The Politics of Who Can and Can’t Rape

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 that showed 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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1 Comment

  1. Durba

     /  July 13, 2012

    Exactly, I think in a twisted way I am happy (for a lack of a better word) that this case came to light. it questions the very notion of gender and rape. Of course women can rape other women! anybody can technically commit the crime of rape against other human being and even animals (like it was pointed out to me recently). however in India, the consciousness about these things are so low, that when a case of rape comes up that does not follow the “mainstream” notion of rape, the whole legal system goes into a tizzy. it exposes the absolute inadequacy of our legal system to deal with the notion of rape being not only a hetero normative sex crime, rather a crime that can be between any number of genders.


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