O P I N I O N – V I C T I M B L A M I N G
Ahalya, a mythological character, had become newly popular after Sujoy Ghosh released his short-film of the same name in 2015. Five years later, when appalling news of sexual assaults continues to distress the nation, I once again look back on the age-old story. Ahalya was mentioned in Ramayana as the beautiful wife of sage Gautam. She was cursed and turned into a stone by her husband, and then left for thousands of years to be redeemed by Lord Ram. So what grave sin had she committed, that she had to endure such severe punishment?
The story goes like this. Ahalya was created by Lord Brahma and was later married to sage Gautam. She was a woman with exquisite beauty that matched none other. But beauty often comes with baggage. Unlike Ahalya’s husband, many were captivated by her unparalleled beauty, Lord Indra being one of them. Consumed by lust, Indra went to seduce Ahalya in her husband’s absence, disguised as her husband. The poor girl was unable to recognise Indra and fell into his trap quite easily. But gods didn’t seem to be on her side that day, as her husband came home and caught her in the act. Raged by the incident, sage Gautam cursed Indra, but gods hurried to his rescue. Gautam then shifted his rage on Ahalya, cursing her and turning her into a stone. No god advocated on her behalf, for her innocence and ignorance may have been in their book, a sin beyond forgiveness. And Ahalya, now a stone, continued to live in dust, hidden from human eyes, for thousands and thousands of years until she was saved by Ram.
Now, anyone who has a brain would notice what is wrong in this story. Indra was the guilty one, not Ahalya. Therefore, if anyone was ought to be punished, it should have been Indra. Instead, the blame and punishment were put upon the victim of the crime, and the criminal went free. This practice of holding the victim of a crime responsible for the whole or part of the crime is known as ‘victim-blaming’.
Ahalya’s story might be a myth, but the practice of victim-blaming is an unpleasant reality of our world. We just have to cast a mere glance at the society, and we’ll find Ahalyas scattered everywhere around us. And these ‘Ahalyas’ don’t necessarily have to be women. Criticising a boy for not fighting back when he was bullied, questioning a girl’s modesty after she was sexually assaulted — both fall under the term “victim-blaming” and both can have damaging effects. It conveniently shifts society’s attention from the criminal to the victim and creates a possibility for the crime to go unpunished, often pushing the victims to the verge of mental breakdown. Then why do people involve themselves in this harmful behaviour? Let’s see what psychologists have to say about the culture of victim-blaming.
Belief in a just world
The idea of a just world is the perception that the world is a fair place where people get what they deserve. Many people have a strong belief that good things happen to good people and bad things to bad people. While this perception might encourage people to do good, many psychologists believe that this might also be exactly what influences people into victim-blaming. When something bad happens to a good person, it threatens humans’ belief in a just world. To reinstate that belief, people tend to look for provocations in the victim’s behaviour that might have caused the bad thing to happen. But this might differ from person to person.
Studies have found that people who have had the experience of rejecting someone at some point in their life are less likely to blame the victim than people who didn’t have that experience. A similar result was found while studying people who had a traumatic experience in their life and people who didn’t. The person with a traumatic experience is more likely to empathise with the victim than find faults in them.
But whatever the reason behind this behaviour might be, one thing is definite that victim-blaming harms our society, and even more so the victims. Hence, it can not be justified by any means. As human beings in the 21st century, we simply cannot overlook our regressive attitudes anymore, or someday we might be the ones facing them. The world we live in can be a hopeful place, but a fair place is something it seldom is. To make it one, instead of passing the blame and responsibility onto someone else, we should learn to be more empathetic. The world doesn’t need more critics, God knows it has plenty of them. It needs sensitivity, kindness, and empathy. And it needs people who can distinguish between right and wrong, people who dare to punish the Indras, not the Ahalyas.