The support for powerful men accused in cases of sexual violence is more than just a show of friendship - it forms the backbone of rape culture.

Why saying Avanodoppam with Dileep or other accused is silencing the survivor
Voices Opinion Saturday, September 30, 2017 - 13:45

When Dera chief Ram Rahim was convicted for rape, the rest of the country watched aghast as his followers indulged in rioting and continued to claim that their guru was innocent.

However, what we saw is hardly unique to Ram Rahim or any rape accused who has social standing. We don't see these men as "animals" - the power that they wield, their association with other powerful people, means that their supporters will immediately protect them from these alienating labels. With more suave men like Tarun Tejpal or Mahmood Farooqui who have been accused of rape, it's even more difficult to believe that they may be guilty.

The accusations of sexual violence do little to dent the confidence and trust that people in their social circle have in them. In complete contrast are the stories of the survivors, who are forced into anonymity, their identity reduced to the one incident in their life which may continue to define them forever.

What does #Avanodoppam imply?

The overt expressions of support that go out to powerful men accused of rape and other crimes against women are more than just a show of friendship - they form the backbone of rape culture where the victim pays the price for the crime.

In other words, by saying you are #Avanodoppam (with him), as director Lal Jose recently did when Dileep's Ramaleela released, you are rejecting the survivor's truth.

It's not just Lal Jose, of course.

Days after news broke out about the abduction and assault of a prominent woman star, the Malayalam film industry surprised the country by its show of solidarity. However, soon after suspicions were raised on Dileep, a powerful member of the industry, it became apparent that quite a few would choose their friendship with the actor over standing by the victim.

It became clear that all along, the support that many extended to the survivor had been conditional.

It was there as long as the accused was not from their social circle.

Silencing the survivor

Dileep was arrested in July by the police for allegedly being the mastermind behind the abduction and assault of the woman actor in February. His application for bail has been denied four times by the court which has noted that there is enough evidence to suggest his involvement in the conspiracy. It has further agreed with the prosecution that giving the actor bail may enable him to influence the case.

While legally, Dileep must be considered innocent till proved guilty, the industry and particularly the men, have turned a blind eye to the grievous crimes that he stands accused of and the observations of the court. Instead, they appear keen to push the narrative that the case against him is an elaborate conspiracy and that in actual fact, he is the victim.

Given that these "friends" of the accused are powerful people who have access to platforms from which they can voice their views and be heard loud and clear, their role in influencing public opinion cannot be dismissed.

By going out of the way to express their support for the accused, they've withdrawn their solidarity with the survivor and have brazenly pushed her into a corner. A corner from where she's still fighting.

Of familiarity and solidarity

These celebrities are the same people who'd express utter surprise and disgust at the adulation that men like Ram Rahim inspire. Even before the Dera chief was convicted by the court, the serious allegations against him were enough for many to question the devotion of his followers. Their #Avanodoppam was something puzzling, even inhumane.

Are we now putting Ram Rahim and Dileep on the same footing? The point is, men accused of rape appear heinous as long as they are people we don't know. When it is someone familiar, the whataboutery begins. So much so that the recent regressive judgment in the Farooqui case - which says a woman's 'feeble' no may be a 'yes' - was celebrated by many "liberals" and "feminists".

In Dileep's case, the actor has been around in the industry for decades and is in an influential position. If the prosecution fails to prove their case against him, there's a very real possibility that he will come back even stronger. Beyond personal relationships, there are also business interests to consider. It is understandable that people don't wish to cut someone off without the case against him being proved.

But to do so in such an insensitive manner with complete disregard to the legal process underway is unjust to the survivor, who in this case, is their own colleague.

The #Avalkoppam hashtag, which was started by the Women in Cinema Collective to express their support for the victim has been hijacked previously, too. Actor Koottickal Jayachandran had used the same hashtag to say that he was with Meenakshi Dileep, the daughter of the accused - whatever that's supposed to mean.

#Avanodoppam has become the label under which closet "Men's Rights Activists" on social media congregate, citing other cases where women have been accused of violence or crimes against men. How this is of relevance in the context of Dileep and survivor is a leela only they will be able to spin.

What the case has taught us, yet again, is that it only takes familiarity for the accused in a rape case to go from beast to #Avanodoppam.

It's also the primary reason why there is so much under-reporting when it comes to sexual violence against women - most perpetrators, as statistics reveal, are people known to the victim. Either family or friends, people who are in their immediate social circle.

They choose silence because they know that when the roof begins to crumble, they cannot depend on anyone to stand by them.

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