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Blaming the victim is the real bane, not live-in relationships

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Amisha Tiwari
Amisha Tiwari
Advocate, B.A LL.B. (Hons.) Constitutional law. I have a penchant for reading and writing, especially on issues concerning women.

16th December, 2012–– the fateful day which will always be remembered; the day which marked the gruesome gang-rape of Nirbhaya sent shivers down everyone’s spine. Nonetheless, what was more shocking than this despicable crime was the victim-blaming which came forth after the incident made it to the news-channels.

“Why did she go out so late at night?”

“What was she doing so late at night with a male-friend?”

“Why did she take the bus at night?”

The interview given by Mukesh Singh (who drove the bus during the fateful incident) was inundated with such statements. The perpetrator explicitly blamed the victim for ‘going out late at night.’ He unabashedly remarked that “while being raped, the victim should not have fought back; she should have remained silent and allowed the rape.” While victim-blaming is common whenever any case involves a woman as the victim of a crime, it doesn’t make it normal or even justifiable.

Much recently, the murder case of Shraddha Walker has become the focal point of everyone’s discussion. The victim had a live-in relationship with the Accused Aaftab Poonawala, who allegedly killed her and chopped her body into over 30 pieces. It is being claimed, by various news platforms, that Shraddha and Aftab, who met through a dating website, always had an abusive relationship, which unfortunately culminated in her death.

While everyone is repulsed by the gory details of the case, Union Minister Kaushal Kishore used his platform to amplify how these crimes happen to “well educated women, who think they are frank, and have the ability to take decisions about their future.” He went on to even blame live-in relationships for such crimes; suggesting that the victim, who decided to be in a live-in relationship, ‘faced the consequences of her decision.’

Are live-in relationships the real bane?

The Union Minister was quick to blame live-in relationships, and suggested that women should rather go for court-marriages. But can we really say that if Shraddha and Aaftab were married, it would have prevented her gruesome murder? Does marriage avert abuse in a relationship? Conversely, there are numerous studies showcasing abuse in marital relationships.

According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), 29.3% of married women, aged 18-49 years, faced domestic violence, and over 77% women did not report the incident and kept mum. As a matter of fact, during the Covid-pandemic induced lockdowns, cases of abuse and violence rose in the domestic households. Anguished wives seeking help from the National Commission of Women doubled during the lockdown. Makes one wonder, whether the live-in relationships are at fault, or the abusers?

The real bane

Whenever a case involving a woman as a victim of a crime (rape, sexual harassment among others) comes into the forefront, suddenly the narrative shifts to the culpability of the victim–– “What was she wearing?” “Was she drunk?” “How drunk was she?” “Why did she stay with the accused?” “Why did she not leave?” “What was she doing out, so late at night?”

The onus shifts to the victim; to wear modest clothes, to not drink at public places, to not stay out late at night. Notice how the conversation is derailed when such (irrelevant) questions are posed; as if it were the victim’s fault; almost as if she deserved to be raped/sexually harassed or even murdered, all because she did not play by the ‘moral rule-book’ of the society.

The phenomenon of victim-blaming in such crimes has been deeply embedded even in our judicial system. Fifty years ago, Mathura, aged 16 years, was denied justice because she was proven to be sexually-active through the (now illegal) two-finger test. The victim-blaming meted out to Mathura, resulted in significant amendments in the Criminal law jurisprudence of our country. Unfortunately, the victim-blaming stayed with us.

Even today women are lambasted for their sexual history, educational achievements and their (bold) lifestyle choices whenever they are at the receiving end of such atrocious crimes. With the Mehrauli murder case in the limelight, Shraddha’s life choices and decisions are also being questioned. The statement of the Union Minister was a classic case of prejudice against the victim–– blaming the victim’s education, her choice to be in a live-in relationship, and her frank behaviour; forgetting that the real bane is blaming the victim for the crime which had cost her life.

On love, and relationships

Abusive relationships cannot be looked at with a black and white lens. These kinds of relationships are often complex, (containing a cycle of abuse, followed by a make-up honeymoon phase) and there are multiple factors due to which the victim stays or hesitates to leave. The 2022 movie Darlings quite pertinently portrayed how an abusive relationship is an intricate assortment of abuse followed by a phase of appeasement, which goes on and on, till the victim acknowledges the abuse and takes a stand. Having said that, most women in an abusive relationship are not able to just stand up and leave. The reasons are manifold; it could be as simple as the fear of the abuser, or as tangled as low self-esteem issues, and gaslighting.

It goes without saying that the need of the hour is to teach young boys and girls that abuse is not love; that the bad-boy protagonists they see in movies are just plain bad; that if your partner hits you, it is not out of love. It is also important to keep the channels of communication open with our children, so that they can seek our help, if and when needed. That is indeed, the only way we can help; not by blaming the victims.

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Amisha Tiwari
Amisha Tiwari
Advocate, B.A LL.B. (Hons.) Constitutional law. I have a penchant for reading and writing, especially on issues concerning women.
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