Uma Subramanian, founder of NGO Aarambh India, also says the onus of proving rape should lie solely with the accused.
New Delhi: When Uma Subramanian, founder of NGO Aarambh India, took the stage at ThePrint’s Democracy Wall at the Vellore Institute of Technology Wednesday, it was clear that her component would be less of a ‘talk’ and more of an experiment.
“Imagine there’s a 15-year-old woman called Sita who is extremely beautiful. And I mean extremely beautiful”, she told the crowd.
On her way to meet her boyfriend in a different town, Sita is threatened into having sex with the boatman who is taking her. “She says ‘okay do whatever you want and let me go’,” Subramanian continued.
“But, as they have sex, she begins to enjoy it”, she said, pausing to look at the crowd. “How many of you think she consented?”
Her questions were met with enthusiastic boos and cheers from the crowd. The point of the Sita scenario, she later clarified, was to understand consent. “Consent is freely informed, it is reversible, meaning it can be withdrawn at any time, and it is well-informed”, she said.
In other words, what happened to Sita was rape, “Consent has to be enthusiastic, and what that means is that you cannot be coerced, forced, or intimidated into sex”.
Subramanian was in conversation with ThePrint’s associate editor Rohini Swamy at a Democracy Wall event in Vellore.
Democracy Wall is a monthly free speech campus initiative organised by ThePrint in collaboration with Facebook.
Consent and child abuse
“The law tells us that any sexual activity below the age of 18 is illegal. And we have a problematic law because our government thinks young people don’t have sex, which is not true,” she said.
Without understanding consent, and without talking about sex with children, people run the risk of limiting their vocabulary when something goes wrong, she argued.
“When children feel violated, they don’t tell us because they don’t know what to say. In bio textbooks they don’t name the vagina,” said Subramanian, whose NGO Aarambh India focuses on child protection and issues related to child sexual abuse.
Surely enough, when she asked two volunteers on stage to name the parts of the body, they both left out the “privates” — the breasts, vagina, and penis. “This is how we teach our children”, she said, demonstrating her point.
“Children are not going to go around having sex if you tell them what a vagina is,” she said laughingly.
On sex and culture
“Do you think the onus of proving rape should lie with both the man and woman?” asked a student.
“The onus should lie solely, and solely with the rapist,” Subramanian said. “I shouldn’t have to prove that my house was stolen from. The thief needs to prove that he didn’t steal from me.”
On the issue of fake rape cases, she said, “Every law in this country, and across the world, is misused. So far, there is no conclusive, authentic evidence that suggests there are more fake cases than real ones”.
“Look at the power difference between victims and perpetrators,” she continued.
“We are finally moving accountability and shame from victims to perpetrators. That is what we are demanding,” she said.
Quoting Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Subramanian said, “Culture doesn’t create people. People create culture.”
In India, she said “we are failing to address toxic masculinity and only censoring our girls, and it’s damaging both our men and women.”
As the session neared its end, she said, “The moment you stand up and assert yourself is when you have a shot at changing culture.”
Urging the students, she said, “What you want to do with the culture of this institute and outside of it lies in your hands.”