In memory of Jyoti aka Nirbhaya…how language facilitates rape

A brief meditation on how language facilitates rape on the first anniversary of the inhumane Delhi gang rape.

nirbhaya_grey1
Nirbhaya image via Deepak’s Lore

There are many reasons I chose the phrase Active Voice for the title of my blog. One of them is simply grammatical. I deplore the tendency to resort to the passive voice and all that it implies. The passive voice dwells on the action not on the actor. You come across it a lot in bad academic writing. “A form was developed and disseminated to collect epidemiological data, including data on health services utilization and costs….Subsequent visits were made to collect the data” etc etc.

But there are far more serious abuses of the passive voice, especially as described in the article quoted below; written in the wake of the horrific Delhi gang rape almost exactly one year ago (December 16)  Tilotamma Shrinivasa notes how the passive voice  can be employed as a blame-shifting device in relation to sex crimes. It’s worth thinking about.

What Grammar Says About Rape
Posted by: ladiesfinger , August 19, 2013

By Tilotamma Shrinivasa

Before we begin, a quick grammar lesson is due. Google for ‘passive voice’ and the very first hit defines it like this:

Passive voice is used when the focus is on the action. It is not important or not known, however, who or what is performing the action.

And adds this:

“Sometimes a statement in passive is more polite than active voice, as the following example shows:
Example: A mistake was made. In this case, I focus on the fact that a mistake was made, but I do not blame anyone (e.g. You have made a mistake.).”

So, saying “Draupadi stole Bheema’s apple” blames Draupadi for stealing, while saying “Bheema’s apple was stolen by Draupadi” focuses on the fact that the apple was stolen. Now if you drop Draupadi from the second sentence, “Bheema’s apple was stolen” conveys the idea that this terrible thing happened to Bheema but doesn’t blame anyone! Or if I use an even worse and a grammatically dodgy form of passive voice: “Bheema had his apple stolen” squarely dumps the responsibility of what happened on Bheema’s head!

Now that you are equipped with the power of grammar, here is a snapshot of Google results for the recent assaults in Gurgaon and Manipal:

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Let’s not even start with the ‘allegedly’ business! Anyway, here is another general snapshot of recent articles:

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For more click here

Author: Annie Paul

writer, editor and avid tweeter anniepaulose@gmail.com

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