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Even as serial cases of rape drew unwelcome attention to Haryana, much of the public outcry was defensive, casting about for explanations, denying and trivialising the crime rather than assuring swift legal consequences. One khap panchayat suggested that girls should get married younger if they did not wish to invite rape, another one claimed that chow mein — yes, the greasy, spicy noodle — causes hormonal imbalances that lead men to rape. Of course, khap panchayats cannot be held to reason, and they have made no bones about their contempt for women. Their very existence derives from the need to patrol the borders of kin and community, which primarily involves controlling women's bodies.
What is genuinely appalling is the response of legislators and ministers — Dharamvir Goyat, a Congress leader, claimed that that 90 per cent of rape cases were consensual. Congress MLA Sampat Singh attributed it to "lack of intellectual growth" and corroding family values. Many other ministers dismissed the violence altogether, claiming it was an attempt to malign the state's Congress government. Meanwhile, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had her own aggrieved take on sexual violence — rape, she said, was a result of the way boys and girls are now freely mixing instead of being controlled by their parents. She blamed the media for "glorifying rape" and making her state look like the "soil of rape", when it was not their culture at all. Statements like this from elected representatives should come with punishing consequences — they diminish rape, a calculated physical assault and psychic violation. As things stand, rape is reluctantly reported, difficult to investigate. With the peculiar social burden of sexual crime and the tardiness of legal processes, the usual lack of corroborating witnesses, and the chance that medical and forensic proof is often diluted or unavailable, our convictions for rape remain low. This despite the stunning dimensions of sexual violence in India (a rape is reported every half an hour, according to the home ministry's National Crime Records Bureau).
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