Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The war against Rape Culture

Kirtida Gautam
In a social climate that has often been perceived as inclined towards violence against women – world over, there is such a thing as “rape culture”. Tapping into the harsh reality that this hotbed creates, Kirtida Gautam weaves a powerful story through her book, #IAm16ICanRape. Here’s a conversation with her.
Let's start with something about yourself. Can you tell us about you and the work that you do?
As a child, I was a poet before I understood the meaning of the word poetry. I composed my first couplet at the age of four, in Hindi. Here are the words -
Kavita mein jo sukh bhara, sun jaag khush ho jaye,  
Voh hi sukh hai kheti mein jo kisaan kamaye
This means, the happiness a poet derives from composing his work, a farmer can find while making his living through farming. Don’t ask how and why I thought that at the age of four! I have no answer. Writing is intuitive. Because of an emotional setback and the pressure of being one of the top rankers of my class, I gave up writing for more traditional career option of engineering. But one year at tech school and I knew my heart was not in engineering, so I quit it and joined Arts School to study Psychology and Linguistics. I also did Diploma in Performing Arts and Dramatics. After my post-graduation in clinical psychology, I was confused if I should go to the USA for higher studies or pursue my lifelong ambition of becoming a film-maker. As my parents are extremely supportive of me in all career choices, I went to Mumbai to pursue film-making career. While I was working as an assistant director, my boyfriend (who is now my husband), Mrityunjay Gautam, advised me to join a film school to take formal education in the medium. I joined the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune for screenplay writing because that was the shortest duration course. Alas, I had no idea that lion has taste the blood! It’s at FTII, under the wings of Anjum Rajabali Sir that I rediscovered that I am a writer!
What inspired you to write your book? What inspired the theme and the title?
One day I sat in my drawing room when my husband asked me, “Did you read this news about a girl who was raped in a moving bus in Delhi?” Very honestly, I had not read the news because like many Indians, I didn’t pay attention to the news of rape. Not till that moment. Then, he told me about the gruesome details of the brutal attack. It brought in my mind a particular memory in my life. One day I was travelling to Mumbai from Pune in a Volvo. Around 3:00 AM, the whole Volvo was quite empty except for a couple of passengers. Now, in Mumbai, I don’t feel scared on the road even in the wee hours of the morning, but I sat in that bus, holding my breath. I was scared. When I read about the incident in Delhi, I thought, “She had not done anything to put herself in dangerous situation. She was just a girl just like me. I could have been there in her place, or any woman I care about could have been there in her place!” Normally, the anger we feel when we hear disturbing news in media goes away with time, but for unexplainable reason, the anger I felt with the incident in Delhi, refused to leave my system. I kept brooding about it. And I kept feeling angry. I followed the case and when the decision was given that the juvenile will be a given three years at rehab, I felt furious. As a psychologist, I know it is not scientifically possible to rehabilitate a mind that can cause such grave harm to other human in a span of three years. And yet our juvenile justice system falsely claims that they can rehabilitate this person in society within three years. They can’t rehabilitate him. This poses a real danger to the society. I went to my mentor, Anjum Rajabali, with a one-page story idea. I was so angry when I narrated him the story I trembled. He told me, “Kirtida, your anger is a great thing. Use it and channel it.”
That was the genesis of the book, #IAm16ICanRape: The War AGAINST Rape Culture. The reason
why I choose the title #IAm16ICanRape is because when we take off the garbs of hypocrisy aside, this is the message the state gives to its youth. If a man commits a rape after his 18th birthday, he is given capital punishment, but if he is a few months short of 18, he gets 3 years in a rehab centre! Tell me, who stops a rapist from thinking: “If I have to commit a sexual crime, I better commit it NOW.”  The sarcasm in the title is unmistakably intended.
Later, I added the subtitle, The War AGAINST Rape Culture, because many oversee readers who are not familiar with juvenile justice system of India, could not understand the title. I didn’t want to limit the readership by confusing my readers.

As a woman, as a writer, and as an activist in the process, what were some of the things that went into your choices of characters and plots in your book? 
When I started with the book, I knew that Rudransh Kashyap is my protagonist. Some of the people asked me why I didn’t choose a person from the survivor’s family as the protagonist, maybe her father or grandfather. And I responded saying, “Why should I choose someone from her family?” God forbid, but if tomorrow a man who is my close relation is accused of rape, won’t I feel that the sky has fallen on my head? I will! So, why should I follow a stereotype, and choose someone from the survivor’s family? In the first draft, my antagonist, Aarush Kashyap, was a caricature-portrayal of a typical brat who has too much money in his pocket and too much alcohol in his veins when he commits the crime. While reading the first draft, a 15-page story in broad stroke, my husband who was my beta reader, gave me feedback saying, “Don’t you think your antagonist doesn’t do anything to pose a challenge to your protagonist? Your antagonist is too weak.” And that was when I realized that in a story with dramatic tension, the antagonist is as important as the protagonist. If the antagonist is not convincing about his motivations, the whole story falls flat. A man won’t rape a woman just like that, if I write it as simply as it is generally portrayed in media, what am I doing different? I had to understand the subliminal details of the crime. Why would a man rape? When I started paying more attention to my antagonist, I had to do something which is the most difficult thing for me as a writer, and as a woman, I had to enter in the mind of a rapist. It was difficult. I studied a lot of literature of psychology about gender crimes for one-and-a-half years before I put the first word on paper to write the book.

What were your challenges and how did you overcome these challenges while writing?
One of my major challenges as a writer was not to be judgmental of the antagonist. Women can forgive any crime, but not rape. As a woman, it was very difficult for me to stay not just neutral but at places sympathetic towards Aarush. Another major challenge was to experience in my mind, some of the things, which were horrific. I will narrate a particular incident. One day, I sat to write and I was listening a song from a Hindi film, titled Rang De Basanti, “Lukha chupi bahoot hui, samane aa ja Ram.” And I felt strong urge to record a scene. This is my writing style; I record the scenes first in my voice recorder and then transcribe them.
I went to the balcony and started recording. It might sound spooky, but when I recorded the whole rape scene in Subhangi’s voice, I trembled with fear. I went back to my room, hugged my husband and cried non-stop for ten minutes. An incident that took place in my mind shook me so badly - hats off to the women who endure the tragedy of rape and get back on their feet. They are heroes.

What are your hopes on the potential outcomes for this book? What has the response been, and how easy or difficult has it been to get the intended message across? 
My hope from this book is that it should be read by women of all age groups, parents of teenage kids and men who care about the security of women around him and want to raise voice against gender violence. I don’t say this as the author of this book, but also as a psychologist. One of the themes of the book is, Not enough people understand what rape is, until they do, not enough will be done to stop it.  Rape is not a crime that happens to people from other planets who someone calls it upon themselves. NO. It’s a reality of our society that a woman is raped in India every 20 minutes. What are we doing as a country to stop this rape culture? Like ostrich, we duck our head in sand and expect the storm to pass. It won’t pass. I also hope that the following five proactive actions are taken in India to fight against rape culture.
·         Rape Crisis Centers are built in India with good facilities that can provide care and protection to rape survivor and help them overcome the physical and psychological trauma they suffer.
·         Juvenile Justice Laws is amended and the custody of juvenile delinquent for sex crimes must be waived by juvenile system to the adult court.
·         Sex education must become mandatory in schools so that youth doesn’t learn about sex watching movies and pornography which are highly distorted version of actual human sexual behavior is.
·         Discrimination against girls has to stop at the micro level in family as the first social unit. Unfortunately, in India MOTHERS teach their SONS very early in life how they are superior to their SISTERS.
·         Mental Health care facilities have to increase both for perpetrators and victims. Mental health can’t be taken lightly.

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Honestly, as a first time novelist, I was not very confident of my craft as a writer. But the kind of feedback I got for this book made me speechless at times. One of my readers called me one day and cried on the phone. I could hear her sobs. It feels that the anger every Indian woman experiences living in an unfair society have got a voice in this book. SECURITY IS A HUMAN RIGHT.  
To buy Kirtida's book, click here.
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