Why is rape used as threat to silence women, even on social media?

Amid rising crime against women in India, male chauvinism has found a new way to suppress freedom of expression--rape threat, as if usage of expletives against them wasn’t enough

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Representative Image
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Smita Singh

I logged on to my Twitter some days back and the first thing I saw was a viral video, that of a scumbag called Shubham Mishra (Yes, I want to take his name for no shaming is enough for him) giving the vilest of rape threat to a female stand-up comedian Agrima Joshua. Her fault — an old video in which she made a joke about the upcoming statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and what people were saying about it online.

I had to watch it a number of times to see what wrong she uttered. I finally got it, we as a country don’t see ‘funny’ in anything. Well, that’s not my concern here. When a politician called for her arrest, the hate campaign began, this person, sitting inside his car recorded one of the ugliest rape threats I have heard in recent times. Vadodara police arrested Mishra and have initiated legal proceedings against him. Another person who goes by the name of Umesh Dada was arrested too for sending rape threats to Joshua. My question is this – why is rape threat used to silence women always?

History of rape culture

In Greek mythology, God Zeus has been a part of many rape stories – women, like Antiope, Europa, Hera, Leda and several others are said to have been ‘sexually violated’ by him. You may also remember the story of Medusa who was raped by Poseidon and was subsequently also punished for being raped in Athena’s temple. In the case of Medusa we women can deconstruct the sexist biases that portray the female body as a threat. In Roman history too who can overlook The Rape of the Sabine Women, it was nothing other than forceful sexual violence perpetrated by Roman men.

Western culture has, for thousands of years silenced women and has used Medusa to ‘demonize’ female leaders. The Medusa treatment has been given to Angela Merkel, Theresa May, and Hillary Clinton by superimposing their features onto bloody, severed heads.

In Indian mythology we read of several instances of sexual violence. Take the story of Ahilya. Lord Indra disguised himself as her husband Gautama and had sexual relations with her, when Gautama found out about both of them they were cursed by him. Ahilya was turned into a stone. Araja was raped by Danda, he was the son of Ikshavaku, who was the grandson of Manu. When the sage Shukracharya, father of Araja discovered this, he cursed the kingdom to be destroyed and transformed it into a wilderness. Surprisingly it was she who was asked to do tapasya and ‘purify’ herself. These are but a few instances that come to mind, if you go through mythologies the world over many more will be revealed.

The above stories depict how patriarchal standards restrict the character of a woman to her sexual relationships, and reduce her purpose and existence to child-bearing. Notice how the woman is punished for the crime and not the man. As a norm, most cultures we know are obsessed with the lineage of progeny, chastity, and virginity and so impose restrictions on women’s sexual freedom and agency. It continues even today.,

Rape as threat

So, why is rape used to silence a woman? Because rape is considered the ultimate shame committed against a woman after which she is considered impure. Our film industry –Bollywood has done much harm in shaping our view towards rape. Instead of shaming the man who committed the crime, the woman is blamed for it, as it’s commonly believed in our society that she probably called it upon her herself. And mythologies like above give sanction to rape culture.

In our so called modern world even today sexual violence is often shamefully considered a way to avenge any kind of insult or injury. So, Joshua needed to be punished for the perceived insult she caused to a historical figure. This notion leads to women being treated as ‘property’ and their sexual purity being held synonymous with the family/clan ‘honour’ and most cases self-honour as a woman. And so virginity and chastity has been put on a pedestal in our society.

Threats on social media platforms

It’s not that Joshua was the first woman to get rape threat on a social media platform. As a person who keeps track of women related issues I have seen how women are threatened with rape if they continue what they doing or have done on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Who can forget the rape threat given to Gurmehar Kaur, a DU student for standing up to campus violence.

These threats or trolls aim to silence them or divert the attention from issues these women are highlighting. Indian women politicians are one of the most targeted lot according to a report by Amnesty India International. Same with women celebrities. Journalists like Neha Dixit, Patricia Mukhim, Vijaita Singh and Rana Ayyub and others have faced the ugliest of threats and have learnt by now how to handle them. Reporting to the authorities being one of them.

There is some positive news too on this front. Vadodara police and authorities had to take immediate action regarding Mishra because of the immense pressure celebs, authors and other prominent citizens put on them by tagging them in their plea to arrest him.

If women have a mind they will speak, rape threat will or should not silence them. We as a society have to ensure that the perpetrators are held accountable.

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