Rape As A Flippant Metaphor: Salman's Comment Reflects Our Attitude

21/06/2016 1:39 PM IST | Updated 18/07/2016 8:59 PM IST
Bollywood actor Salman Khan attends the trailer launch of his upcoming film 'Prem Ratan Dhan Payo' in Mumbai, India, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. The film is scheduled for release on Nov. 12. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

It seems that when it comes to Salman Khan, to err is Being Human, to forgive is divine.

Salman has shown that he does not need helpless blackbucks and hapless pavement dwellers to land himself in hot hot water. He can do it very efficiently on his own even while doing publicity for his own film.

The latest brouhaha is around a remark about his grueling schedule for the film Sultan. In an interview with, Salman said, "When I used to walk out of the ring, after the shoot, I used to feel like a raped woman. I couldn't walk straight."

Cue the predictable outrage. Also cue the predictable #misquoted defence. Of course, Salman Khan did not mean it literally. It was just a maladroit metaphor. Why be so serious, yaar? He was obviously joking. Didn't he also say that he'd left every vice except women. Haha.

A superstar like Salman makes for a juicy target. But let's be honest. We can candlelight vigil all we want. We can outrage about the safety of ma-bahen-beti and demand capital punishment for rape. But Salman's latest remarks prove that in the end we just don't take rape seriously. We might say it's just a metaphor, used in jest, perhaps in poor taste but not with malicious intent. But it's interesting that more often than not it's a metaphor used by men, it's a joke made by men in a country where the law does not even recognize male rape.

But it's not just Salman.

Chetan Bhagat, our number one bestselling English-language author compared the plight of the sinking Indian rupee to a rape victim. "The rupee is asking is there no punishment for my rapists" tweeted Bhagat.

BJD MP Jay Panda tweeted that the rupee was the victim of rape by the government.

Dev, muscle-hero turned politician in Bengal, was asked by the Bengali tabloid E Bela how he was enjoying the huge media attention his campaign was receiving.

"Enjoy,,,!" quipped the young star. "It's just like being raped, yaar! You can shout or you can enjoy. Nothing more than that."

More often than not it's a metaphor used by men.

Another Bengali actor turned politician, Tapas Pal, threatened to set his boys on anyone who so much as touched a Trinamool supporter. "They will rape them" he bragged.

CBI chief Ranjit Sinha tried to use rape to make a point about legalizing betting. "It is like saying 'if you can't prevent rape, you (should) enjoy it'," said Sinha trying to make the point that if the state could not prevent betting they might as well earn some revenue from it.

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Bollywood actor Salman Khan speaks to the media in Mumbai May 21, 2009 .

All of these men expressed varying degrees of regret. Sinha reiterated his "deep sense of regard and respect for women" and apologized for any hurt caused as "same was unintended and inadvertent". Dev tweeted "SINCERE SORRY" in all caps to underscore his sincerity and pleaded newness in politics.

Panda admitted that it was never appropriate "to use the rape analogy for anything other than rape" and deleted his tweet. Pal's wife apologized on his behalf while he checked into a nursing home. Bhagat deleted his tweet but also played victim. "People here are flipping out on using word rape as metaphor. Murder is OK. Using F word is also ok."

The point is not that rape is special. The point is that rape is still regarded as something not special at all, quite trivial. The point is that more often than not women are still blamed for bringing rape upon themselves – for the clothes they wear, the drinks they have, for flirting with strange men, for accepting a ride from a man they met at the bar, for being out too late, for working too late, for going to a nightclub while the children are asleep at home.

The point is that rape is still regarded as something not special at all, quite trivial.

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Salman Khan in a promotional event for the forthcoming film 'Sultan' in Mumbai on May 24, 2016.

A famous Tehelka undercover operation in 23 stations across NCR revealed that a majority of policemen did not believe women were really raped: "There are cases but 70 percent involve consensual sex. Only if someone sees, or money is denied, it gets turned into rape": Anyway according to them a "good" woman would never want to come forward and admit to being raped. "In reality the ones who complain are only those who have turned rape into a business."

With attitudes like that is it any wonder why it's so difficult for us to understand that there's really nothing funny about a rape joke. Or why an outspoken woman on Twitter, especially a journalist, can get routinely threatened with rape. It's a manner of speaking we say. We do not take rape seriously as a crime that's about power.

Instead we regard it as a sex crime. Rape is about sex, and sex is deemed to be enjoyable even when it's not that good. We think of rape as a sort of "adult" joke, a wink-wink nudge-nudge metaphor about anything and everything from cricket to election campaigns to a grueling workout.

We may pick on Chetan Bhagat and Salman Khan but it's a flippancy that permeates our culture through and through. We are like that only. Remember Mulayam Singh Yadav dismissing Mayawati's fear of rape after being attacked by a mob? He said "Is she so beautiful that anyone should want to rape her?"

When Tapas Pal made his rape threat, the crowd did not boo him, they hooted and hollered. Rape was a figure of speech for them, a colourful way to make a point. A few weeks after the Jyoti Singh gang rape in Delhi was dominating the news cycle I remember a joke circulating on Whatsapp. It was about a candlelight vigil at Eden Garden in Kolkata, not for Jyoti Singh but for the "rape" of the Indian cricket team which had been thrashed in some match or the other.

We've all seen those jokes. We might have even cringed. But how often do we call our friends out on it for forwarding them? Or do we hold our tongues afraid of being called politically correct spoilsports who need to lighten up? For all the brouhaha now, it's not clear whether the journalist who was interviewing Dev for that tabloid or Salman Khan for spotboye challenged the remark or even flagged it though the journalist did challenge him when he equated women to a "vice" ala cigarettes and alcohol.

We've all seen those jokes. We might have even cringed. But how often do we call our friends out on it for forwarding them?

Salman Khan might be facing the heat now but he's just a symptom of a much larger malaise. Until we understand this we'll always remain a society that teaches as Kat Kelley put it on Mic "'don't get raped' rather than 'don't rape'".

And as long as the onus is on the survivor, the rest of us will not understand that a rape joke is sending out a message that sexual violence is not such a big deal after all. It's just boys being boys.

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