Is our outrage governed by the degree of violence a rape victim is subjected to?

Keralas Nirbhaya Is Jisha not worthy of our attention if not compared to JyotiStudents hold a protest march demanding justice in the rape and murder case of a law student, in Kochi, Kerala on Tuesday. (PTI Photo)
Blog Opinion Wednesday, May 04, 2016 - 16:45

On April 28, a 30-year-old law student from Perumbavoor, Kerala, was raped, brutally assaulted and murdered. Her name was Jisha and she was a Dalit.

The incident was not reported widely in the media several days after it happened. Almost as soon as they began reporting on it, there were comparisons galore with the 2012 gangrape of Jyoti Singh in Delhi. News channels, websites and newspapers were quick to brand Jisha’s case as “Kerala’s Nirbhaya”.

But here are two questions – even as ‘Justice for Jisha’ resonates on social media, why does she have to be compared to Nirbhaya to gain attention? And why do the gory details of her assault have to be the reason people are suddenly taking note of the difficult circumstances of her life?

Jyoti Singh’s rape mobilized the country on women’s security and gender-based discrimination like never before. The terrifying ordeal she went through resonated with women across the country. But does that mean that whenever we are shocked, moved and mobilized by a rape case, it must be compared with hers? Do the other victims of this sexual crime have no standing on their own, regardless of its graphic nature and degree of violence?

“Her (Jisha) case shouldn’t be compared [to the Nirbhaya case]. She was subjected to so much cruelty. She was raped and killed in her own house and no one even responded, despite the noises coming from there,” said Advocate Mohammad Sabah, Jisha’s classmate.

Sabah’s statement indicates what happens when we compare two cases of such sensitive nature. We face the risk of losing the specificities of one case to the one that has been put on the pedestal.

“I have a huge problem with the whole emotional outrage that happens only when an incident like this takes place. We tend of think of ourselves as a progressive society [in Kerala] but we are not. The root causes of the problem are not addressed at all, the case isn’t being looked at in an integrated manner.” said Aleyamma Vijayan, co-founder of Sakhi Women's Resource Centre, Kerala, an organization dedicated to research and documentation of women’s issues across spheres.

Vijayan’s comments cast a light on our collective complicity as shock-mongers who need such stimuli to start a debate about issues that are not new, and repeat with alarming frequency.

 “I think the comparison is okay to the point that the technicalities of the physical violence are similar. And if that gets people and the government to act, it is a good thing,” said Sandhya J, lawyer and member of the Kerala Commission for Protection of Child Rights.

Further, the viciousness of the violence resulted in her death and while murder makes for a shocking read, a question that immediately arises – would so many people have been outraged over her rape if it wasn’t accompanied by the violence?

You might argue that we are a slumbering population whose stupor is shattered only when something so brutal occurs, something good does comes out of the outrage and debate. But here’s how the news works – we look for scandalizing visuals and catchy headlines, spin them the best we can and as long as we can but at the end of the day the ever shortening human attention span finds another hashtag to rally with.

Then outrage dies a natural death and in most cases, so does the issue. In the meantime, how do we grab eyeballs? We go back to capitalizing on the one recent case that coerced political will into action.

While the likes of Verma Commission come out with recommendations and new laws are made, the supporting system isn’t. But no one is talking about that.  Because when everyone is up in arms and the gory likeness with Jyoti Singh’s martyrdom becomes the emotional connect, that’s the big story. Otherwise, we are just too insulated.

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