Five days ago, US-based nationalreport.net ran the piece ‘Assam Rape Festival in India Begins in a Week‘. It was a hideous, repulsive story about an inhuman tradition. A Rape festival; an age-old tradition that originated in 43 BC when B. Tamil Nadu raped everyone in his village Doomdooma. This act was being celebrated even in 2013!
“We rape the evil demons out of the girls, otherwise they will cheat on us and we will be forced to kill them. So it is necessary for everyone.” explained Madhuban Ahluwalia, the convener of the Assam Rape Festival. Participants talked about how they were ‘practicing rape’ (?) on their sisters and their friends. There is also the quintessential white-tourist interviewee – Brian Barnett – who is appalled and passes judgment on such savagery and promises to leave India as soon as possible.
The piece has gone viral over social media – leaving people stunned, shocked, aroused, intrigued, repulsed, hurt or ready for activism. But, of course, the truth is there IS no such festival. It was a satirical piece that tried to target the rise of sexual assaults on women in India. But the site found themselves to be the butt of the joke as thousands saw, shared and commented on the piece – without realizing the glaring signs of inept satire. In fact, someone even started a petition to stop the festival. The very fact that people all over – even in Bangladesh – thought the Assam Rape Festival a real phenomenon, reflects poorly on India and has left the State of Assam seething.
For anyone who knows anything about India (or the world today), there were telltale signs: girls as young as 7 getting ready for some raping, trainee rapists practicing on sisters, a rape-free-zone, the nonchalance of reporters covering the event, trophies for champion rapists, 12-year old girls recovering from rape to partake in this year’s festival and above all, the overall journalistic detachment with which the story was narrated.
But the unfamiliar website, quite believable Hindu names (Balakrishan, Jaitashree), referring to actual places like Assam and Doomdooma (yes, it’s a real village), that disconcerting image of charging, naked men and most of all, a real charity website link (giveindia.org) – all worked to confuse the average reader. No wonder over a dozen other sites picked it up and ran it as ‘news’. Well, in their defense, most posts with nudity is considered news these days.
I think, three things may have caused it to go viral. These, in a screwed up order, are:
- Hunger Games (the movie): consider the mental image for this line, “every non-married girl age 7-16 will have the chance to flee to safety or get raped.” And then 12-year old Jaitashree talks about how she almost made it to the rape-free-zone last year – but was jumped by nine men at the last minute. Tell me that doesn’t conjure images of J.Law running through the woods with her bow-arrow. Only all tributes were girls and the men were looking for something far more …for lack of a better word, kinky.
- Image of the Subcontinental Man: the rules of engagement between the two sexes are fundamentally different in Asia. Males must do more – since the females opt not to actively pursue relationships (dating and one-night stands are nascent phenomena). So, worldwide, subcontinental men are seen as a primitive, horny, (reluctantly) monogamous, sex-starved, hungry species that can’t stop staring at (white) women. Though this is not the case, the out-of-context image of naked pilgrims didn’t help in this case.
- A Spate of Reported Rapes in India: India has had more than its share of publicized rape cases, most notably the fatal assault on a 23-year old medical student. Out of public adoration, the victim became known as ‘Nirbhaya’ (Fearless) or the Delhi Braveheart and More recently, an American student wrote about her harrowing experiences as an CNN iReporter. Her story was promptly picked up by the editors and soon became a pivotal account that gave birth to innumerable articles and blogs on the topic.
Despite the incidents, the satire was badly-written and in poor taste. Even if ‘controversy’ was the goal! The very fact that it was plausible, caused indignation and embarrassment was a sign of bad writing and judgment. Taking advantage of India’s ancient, cultural mosaic and it’s mystic sadhus to conjure a repulsive story about savagery, was deplorable and in my mind, racist. The piece failed to account for a diverse audience, wrongly-assumed intimate cultural knowledge and irreversibly tarnished the image of Assam (and in a previous piece, Punjab). Assam Police’s CID has already started probing further into the matter. But one must also add that the confusion over the satirical piece just goes to prove what many of us were already suspecting. With increased reporting and incidents of rapes in India (and by extension, the Subcontinent) – the world is concerned and keeping its eyes trained on the developments. There is most definitely an image-crisis which had lent credibility to the ridiculous Rape Festival piece in the first place.