Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Chronicle of Shame: Indian Manhood

It has been more than two years since I first reacted in anguish in this blog over what seemed to me to be nothing less than an epidemic of rape in the Indian subcontinent. I had asked:
What is it with Indian men and rape?

Is it about sexual gratification in a country where, inexplicably, sex is still a taboo subject and the Indian male is a lustful, prurient, sex-starved lot eager to carry out rape to fulfill a sexual fantasy whenever opportunity presents? Is it about power and control over certain individuals, or a group of people - an uncontrollable urge to dominate? Or, is it a violent response, a lashing out, of the patriarchal societal establishment to the increasing economic and social emancipation of the Indian women, whom it finds it cannot subjugate any further?

In India, it probably is all of the above.
As I have learnt more about the issues surrounding sexual violence against women, it appears that it is more of the latter than former.
Very rarely, rape is a means to sexual gratification. Rather, in India, it is all about power and dominance, about showing those uppity women who the boss is. It is the same mentality that prompts horrendous acid- or razor-attacks by men against women - aiming to maim or disfigure them permanently - in an attempt at ritual marking of territory; it is the mentality that forces on women the indignity being stripped naked and paraded in public as a retaliatory measure against a group or clan of people. It is the mentality that is borne out of thousands of years of tradition - many of them religious in origin or couched in religious terms - that seeks to maintain patriarchal control over society and views women as chattel, as property to be used and abused at will.

Shame upon the vaunted Indian Manhood that engages in violence against women. Shame upon those idiotic and superstitious traditions that encourage subjugation of women and enable violent abuse and rape of women in India. Shame upon the society that continues to rely on and give credence to such traditions to the detriment of its womenfolk.

Indian laws against rape are antiquated and highly discriminatory, often serving to further violate and humiliate an already-traumatized victim. Section 155(4) of the Indian Evidence Act promotes the terrible idea that if woman is sexually liberated or considered promiscuous, she becomes fair game, her 'modesty' no longer the responsibility of the government/society to protect. I was shocked and utterly disgusted to learn about the extremely intrusive "finger test" - an unconscionable violation of an unmarried rape victim - that involves inserting fingers into the woman, not to collect traces of blood, semen or saliva as evidence, but with the intention to measure “vaginal laxity” and thereby ascertain whether she was “habituated to sex” before the alleged assault.
[EDIT, December 2013: A reader - thank you, atheistindian - has pointed out to me in the comments that my knowledge of the Section 155(4) of Indian Evidence Act is incorrect. It appears that the Indian Evidence (Amendment) Act of 2002 - enforcable from January 1, 2003 - rendered section 155(4) IEA null and void, while adding a new provision, section 146 IEA, which makes it not permissible to question a rape/abuse victim in court about her general moral character. Small mercies, I guess.]

Is this for real? How can a country that boasts of tradition and heritage of culture and claims to be civilized continue to be so cavalierly and inhumanly blind to the dignity and welfare of its womenfolk?

In March 2000, following discussions and deliberations with three organizations interested in women's issues, namely, Sakshi, IFSHA (Interventions for Support, Healing and Awareness) and AIDWA (All India Democratic Women's Association), as well as the National Commission for Women (NCW), the 172nd Law Commission of India recommended several changes to the rape-related laws in India that date from the 1860s(!). These recommendations included:
  • Substitution of definition of 'rape' by definition of 'sexual assault' as a more encompassing term.
  • Sexual intercourse (as contained in section 375 of Indian Penal Code) should include all forms of bodily penetrations such as penile/vaginal, penile/oral, finger/vaginal, finger/anal and object/vaginal.
  • Sexual assault on any part of the body should be construed as rape.
  • In case of a sexual relationship established with a young person below 16 years of age, consent by the young person should be considered irrelevant, and the said relationship, an evidence of sexual assault.
  • Rape laws should be made gender neutral, to encompass sexual assault against young boys by person(s) in positions of trust and authority ('custodial rape').
  • Under the Indian Evidence Act, if the victim of sexual assault denies consenting to the sexual act, the court should presume it to be so.
  • The section of the Indian Evidence Act that permits the man prosecuted for rape (or an attempt to sexually assault) to show that the victim is of generally immoral character should be abolished outright.
... among other provisions that are rational and progressive, such as more rigorous punishments if such offences are committed by public servants or a family member in the position of trust.

However, as an article in the New York Times observed, for Indian Rape Laws, change is slow to come. The 172nd Law Commission had, unfortunately, refused to accept the concept of rape within marriage, stating that forced sexual intercourse by a husband with his wife was to be treated equally as an act of physical violence by a husband against the wife, punishable under existing laws. Even the much-awaited changes (such as the Domestic Violence Act of 2005) have been largely disappointing, since it continues to condone sexual abuse in various, including marital, surroundings (Linked article: An excellent review of Marital Rape and the Indian legal scenario by Priyanka Rath in the Indian Law Journal, volume 2, issue 2, 2007).

Meanwhile, even in 2011, heinous crimes such as rape, molestation, abuse, violence against women continue to the order of the day in modern India. Following is a glimpse of the chronicle of shame from one single Indian daily, reported in just the past 4 months.
As reported in the Times of India, according to statistics, cases of rape per lakh (1 lakh = 100,000) population increased to 2.8 in 2010 from 2.65 in 2009. The figure was 4.16 in 2005 and 3.82 in 2006, the highest in the last decade. Of the persons arrested for rape, 52 were relatives, 65 were friends, 222 neighbours and 130 were other known persons. In only 20 cases, rapes were committed by strangers. Neighbours were accused in 42% of the molestation cases while 4% were friends and 6% relatives.

For all the lofty-but-empty platitudes offered towards women in this country ('honor/respect women', 'women as the embodiment of the goddess Durga', 'woman, the divine mother', and so forth), India seems to evince a cultural and tradition-induced silence and tolerance towards violence against women. The Indian society at large, clinging to outmoded, outdated, patriarchal notions of ‘modesty’, ‘chastity’ or ‘virginity’, offers a tacit approval of the perpetuation of violence and discrimination against women. As Aruna Kashyap, the author of a Human Rights Watch report on deplorable official treatment of rape victims in India, says: "Sexual violence or abuse is a violation of women’s dignity, equality, sexual autonomy and bodily integrity." Unless we as a nation learn to recognize that fact, we shall never be truly civilized.


  1. Very well researched and strongly worded- and rightly so. We have not been responsible enough to check this scourge.
    Thank you for the eye-opener !

    PS- I am an Indian and stand by your assessment in last paragraph.

  2. Thank you. I feel rather strongly about this.

  3. Strongly worded, but I can't say 'well researched'. The article displays poor debating skills and a disregard for facts. I'll bring up my contentions one by one:

    First, the obvious, the Indian Evidence Act. Section 155(4) was repealed by a parliamentary amendment in 2003 - eight years before you came up with this blog post. Given that bare acts of Indian legislations are so easily available online, I am surprised how most people who cite things like this don't care to actually verify what they believe are 'facts'. No wonder the world is run by fools.

    Second, I don't agree that consent of under-16 should be regarded as irrelevant. By denying their right to consent to sexual activity, it essentially denies them agency to their own bodies. Also, such an idea is hardly progressive and rational - the very foundation of statuatory rape laws is the Canonical percept that a young woman's sexuality is the property of her father, to be given away to the lawfully wedded husband.

    Third, I strongly disagree with changing the Indian Evidence Act to make rape trial an exception to the general criminal principles where the burden of proof od a crime is on the prosecution, not the accused. This is violative of the principles of criminal jurisprudence and basic human rights, where an accused should be afforded the presumption of innocence and convicted only after a charge has been made beyond reasonable doubt. The presumption of a lack of consent by a victim should hold good only when the charge is made, not in a courtroom where it is the prosecutor's job to establish guilt and the defendant to prove his/her innocence.

    Fourth, I am an Indian male and quite unashamed of being so. I don't see why Indian men who don't rape women or commit any sort of atrocities against them should carry the burden of shame for the (very) few offenders who commit atrocities. Thats asinine and irrational, completely unbecoming of people who claim to be rational and progressive.