Surviving rape

Topics rape | Nirbhaya gang-rape | Weekend

Rape and violence against women and girls have become everyday stories in India. Each day we let our eyes skim over yet another report of sexual assault as if it were part of our usual diet of news and, hence, not particularly troubling. But every now and then, there is an act of rape so savage and of such terrifying violence towards a woman and her body, that we feel compelled to holler our protest, demand answers, and insist on swift justice. The way we did in the case of the horrific gang-rape of Jyoti Singh (Nirbhaya) in 2012. The way we did last year when an eight-year-old girl was gang-raped, brutalised and murdered in Kathua. 

Over the last few weeks, we have seen a fresh outpouring of anger after a 26-year-old veterinarian in Hyderabad was gang-raped, murdered, and her body burnt to cinders. A few days later, up in the north of the country, in Unnao, a rape survivor who was on her way to Rae Bareli for a court hearing of her case, was attacked by five men, including her two rapists. They stabbed her, poured petrol over her and set her on fire. Her body in flames, her flesh melting, the girl ran for a kilometre, shouting for help. She was hospitalised with 90 per cent burns and died a few days later.

Both these mind-numbingly brutal crimes deserved every bit of the outrage they evoked. (Whether the four accused in the Hyderabad rape case “deserved” to be summarily shot dead by the police without due process of law is a debate for another day.) However, it is important to remember that there is no rape-lite; every act of sexual violence is as unconscionable as the next. Whether or not it culminates in murder and mutilation of the victim’s body, it is as much a threat to women’s life and safety, as much an assault on women’s empowerment and advancement in society. 

According to the latest figures from the National Crime Records Bureau, up to 33,658 women were raped in 2017. This means that one woman was raped every 15 minutes. Each one of these acts sets us back as a society — for the physical and psychological toll it takes on the victims and for the fear it instils. And to that extent, each one needs to be front and centre of our conversation about tackling sexual violence in every which way.  

This week, Sayfty Trust, an NGO dedicated to educating and empowering women and girls against gender-based violence, launched a “survivors’ toolkit” for survivors of sexual assault. The toolkit, available online at, and soon to be translated into Indian languages, is a resource handbook of sorts, and aimed at helping traumatised survivors navigate the maze of medical, legal, mental health systems available to them. It tells them about their rights, about preserving forensic evidence of the crime, and walks them through the processes of filing a police complaint, medical examination procedures, getting legal aid and so on. In short, it acquaints them with a host of systems and support mechanisms that they can access and the ways to access them.

The dissemination of such resources is important, especially in inner city spaces and rural outbacks, where women may be particularly vulnerable and ill-informed about their rights. For the fight against sexual violence has to be a 360-degree effort. It is not only about educating the police, so that no callous station house officer refuses to file a complaint — as one did when the family of the Hyderabad vet went to lodge a missing-person report. It is not only about toning up police work and ensuring speedy justice. The fight against sexual violence is also about protecting survivors from their attackers so they do not meet the horrific fate that the girl in Unnao did. It is also about supporting and enabling them so they can overcome their trauma, get back to the rhythm of normal life, and find the strength and emotional equilibrium to seek justice, if they so wish.

Every rape has an after-story. And the living matter as much as the dead. 
, will be published on December 16

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