ‘male.’   However, the first test was held as inconclusive, Pinki was incarcerated and put through a gruesome public and media spectacle as she was paraded in and out of jail, and through various hospitals and labs – in a bid to establish her gender! 

She was put through every kind of humiliation conceivable.  A clip of her naked and exposed as medical authorities examined her, somehow made its way into the internet circuit.  She was given male police officers as escorts (even though it hadn’t been established yet she’s male).  And judging from how the police treated her, they too were assuming she’s still female, for the press got a photo where one of policemen was seen freely grabbing her breast!! 

Police escorting Pinki grabs her breast

The inanity of this whole exercise was in assuming that Pinki could be charged with rape only if she is proved to be male! It is an indication of how India views rape.  For India rape is not a sexual violation, with or without genital penetration, of one person by another person, regardless of sex.  India see rape as an act that involves certain roles for certain genders, and a very specific sexual act.  Hence rape can only be committed by men on women, and must involve penile penetration of the vagina.  Else it is not rape!

That not puts all other forms of rape anal, oral etc. out of the purview, or rapes committed without bodily penetration as with other objects, but it also completely negates same-sex rape, or for that matter the rape of animals by humans.  Earlier in 2012 the governor of the state of West Bengal made a comment on the alarming increase in incidents of rape in his state.  He certainly meant well, and wanted to raise the issue to a political platform which perhaps is in itself an uncommon venture even for female politicians in India.  Yet, his particular use of words is oddly telling of how Indians view rape.  He said, “Bengal used to be one of the safest places in the country [for women]. Now, the rapes are not being indulged by outsiders but people from Bengal.”  Rape is not a violent, criminal act committed by an individual on another, but something men “indulge” in!!

Now the government monitored tests on Pinki’s gender status (apparently without chromosomal tests) establish that she is female, the courts have said that she is “incapable of rape.”  This conclusion was reached not on the basis of the complaint brought forth by the woman who claimed to have been raped, but on basis of the tests that said Pinki is not a ‘man.’

However, rape among same-sex people does happen and is an issue that needs to be addressed.  A 1998 film titled Jaded   starrring Carla Gugino addresses this issue.  In the film a woman who was brutally raped by two other women, who used a bottle for the assault, and left her for dead, decided to bring charges of rape against her rapists.

The question in Pinki’s case is — who is the victim here? 

  1.  Is it Pinki’s partner who didn’t get a fair (or even rational) trial for the complaint that she brought forth?
  2.  Or is it Pinki? Assuming that she should have been tried under the justice system for the charge brought against her – was this the way to do it?
  3.  Should any person under a legal trial (regardless of what their criminal status might be) be subjected to the complete violation of due process, dignity and human rights that Pinki was subjected to?

As for the system, the government, that organized and directed this vile parody of justice and rights, probably has thrown yet two more people into the lion’s pit to protect its own interest.  As one official put it, “We are keeping our fingers crossed. Things may get more complex if international sports bodies decide to take back her medals. The question that will be asked then is whether her appointment as a woman track and field sportsperson in 2003 was valid. Things may get tricky then. If the inquiries reveal that she was qualified to participate in events meant for women, there won’t be a problem even if the situation has changed now.”

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This is fascinating (and disturbing). Bizarre on many levels. Will we ever know the "truth" of the case? It seems to me that if India still has such an unenlightened position on rape, this goes to show that no matter how advanced the country is in some respects, it still has a long way to go in others (as do we all).

Last year I researched marriage in different cultures in preparation for the marriage ceremony I performed for two friends... among the different types of informal marriages I found in India was a legally unrecognized marriage between an abductor and his victim: Rakshasa Vivaha. So very strange.
Alan -- Perhaps we will know once the next international sporting event comes up and the government does not send Pinki for the womens' event. The the thing the Indian government also loads up its female athletes with testosterone. In 2012 the Olympic committee has a new mandatory testosterone testing rule for women athletes. If they given Pinki the injection over a long time they've probably messed up her body very badly -- and that would be revealed. I wonder how many female athletes in India are actually put through this. However the truth about India is that it may be the 3rd largest economy, but it has a feudal economy. So of Forbes 10 richest men in the world, 5 are Indian. But at the same time 50% of the worlds' poorest of the poor live in India alone, the 50% in the other 300 odd countries. India's children are far more malnourished than the children in the poorest parts of Africa. So it unelightened, unequal at many levels.
jmac1949 Yes, that is still practiced by many courts. It's not just how the legal system views rape but how Indian society does too. Because parents view their daughter not as a person, but a sexual resource they hand over to a husband in pristine condition to use. It's like selling ware. You break it, you buy it. It is a fundamentally dehumanizing view of rape. And there's more to it. There is a law called RCP -- the Restitution of Conjugal Privilege. When women are trying to get out of a bad/violent marriage, many don't have a place to go. And may need to stay in the husbands' house for a while or for long. Then the husband can ask the court to restore his "conjugal rights" in exchange! 20 years ago a chief justice had lambasted the law saying no civilized country could have a law like this, which essentially is court sanctioned rape. But the justice system ignored him because most judges still believe it's a marvelous tool to "keep the family together" (the women then return to the marriage, because they get vilified as 'prostitutes' otherwise) and keep using it.
Thanks for bringing this to light here. Rated.
Rita,as much as I love India for her culture and beauty,I have learned to know the very dark side of India,too.
In order to keep the reputation of a family in high esteem,many issues are swept under the carpet.
Of course,the truth will find it's way into public attention.
The cruelty which I witnessed during my visit, can only be explained by a matter of survival for many.
It's a matter of sink or swim.

Rated for truth and fair justice