Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Only Viable Solution to Rape Epidemic in India

Perhaps I ought to switch off my Twitter feed and Facebook time-stream for a little while. I don't know how much longer my brain can keep itself together from the continuous onslaught of terrible, terrible news emanating from my birth country. May I, ostrich-like, bury my head in the ground and hope that this horripilating situation would blow itself over?

Somehow I ain't holding my breath, while reports from state after state, highlighting escalating numbers of cases of rapes, gang rapes, and violent abuse of women, continue to come out from India, my country - where rape has assumed epidemic proportions.

Even as outrage is pouring out over the horrific incident in South Delhi, just two days ago, a 3 year old girl was raped by the husband of the owner of the play school she attended in West Delhi. Again, three days earlier, a 40 year old widowed woman and mother of four was sedated and gang raped by four in Northeast Delhi. In September, a 16 year old from Assam was found to be confined at a house in West Delhi for eight days and raped by four men. Such is the shame of Delhi that even its own Chief Minister has had to accept the unsavory moniker of 'rape capital' for the city.

Why point fingers at just Delhi? Just a few hours ago, I caught site of a news item on Twitter, via ANI news: 35 year old widow brutally gang raped by four in Chadmoni village, Malda, West Bengal; the woman was hospitalized in critical condition with severe wounds. No arrests had been made till then. Similar such abhorrent incidents have been reported from all over the country in the recent months.
  • Haryana: In just one month (September-October) no less than 12 cases of rape and gangrape were reported from several districts in Haryana, namely, Rohtak, Hisar, Jind, Bhiwani, Yamunanagar, Panipat, Sonipat, Ambala, Karnal, Faridabad, Fatehabad, Gurgaon, and Kaithal.
  • Mumbai: 3 year old girl raped by her father; discovered in November.
  • Bhubaneshwar: 19 year old girl, a part time singer and dancer, lured away on the pretext of discussing a dance performance, and gang raped by five.
  • Uttar Pradesh: A 38 year old married woman was gang raped by three neighbors at a bus stand in Mau. What is worse was the police inaction and apathy. From the report: "...Mau police refused to lodge a rape complaint and registered a case of molestation, eve-teasing and theft. In fact, the police had initially refused to entertain the complainant but registered a case in 'mild sections' of IPC after local media highlighted the matter..."
  • Kolkata: Within months of the horrific Park Street rape case, at least two back-to-back incidents of rape again rocked the city.
  • Tripura: This - while protests were going on in Delhi regarding the Delhi rape case; from a police report, a "37 year-old woman, mother of a 5 year old, was gang-raped at Bishalgarh in western Tripura on Wednesday night. After the rape, the women was stripped naked, brutally beaten up and then tied to a tree."
  • Meghalay: In a case that has escaped attention of the mainstream news media, just last week in Williamnagar, East Garo Hills District of Meghalaya, a girl was gang raped by a group of 16 boys.
  • Mizoram: Just the first trimester of 2012 in Mizoram has witnessed about 40 cases of rape, of which in 80% cases the victim was a minor - again, a situation that has been ignored by mainstream media.
  • Gujarat: 14 year old girl, kidnapped at knife point and repeatedly gang raped by four assailants in Viramgam city.
  • Bangalore: Three women were kidnapped from their home and gang raped in Bidadi; around the same time, a 21 year old girl was gang raped by assailants in Bangalore University’s Jnanabharathi campus.
  • Kerala: Last month, it came to light that a 13-year-old schoolgirl in Kerala’s Kannur district has been raped by her father, teenaged brother and uncle over the last two years, while the mother claimed ignorance.
  • Tamil Nadu: A 13-year old girl, a class VII student from Thathankulam, was found raped and murdered, her body dumped in a bush near a railway level crossing - earlier today.
And this chronicle of shame goes on and on.

Parallel to the outpouring of outrage, certain people have felt it necessary to publicly pontificate on the possible reasons behind this epidemic of rape and sexual abuse of women in India, some of which were chronicled by a New York Times blog in October. The range of reasons offered is often from rational and cogent (The Powerful Are Trying to Dominate the Powerless; The Uneducated ‘New Rich’ Are Asserting Their Feudal Privileges; The Government Lets Them Get Away With It; Rape Is a Weapon in Caste Conflict; Intellectual Development Isn’t Keeping Up With Economic Progress), to patently ridiculous (When Young Men and Women Mingle in Public, This Is One Result; Television and the Movies Are Making Women More Sexual; Consumption of Spicy Food - not to mention, chowmein!), to surreal and sublime (What Rapes?). Anand Soondas, resident editor of the Times of India, Chandigarh, put the situation in perspective squarely in his blog:
Strange theories are floated to explain the depravity of Indian men – from greater access to pornography (that would have made Holland very unsafe for women) to a growing inclination towards noodles (think Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong) – but the truth is that at the root of it all lies a culture built around hierarchies, of gender, faith, color, caste, region.

We are, quite simply, not used to people being equal – dark versus fair, Mongoloid versus Aryan, ‘chinky’ versus large-eyed are demarcations and rankings that have almost been internalized; in many cases institutionalized. Of course, female versus male continues to be the greatest division of all – and one that cuts across all other borders of the mind.

We at The Times of India in our edition today laid out a 6-point action plan to make India safer for women – harsher punishment, sensitization of the police force, setting up of fast-track courts, better patrolling, cleverer use of technology like GPS and CCTVs and a data base of public transport personnel – but what all these measures will not address is the mindset. A mindset that since the time of that deviant philosopher called Manu has refused to see "the weaker sex" as anything but property and the receptacle of male sperms. [Emphasis mine]
What is it with Indian men and rape? I have asked this question earlier. Jug Suraiya, an Associate Editor and columnist at the Times of India - someone whose writings I have avidly followed for long - has defined the motive behind this rape epidemic:
The only 'motive' of such an act of gross savagery (is) to demonstrate the male perpetrator's total subjugation of a woman by violating, both physically and emotionally, the innermost core of her being - is a morbid disease, a cancer in our society. And as with other forms of cancer, prevention should take priority over cure.
So, how should this affliction be prevented - what can the civil society do proactively? The various answers proffered have themselves been a study in gross insults to the autonomy and dignity of all women. In Delhi, the Chief Minister asks in anguish why Sowmya Vishwanathan returned from work alone late at night (Read: getting shot was her fault for venturing out without a male escort). In Kolkata, an indignant Chief Minister called a woman's rape complaint a conspiracy against the image of her political party, and in various quarters questions were raised about the moral character of the victim. Backed by certain political leaders, a local village council in Haryana has hawked early marriage as the 'solution' to rape. An equally enlightened village council in the Eastern state of Bihar has banned the use of mobile phones by married women and unmarried girls, levying steep fines for infractions, and citing as reason "debasement of social atmosphere by mobile phones". Common suggestions offered to women for the prevention of sexual abuse or other violent crimes often include the admonition not to dress 'provocatively', which can mean anything from wearing skirts to tight jeans - as if 'conservative', full-covering dressing has been any protection for women against being groped or rubbed against in public transport - and not to engage in 'unbecoming conduct', which may mean drinking in a public bar, wandering into the wrong part of the town, or simply returning from work alone late at night. Continues Jug Suraiya:
These and similar pieces of advice... make the common assumption that rape is a sex crime, motivated by eroticism. Rape has nothing to do with eroticism, not even in its most deviant form. Rape is the culmination of a deep-seated hostility against the female gender that is ingrained in our society. Rape is not a sex crime; it is a gender crime.

Women... continue to be targets of revilement and humiliation in the most bestial of forms, of which rape is only one example. If we are to rid ourselves of rape, we have first to rid ourselves of the systemic and inbred debasement of women which continues to prevail in our tech-savvy, 21st century society where being born a female is commonly considered to be a curse. Women are subject to various forms of gender assault, gross or subtle, throughout their lives.
In reality, the only solution that contemporary India offers its womenfolk for the escalating rape epidemic is to blame it on them. The deeply entrenched and pathologically misogynistic mindset of the Indian society, amply reflected in the behavior and actions of the Indian males, would like nothing better than to push its womenfolk back to the Dark Ages, where women would be either be confined to the kitchen and serve additionally as a sex-toy and baby-popping machine (depending upon the whims and fancies of the menfolk), or be damned to a life of forced celibacy in a monastery.

Sadly, almost none of the dialogs around the rape epidemic - and certainly not the current spate of outraged calls for the harshest punishments for convicted rapists - actually address the simplest and most direct solution: how to prevent women from getting raped? Teach the men not to rape. All the dialogs, all the admonitions, all the education and instructions directed towards the prevention of rape and sexual violence against Indian women must start from, and veer around, this simple precept - to be ingrained into the Indian male psyche proactively. Perhaps then, and only then, will this country start to recover from this ugly malaise.
UPDATE: A commentor has kindly provided a link to a TED talk by Anthony Porter, an educator and activist who is internationally recognized for his effort to end violence against women. Tony Porter advocates a message of self-examination and engagement of men, teaching how men can proactively break free of what he calls 'the man box', a list of society's expectations from a traditional male, and how men can come together to end the cycle of abuse and violence against women. Perhaps this can be a good starting point, as the commentor said.

The video has a clickable transcript, available currently in 34 languages.


  1. Could you suggest a list of resources that would serve as aids for proactively ingraining simple precepts into the India male psyche?

    Here's something that could possibly help (and could be of even more help if subtitled in more languages)

    1. Thank you, thank you for pointing me to this link.

  2. Can't think of anything useful to say - just checking in to say I hear you. :(

    1. Thank you for your comment, Sunil. The overwhelming sense of shame and outrage is too great now for me, too, to be able to say something constructive.

  3. Perhaps Indian men should start their own version of "Men Can Stop Rape," which was founded in the USA about ten years ago.