On Rape, Rapists and Cartoonists

I had never thought that rape was a very prevalent crime till a colleague’ sister committed suicide. She was working in the fields when somebody molested her. There was anger and hush hush silence about her death. I came to know of the fact leading to her death much later. My colleague never spoke about this event in his life.

A year or two later I went to Bhandup Police Station for some work. The Sub-Inspector was registering a complaint, or probably a FIR. It was written in Marathi and I could easily read it. I asked the SI what the complaint was about, and he replied in a matter of fact manner, ‘It’s a rape case.’

I was shocked. I was a young man then, with middle class upbringing. I had no understanding of realities of life then [and that may not have changed much]. I used to think that such events occurred only in films and very rarely in real life. I asked him facts when he said “They are in love, but the girl is a minor and her father does not approve of the match. If the girl is a minor it is a rape case.” The couple came from very poor families and was working on construction site.

The story of Hamsa Wadkar, the renowned actress on Marathi Cinema in nineteen-fifties [her autobiography, Sangtye Aika] shocked me. The actress mentioned in her autobiography that she was raped by a magistrate!

There were rumours about British soldiers raping actress Leela Chitnis, but she has said in her autobiography that the rumours were not true. Leela Chitnis was the first Indian actress who endorsed Lux soap.

Dr Anil Awchat has recorded in one of his articles a long [and true] story of a rape case. In that case, a jailor raped a teenager who had gone to his place to run errands. The author tells us with disturbing details how the jailor bought out the teenager’s drunkard father to escape conviction. Truth is always stranger than fiction.

The recent rape of a young girl in Delhi has become a subject of so many articles on various associated issues.

In recent times President Zuma’s rape case caught my attention when I was in South Africa. In the book-shop there, I bought the book ‘The Kanga and The Kangaroo Court’ with a sub-title ‘Reflections on The Rape Trial of Jacob Zuma.’ It is written by Mmatshilo Motsei. This is an extremely well written book, informative and persuasive.

Zuma was acquitted of rape charges in 2006, although he admitted to having unprotected sex with the woman, who he knew was HIV-positive. He testified that he took a shower after having sex with her in the belief this would reduce his chance of being infected with the virus that causes AIDS. In 2008, the cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, known as “Zapiro,” depicted the president with his pants down, about to rape a blindfolded female figure representing justice.

Zuma recently withdrew the case against the cartoonist. The surprising fact was that Albie Sachs, the famous constitutional expert and judge in South Africa’s equivalent of Supreme Court asked writers and cartoonists to observe restraint which evoked a very strong negative response for this otherwise highly respected judge.

I wonder if any cartoonist will have courage to draw a cartoon against Dr Man Mohan Singh for being a silent spectator! Our cartoonists perhaps observe too much restraint.