Can India break free of its rape culture?

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Sabrina Almeida

In 2012 an Indian student was violently raped on a moving bus in Delhi and died of horrific internal injuries. The gruesome attack exposed the level of sexual violence against women here and the country solemnly vowed to do better. However, a frightening replay of the ghastly events, seven years later in Hyderabad and the burning of the Unnao victim who was on her way to the rape hearing, show that little has changed. In fact, it brings to mind the chilling words of the incarcerated bus driver who said, “The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her.”

More than 34,000 cases of rape were reported in India in 2015 and that number rose to 38,947 the following year. In 2017 police registered 33,658 cases — an average of 92 rapes every day. With government reports suggesting that 99% of sexual assault cases go unreported, the actual numbers are probably beyond comprehension. Unnao, Kathua, Surat, Nadia… horrific stories continued to make headlines after the much-publicized New Delhi one. No  surprise then that a 2018 Thomson Reuters Foundation survey found India to be the most dangerous nation for sexual violence against women. Or that the UK and US issued a safety travel advisory for women citizens visiting India.

Dancer-choreographer Terence Lewis pointed out in his open letter after the recent Hyderabad incident that it is not just the perpetrator but his family and society that are also responsible for these heinous crimes. He put it down to “the patriarchy and misogynistic belief system that their parents have been born into”. This explains the lack of remorse perpetrators showed in the 2012 Nirbhaya case while insisting that she had it coming and shouldn’t have fought back.

Lewis’ words reminded me of the Bollywood movies in the 70s and 80s which portrayed violence against women and sexual harassment  as part of their romantic entertainment formula. Most films involved the hero rescuing the heroine from the clutches of the bad guy before this happened or seeking revenge for the crime committed against a loved one, all alluding to this being a common situation. 

Still Indian men have never been expected to change their attitude or behaviour towards females. Girls and women, on the other hand, are schooled on how to avoid ‘provocation’ and the protectionary measures to  prevent being scarred for life. The night curfew for women workers suggested by Telangana’s chief minister, K Chandrashekar Rao exemplifies this Indian mindset and the observation made by Lewis. The solutions being to barricade the women rather than castrate the men.

Objectification of women, male dominance and sex being taboo all fuel the rape culture in India. The ‘item song’ included in Bollywood films to pull crowds reinforces this message. What exactly are the producers trying to portray or achieve? Their outrage and condemnation of real-life sexual violence seems hypocritical then, does it not!

Investigative reporting on the underground market for rape videos three years ago highlighted the appetite for sexual violence. A 2019 report confirmed it with a shopkeeper in Agra’s market informing that, “Porn is passé. These real-life crimes are the rage.”

As shocking as this may be to some, distribution of rape videos is not news except to local law enforcement which claims ignorance.

A 2014 sample survey by Rescue showed that some 40% of young men in Goa watched rape porn regularly. Furthermore 76% of the surveyed undergraduate male students (18 to 22 years) said that watching pornography involving rape led to the desire to rape in them.

What’s the solution? Fast-track courts and the death penalty, or something more gruesome like the angry public is suggesting?

A woman who interviewed several convicted rapists at Tihar Jail in New Delhi for her doctoral thesis feels sex education and teaching men about ‘consent’ might make a difference. Most rapists she spoke with showed no remorse, and either justified their actions or blamed the victim. Reflecting on the common beliefs exhibited in her own household led her to think this might be true of Indian men in general.

Given this perverse scenario, combating sexual violence in India will require a complete reorientation of traditional gender roles and attitudes toward women which includes victims blaming themselves . This type of massive social change might take decades if not centuries. So, yes in the meanwhile, fast track courts and brutal punishment might incentivize society to learn and change faster. -CINEWS

Comments: 2

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  1. There is no such hing as Rape Culture ! Yes, rapes do take place in all counties. If you do some research, you will find that India is way down compared to rapes in many other countries.