As I write this, the news feeds talk about yet another rape in Delhi. This time, horrifically, in a moving bus, a gang rape in which the staff of the bus also participated— according to reports. The victim and her male friend, who was dropping her home, were brutally assaulted and thrown off the moving bus. The victim is in the ICU with severe injuries, including those on her head. The doctors treating her are horrified at the extreme injuries she has sustained and doubt she will survive.
Some days ago, a 16-year-old returning home was raped by two men who were keeping watch on her movements. A neighbouring family, which happened to be related to one of the rapists, watched on and did nothing to intervene. Traumatised and humiliated, she poured kerosene and set herself on fire. She died a day later in the hospital. This happened in Haryana.
This September, in Haryana again, a young Dalit girl was raped by perhaps eight men. They warned her not to tell anyone about it, or they would kill her. She didn’t, terrified. But then they began circulating the videos they had taken of her, one of these happened to reach her father. Humiliated, the father committed suicide.
There are too many cases to write about. The cases I’ve mentioned are just indicative. Rapes are on the rise across the country.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a woman is raped every 20 minutes in India. What is more shameful is that according to the statistics, the possibility of someone being convicted for the crime has declined by a third. Last year, 24,206 rape cases were reported — up 10 percent from 2010. This shows an increase of 873 percent since 1971 from when the Crime Bureau began recording these statistics. What is scarier? Last year, every third victim was a child. And that many cases go unreported. According to reports, for every case reported, 50 go unreported.
If you thought that rape was a crime committed by strangers in the dark, know that a majority of rapes are committed by a person known to the victim, who stalks the victim, knows the victim’s schedule and, more importantly, has the victim’s trust and access to the victim. Stranger rapes are a miniscule percentage of the rapes committed but get reported more often, according to the Delhi police. “In 2011, only 2.46 percent stranger-related rape cases were reported, in comparison to 3.94 percent in 2010.” They also said that around 97 percent of the perpetrators were known to the victims. (Indian Express, 7 January 2012).
Many sociologists and social commentators have attempted to analyse the various factors that could be leading up to this alarming rise in the number of rapes. We have reasons ranging from change in social attitudes, urban isolation, declining gender ratio, easy access to pornography, distorted perceptions of relationships, the social taboo around sex, apart from completely ludicrous ones like Jitender Chhatar’s, Jind’s thua khap panchayat leader, laying of the blame on the increased consumption of spicy food such as chowmein.
To quote him, “To my understanding, consumption of fast food contributes to such incidents. Chowmein leads to hormonal imbalance evoking an urge to indulge in such acts. You also know the impact of chowmein, which is a spicy food, on our body. Hence, our elders also advised to consume light and nutritious food.” Solutions provided by these khap panchayats included lowering the age of marriage for girls to 16, because they think that apparently married women don’t get raped, and early marriage for women keeps their sexual desires in check. Of course, male sexual desire has no such restrictions imposed.
Other reasons proffered for the rise in rapes is that women are wearing increasingly provocative clothes, if one has to believe Andhra Pradesh DGP V Dinesh Reddy, who at a press conference in Hyderabad, blamed women for provoking people with fashionable clothing. And how could one forget Mamata Banerjee, the West Bengal chief minister, who explained that one of the main reasons for the increase in rape cases in the country is due to the rise in free interaction between men and women. To quote her, “Earlier if men and women would hold hands, they would get caught by parents and reprimanded but now everything is so open. It’s like an open market with open options,” (IBNlive, 15 October 2012).
If these custodians of our morality are to be believed, infants and geriatrics would never be raped, a woman would never be raped in her own house, women wearing salwar kameezes, saris or ethnic wear would never be the victims of rape, no rapes would be committed in the day time and only strangers commit rape.
A revealing investigation by Tehelka caught on camera the attitudes of policemen in the National Capital Region towards rape victims. “Seventeen senior cops of over a dozen police stations across Gurgaon, Noida, Ghaziabad and Faridabad were caught on spy camera blaming everything from fashionable or revealing clothes to having boyfriends to visiting pubs to consuming alcohol to working alongside men as the main reasons for instances of rape. ‘It’s always the woman who is at fault’ was in essence the argument offered by a majority of the cops. Many of them believe that genuine rape victims never approach the police and those who do are basically extortionists or have loose moral values.” (NDTV.com).
The Union Cabinet in July this year approved the proposal for introduction of the Criminal Law (Amendment ) Bill, 2012 in the Parliament. According to this bill, “The punishment for sexual assault will be for a minimum of seven years which may extend to imprisonment for life and also fine for aggravated sexual assault, i.e., by a police officer within his jurisdiction or a public servant / manager or person taking advantage of his position of authority etc. The punishment will be rigorous imprisonment which shall not be less than ten years which may extend to life imprisonment and also fine.”
Rape is not a crime of lust but a crime of opportunity, the opportunity and the perceived risk ratio, which leads the perpetrator to believe they can get away with it. This is because of the very real possibility that most women will not report a rape due to the social stigma that will follow. And also because most men believe that they will be out on bail, or get out after serving a minimal sentence.
What we do need are fast track courts to deal with rape cases, increased convictions, a sensitised police force, in-camera hearings, and social support that allows a victim to report a rape without the fear of social stigma and being tarred as a scarlet woman.
To deter people from committing rapes, we definitely need more severe sentences. If not capital punishment for extreme cases, then chemical castration is definitely an option to be looked at. What we also need is an open to public online database of convicted sex offenders and rapists, so people can be on the alert, the way it is in some countries. The fear of social shame and chemical castration might just be a deterrent, might just erase that mocking impunity, which underlines the brazenness with which rapes are being committed these days. Also, we need laws to be relooked at in order to do away with the growing incidents of consensual sex in relationships turned sour being turned into rape cases. These are at best cases of cheating, and definitely not rape, which is an invasion of a person’s body against their will.
And more importantly, this generation of parents has to push for the change in mindsets that needs to begin at home. Bringing up our boys to become men who will respect women, who know that a No means a No and not a Perhaps, Maybe, or aYes. To stop the ridiculous concept of stalker like wooing that our cinema has popularised, where in order to get a girl to be romantically interested in him, the male lead has to behave borderline stalker obsessed and harass a girl in so persistent a manner that in real life he would be eligible for a restraining order. Our movies need to take a hard look at how they’re depicting stalking, street sexual harassment and yes, rape. We need to watch our vocabulary, rape jokes that get forwarded and laughed at are not funny in the least. They trivialise a serious crime and need to be stopped.
The basic premise behind rape is not sexual, contrary to popular perception, but that of power, that of opportunity, that of impunity. It comes from years of being brought up to think that a woman is a non entity and immaterial.
Our boys are brought up to believe that they are more important than their sisters. They are denied nothing, given everything. They think they will get away with rape. Very often they do. Traumatic and cumbersome procedures for registering rapes, lack of sensitivity while dealing with victims by both the police and medical personnel, result in most rapes going unreported.
For our girls, we need to teach them self defence. And make it compulsory. Every girl needs to learn how to fight off an attacker. Every school and college should introduce self defence classes for girls. Every girl needs to carry something article for self defence in her bag, a taser gun, pepper spray, even a whistle.
Above all, we need to be a society mature enough to stop blaming the victim. Only when we stop saying, “Don’t get raped” to our girls and start saying “Don’t rape” to our boys will things ever start to change.