Victim Blaming — A Paradoxical Culture

The country seems like it’s moving forward, but is that really the case for everybody in India? In 2014, Dr Asha Mirge, member of the Maharashtra Women Commission, said that women are themselves responsible for rape. Speaking at the NCP women wing gathering in Nagpur, Mirge said that three factors are responsible for rape on women – a woman’s dress, her behaviour and her presence at inappropriate places. According to the MCW member, these factors provoke incidents of rape. It’s 2018 and not much has changed. Victim blaming is still happening very persistently. Victim blaming is when the victims of a crime or any wrongful act, is held entirely or partially at fault for the harm that befell them. The study of victimology seeks to mitigate the perception of victims being the ones responsible for what they faced.

Victim blaming is a painful act which makes the victims go through their struggle and suffering again. Victim blaming, as a term, exists since 1971 and has been prevalent for years now. The term has had widespread effects on women majorly. Victim Blaming is an act of cowardice, where the blame falls on the victim, just because one party needs to be blamed. This practice can be very clearly seen when women are blamed for being raped or harassed etc. There are various reasons as to why women are blamed despite being the victims of the situations. Their character is questioned and people instantly ask them about what they were wearing or what they did to “encourage” the perpetrator, or even why they didn’t fight back more.

According to pioneering research by psychologist Melvin Lerner, our need to maintain a belief in a just world may be at fault for our tendency to blame victims. When bad things happen to someone who seems a lot like us, this threatens our belief that the world is a just place. If that person could fall victim to rape, assault, robbery, or attack perhaps, we could too. This psyche is imprinted in our minds since childhood, making us separate ourselves from the victim, because that seems like an easy escape rather than accepting the truth. In the end, incomplete information seems much more acceptable. So, our tendency to blame the victim is ultimately self-protective. It allows us to maintain our rosy worldview and reassure ourselves that nothing bad will happen to us.

The problem is that, it comes at the cost of a victim’s emotional well being. It overlooks the fact that perpetrators should be blamed for acts of crime and violence, and not victims. It’s basically a protective mechanism to avoid the fear of unfavourable future possibilities. This kind of victim blaming attitude marginalizes the victim/survivor and makes it hard for them to come forward and report the abuse. If the survivors know that you or the society blames them for the abuse, she/he will not feel safe or comfortable in coming forward to talk. Eventually, at times, the victims start to blame themselves for what happened.

Victim blaming encourages the rape culture, which helps the perpetrators slip away easily, as the truth is manipulated. Rape incidents give rise to victim blaming and objectification of women and these stereotypical mentalities makes them suffer mentally. In India, there have been cases, like the Nirbhaya case, where a young girl was gang-raped and killed in a moving bus and was blamed for being out at night with her friend or for wearing questionable clothes or for giving out signals, her fault was thus waiting for a bus so that she can reach home safely. Others, like Varnika Kundu, were at fault to have thought that they can put up harassment cases against a political entity’s son. Majority of these cases of victim blaming originate from orthodox and stereotypical mentalities, negative attitude towards women and manipulation of the truth.

Indian culture and ethics talk about treating a lady like a goddess, but it is a paradox that the society has made a living hell for women in God’s own country. The government is supposed to work (and is working to some extent) to cement the laws in favour of women victims but that is certainly not enough. Witness and victim protection laws should be introduced and strengthened to set an example and bring a change in the society. Our government is surely working towards extracting rape culprits and bringing justice by introducing laws like death penalties for rape of girls less than 12 years of age, an ordinance signed by the president of India recently.

Media and social media can also help by providing a platform to seek justice. It can help women stand up for themselves, with movements like #MeToo. Rather than writing skewed content and biased narratives which are read by lakhs of readers, media houses can create a difference by their words and portrayal of truth.In the end, a strict implementation of laws, changing the mentality of the society and empowering women can help eradicate this prevalent culture of victim blaming in India.

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