The Unholy Game of Blame and Shame

We have heard it numerous times before: politicians, religious leaders, relatives, self-proclaimed ‘brothers’ on social media and basically everyone – blaming the girl, enquiring the time it happened, questioning her choice of clothing and ultimately concluding that she ‘earned’ it, because it could only be her fault, right? And then you have the other group, who despite numerous discussions being made about it, seem not to be able to grasp the basic distinction between ‘consensual sex’ and ‘rape’. After all, why do we still have debates going on whether marital rape should be criminalized or not, in this century? In spite of having prior experience of this highly misogynist attitude our society has towards rape victims, one cannot help but cringe, get appalled and seethe in anger as Kerala MLA P.C. George hurled abuses and slurs at the Kerala nun allegedly raped by Bishop Franco Mulakkal.

In an interaction with the media on September 8, P.C. George had called the nun a ‘prostitute’, questioning her character and her apparent ‘silence’ during the first time it happened. “Twelve times it was pleasure, the 13th time it became rape? Where was she when it happened 12 times?” (The Indian Express), asked George in a shocking statement, shaming the victim into silence, after which she cancelled the press conference. George, who has an infamous past of badmouthing people and women in particular, achieved what he wanted – threatening the victim into silence and ensuring that she does not open her mouth against the powerful and the mighty. Apart from the insensitivity of the content of his remarks and his skewed understanding of consent, what is appalling is the callousness with which he expressed this in public. That the majority of women do not reveal their abuse due to fear of the power which the rapist holds, is apparently news to P.C. George. So it is with many others who make casual judgements on women who come out ‘late’ to reveal the abuse they went through, without considering the situations that may have forced them to stay silent all the while. If anything, what the society needs to do is to applaud these women, who, despite the pressure from people in power, chose to stand their ground. And if you want to blame someone, blame the system of power that ensures that women do not speak against rapists in power.

Whenever a rape accusation is made public news, a large number of people rightfully support the victim, while a few join the bandwagon of victim shaming and character assassination. However, this trend is reversed, or at least contradicted, when the accused is someone in a position of power and fame, and more so if they are the leaders of a religious community. Women who have accused them of abuse in the past have had to wage tough battles, bearing the brunt and anger of the devotees, who simply refuse to believe that their leaders are capable of the act. What is surprising in this case of accusation of rape against the Bishop is that this trend of popular support for the accused leader has not seen a decrease despite the victim being a nun, someone with an equally respected position in the power hierarchy of the Church. This evidently reflects the gender politics prevalent within the Church, that chooses to side with the accused Bishop and not the nun. The story doesn’t end here, however – the nun is further accused of having ‘conspired’ against the Church and brought ‘shame’ to it.

Kerala Catholic Bishop’s Council (K.C.B.C)’s response in this issue has been diplomatic and ‘dangerously’ neutral, considering the gravity of the situation. Refusing to take sides and criticizing the nuns who have come in support of the victim of ‘tarnishing’ the image of the Church, K.C.B.C went on to say that it ‘shares’ the pain of both the Bishop and the nun. This dangerous diplomacy of the Church is in turn reflected on a certain section of the devotees, who have taken it upon themselves to ‘defend’ the honour of the Church and spearhead a campaign of shaming the victim online. Various posts about mainstream media targeting the Catholic priests, questioning the authenticity of the nun’s claims, and various instances of humanitarian service in which the Church is involved are doing rounds in the social media, effectively trying to sweep this case under the rug. Most of the messages which take a patronizing tone attempt to subject the devotees into feeling guilt over supporting the nun. Trying to paint any accusation against religious leaders as an attack on the religion itself has been the trend lately; a clever attempt at mobilizing the support of the devotees by invoking religious sentiments. In this politics of blame-game, the victims are often forgotten, and their cases sidelined, to accommodate the larger propaganda which then comes into play.

What frightens one more in this conundrum is the general apathy of common people against the rising number of cases of rape and abuse. In this case, though there has been sufficient debate happening in the media, the majority of the people remain impassive and unaffected. Apart from a few people who have declared support for the protesting nuns, the general reaction of most Christians in Kerala has been to ignore the elephant in the room and conveniently attend the prayers with no mention of this case whatsoever in the parishes. With the Church’s patronization on one side and the guilt-tripping Facebook posts and Whatsapp messages on the other, the common man’s dilemma is conveniently turned into apathy.

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