Almost as a rule now, every time I hear about a case of rape I automatically assume that the victim is a woman with extremely low moral standards, that she conducts herself in such a way that men are attracted to her like bees to a pot of honey, and that she is a woman with a dubious reputation. I admit my assumption is not just illogical but also flawed at a very fundamental level. For who is to decide what constitutes good moral behaviour for a woman? Who decides what is right for a woman when it comes to her body? My untenable assumption, however, has its benefits. It helps me negotiate the dialectical clutter that has come to cloud our discourse on rape.
For no sooner does a girl report a rape than a highly suspicious narrative about her immoral behaviour start floating around. As a case in point, consider the recent cover story in Outlook magazine titled Tehelka Tapes: What the Elevator Saw? Written by Manu Joseph, the former editor of Open magazine, and a former colleague of Tarun Tejpal, the article is a shinning example of what happens when stupidity dons the Socratic garb and confuses social isolation with moral righteousness. This narrative, sans any sophistry, doesn't deny the rape. Rather it treats rape as an inevitable event and hints at the possibility of the victim being the real culprit who fell into her own trap. My first reaction after reading the piece was one of joy.
For once I finished reading it, I was convinced that like me, Manu Joseph too is capable of not just churning out shoddy copy but also publishing it.To be fair, Manu Joseph has pretended to be fair, although his piece is liberally peppered with unnamed sources that have disclosed the juiciest contents of the CCTV footage. I wonder who the sources could be? Perhaps they are the same people who made the footage available for Anurag Kashyap who has since made up his mind that the girl was lying. Did the same sources leak the footage to Seema Mustafa a former editor, who too, watched it and concluded the girl is lying because in the CCTV footage she did not come across as a girl who had just been raped?Whoever the sources were, Joseph tactically deployed them to construct what in debating parlance is called a straw man argument. The rhetorical trick involves constructing a straw man and knocking him out instead of the opponent and claiming victory. In the Tejpal case the debate is about an incident that took place within the confines of an elevator.
The victim claims Tejpal raped her; he claims that the girl is lying and that he had extracted her consent before penetrating her with his fingers. Manu Joseph's story, a mediocre modification of the straw man argument, shifts the debate to the events that took place before and after the alleged rape, and by quoting technicalities, like the victim telling the cops she exited the lift on the ground floor, whereas according to technical evidence it was the second floor, forces us to confront a dreaded possibility: if the girl could be confused about what happened outside the lift, couldn't she be mistaken about what happened inside? The facts he presents have only one purpose: to goad us into wondering if things are really what they seem. And the facts don't pertain to the rape, per se.All of a sudden, like the turning of a pitch on the third day of the Test, the event that took place in the lift, the alleged rape of a reporter by her editor, has been overshadowed by what happened outside it. Manu Joseph's literary and journalistic misdemeanours are the least of my concerns. I worry about the silent murmurs of agreement I hear all around me, murmurs I cannot silence. Not even by calling the victim a fallen woman.