The Curious Case of India and Rape

Usually I stick to Facebook when I need to vent out or rant about things that frustrate me and boil my blood. Obviously the Bangalore Mass Molestation was my most recent trigger. However, after seeing cases like Nirbhaya, the many cases of kids getting raped and now the Bangalore incident, my thoughts and anger couldn’t be justified through a mere Facebook post. So bear with me!


There is one thing we all need to understand and recognise in our minds. The fight against rape is not a fight against the Modi Government; it’s not praise for the previous UPA government; it is not questioning our global economic standing and neither is it indicative of our viewpoint regarding demonetisation. To understand and discuss rape culture effectively, we need to forget our political views, which makes us call others ‘Bhakts’ or ‘Sickulars’; we need to forget about places that have more rape cases than us; we need to view this objectively and to realise that the only way to make a positive change is to accept the various negative attitudes that float around us. Lets not wait for another Nirbhaya or mass molestation to debate about women in India and the social/legal problems surrounding it.

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Lets ignore the circus for a bit, shall we?

 


The statistics regarding women in India doesn’t paint a pretty picture for us. The biggest dilemma comes when the reported rape cases go down every year, especially since 2014, but the question of unreported cases keeps coming back to haunt us. And this question or fear of unreported cases is legitimate. Society pressure, fear of humiliation, rejection of marriage etc are few of the thoughts that run through a woman’s mind. But that’s not all. There are various other things that influence rape statistics and the social attitude towards rape itself. Legal and social barriers both contribute in their own ways.

However, whatever i have written below is not to engage in an in-depth legal analysis and neither do i hold the answers for all the social problems that might exist.

REPEAT OFFENDERS 
Imagine you braved your way to a police station, filed a report about your rape and the accused got arrested. Sigh of relief right? But then imagine, owing to the slow judicial process, the culprits are now out on bail. But surely they wouldn’t dare commit such an offence again right? Wrong.
In Rampur, it was found that the alleged rapist and murderer of a 10 year old girl had recently been released from prison, where he had spent time for raping an 8 year old in 2012.
In Haryana, a girl was gangraped for the second time by two of the 5 accused of raping her in 2013. Reports states that the accused had been putting pressure on the girl and her family for an out-of-court settlement and her refusal made them take this step.
In Patna, a class X student was allegedly raped by a power political from RJD. In about 2 months, he was released from jail due to a bail granted by Patna High Court.

The chronicles of bail in rape cases throughout the country is an interesting one. Reporting a rape case and putting a culprit in jail is way more difficult than getting one out of jail. When you already have the fear of humiliation, the stereotype of the police being uncooperative and throwing their moral questions at you and now with the added fear of culprits getting out and ‘repeat rape’, can we assume that this might influence the ‘reported rapes’ statistics? Wouldn’t this make women more hesitant to come out and speak up about what happened to them?

REVENGE RAPE
Two words: Khap Panchayats. We are familiar with the old age traditions and beliefs of the infamous all male village council and how their verdicts are always the complete opposite of freedom, liberty and equality. Many of us also know that getting rid of Khap Panchayats isn’t easy at all. Whether its due to the fact that many villagers still see Khaps as an integral part of upholding their village customs and traditions or the usual issue of vote banks for political parties; Khaps and their verdicts have many a times shook our faith in humanity.
For example in 2015, a Khap Panchayat in Uttar Pradesh ordered the rape of 2 sisters as a punishment for their brother marrying someone from another caste.
The strong holding Khap Panchayats have on villages and most importantly villagers is undeniable. India needs to move forward and abolish such local unelected authorities that go against the fundamentals of human rights and dignity.

WHERE ARE THE MEN?
The social media trend of #Notallmen during the Bangalore mass molestation definitely infuriated many of us. Its time that we realise that the anger carried by women isn’t against the existence of men but rather existence of social norms and ideas that turn many men into unapologetic, unforgivable monsters. However, one place where #notallmen might come useful is in the context of the very act of rape itself. Because #notallmen rape only women and #notallmen are free from such rapes. Yes, men are also victims of rape but to discuss that, we need to address the elephant in the room. The giant legal elephant, the giant Section 377 elephant. With section 377 coming back in 2013 and homosexuality still not being legalised or even debated freely in the country, #notallmen can report the rape that they face.

When looking at countries that have legalised homosexuality, even in the USA there is no thorough research on male-male or female-female form of rapes. 1 in 71 men in the U.S. have been raped or have had an experience of attempted rape. Incidents of sexual violence in US are severely underreported, especially among male victims, that lead to an assumption that the actual number is likely higher.

In the UK, in 2011-2012 there were 1250 reports of male-victim rape.

Now remember that elephant I just mentioned? Sec 377 makes it even more difficult and scary for men to report rape in India. Cases of men on men rape or women on men rape are not unheard of in India. But anti-homosexuality sentiments and laws make it difficult for people to come forward and report men on men rape cases, especially for the closeted gays.

It’s difficult to tell how much this might influence the statistics on ‘reported cases’ but it sure brings up the debate of homosexuality again and freedom of sexual orientation, something which we are still far behind on.

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MARITAL RAPE SEX/WIFELY DUTIES
Marital Rape or more appropriately in this context, forced sex in marriage is legal. Even now. Women in India are 40% more likely to experience rape from their husband than a stranger. Under current Indian law (Section 375 of India’s Penal Code 1860), “sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape”.
Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi said that marital rape cannot be criminalised due to “level of education and illiteracy, poverty, social customs and religious beliefs”. She added that it was due to the “mindset of society to treat the marriage as a sacrament”.
So marriage is a sacrament and it then also comes with duties. A woman needs to discharge her wifely duties and obviously withholding sex in such a situation is a breach of those duties. But is the area really so black and white?
Is it alright to deny the possibility of criminalising marital rape in a country where forced marriages (especially over the age of 15) is still practiced? Where girls are married off in order to remove family burden and many times to guys twice their age?

The age of sexual consent is 18 unless you’re married.  The idea of different benchmarks depending on marital status really confuses the law on rape. We also have POCSO act which defines any person under the age of 18 as a child and discusses sexual abuse, harassment and pornography. 18 is the legal age to get married but according to UNICEF, 47% of girls are married off by the age of 18. Courts themselves have been rather careful while dealing with legal age of consent and marriage. (Read more)

The idea of sex in marriage being a ‘duty’ and not something based on affection and pleasure is also debatable. But obviously each case assessed would be fact sensitive, but shouldn’t the remedy at least be available in the first place for women to access? One of my favourite paragraphs from an article in  The Hindu questions the very relation of sex as a duty and marriage:
To say that the institution of marriage will be threatened by such a law is to either underestimate the very real affections, bonds and negotiations that hold good marriages together despite deep disagreements and differences, or to accept that sexual abuse and coercion is so common in marriages that no man dares risk such a law.

Marital sexual duties can, in my opinion, be referred to as the silent legal rape. This is also one of those areas where we can consider the question of rape statistics and the impact criminalization of marital rape would have on it.

But as of now, criminalising marital rape, although urged for by various women’s group, is perhaps a far and distant dream.

But if we think about it, we have two scenarios:
1) You’re under 18 and in a relationship. You engage in consensual sex but since you’re not married, you could be charged with rape, even if the girl consented. In the eyes of law, it’s still wrong.
2) You’re married to a 18-year-old. It wasn’t her choice but her family’s decision to marry her off. She doesn’t want to have sex with you but she doesn’t really have a choice does she? This is not rape anymore, its her wifely duty. The law would most likely not interfere in this.

We have effectively turned participants of consensual sex into rapists and participants of forced marriage and the sex thereafter are simply carrying out their duties. In all of this, the women’s consent seems to be lost. We have also failed to differentiate sex and marriage as two different components. Sex doesn’t necessarily result in marriage and marriage isn’t only about sex.



 

Rape is all around us and in various forms. Revenge rape, homosexual rape, marital rape etc. And all of them have their own social or legal hurdles to overcome. But legal provisions do exist. Certainly not in their best form or super effective.
But still, unreported cases and silence prevails in many households when it comes to sexual violence, abuse and rape.

Tamanna Basu, a friend of mine, works with Shakti Shalini- a NGO focusing on gender based violence. Obviously I was very interested to hear her point of view on why women still endure sexual violence even though they can access legal remedies?  This is what she had to say-

…legally speaking, the implementation of laws is probably the biggest problem. Sometimes the police is supportive, some times they aren’t. They are themselves full of sexism and patriarchy and prone to victim blaming. So a lot of work needs to be done culturally. Ultimately laws can help keep things in check. The roots are cultural and ideological.

…Breaking a marriage can be a huge blow the codes of honour and respect for women. It is taken as failure of womanhood itself. Her entire family and community can feel shame.

…If socially we were able to have systems in place where women wanting to break out of such conditions could be guaranteed safety, basic living conditions, shelter and opportunities for earning, I am sure more women would come forward.
Lastly, I have heard women say,”he is my husband. He has the right to hit me. So what if he hits me? He loves me also, right?” Gender/sexual violence is not even recognized as a form of violence in many sections of society. Not even by the women suffering it.

Whether you look at marital rape or sexual violence or homosexual rape and relationships, you have to appreciate the fact that legal remedies won’t be effective without social development. There are various tools you use for social development, and education could be the most powerful tool.
However, it is important to understand that you need uniform, high quality of education, which focuses beyond textbook knowledge, to change the social mentality of people.

During my time in high school, teachers would openly comment on a girl’s skirt length, eyeliner, colour of the hair tie or hair clips etc. Now for me its alright if you point out the obvious school rules regarding lengths of skirts while scolding a pupil. But violation of school rules was rarely given importance. The main theme of that scolding/shouting session would go something like this:
‘what sort of a girl are you?’
‘Is this what your parents have taught you?’
‘You’re already wearing eyeliner at such an age, god knows what will happen when you go to college’
‘Shameless girl’
One particular teacher was really good at creative and innovative scoldings. When I once failed to produce an art class homework she gave me, this is the reaction I got-
‘This girl is always in the corridor talking with boys, giggling with them and hanging around them. God knows what she will grow up and do. Shameless. Go back to your seat now.’

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Good girls don’t share the same oval frame with a male. Or giggle with them.

Apart from the logic that I missed which somehow connects me not doing an art homework and me talking to boys, it was the negative and mortifying tone that really got to me. Why was it so wrong for me to hang out with guys or giggle with them? Why didn’t she just use the term ‘friends’? Obviously i hang out with girls too so why wasn’t that pointed out? In a co-ed school, one of the best and reputable ones in India, such behaviour from teachers is quite normal and acceptable. If this happens in the sphere of education, where children spend 14 years of their life, 5 days a week and 7 hours a day, can we only blame family upbringing for the corrupt mindset that exists around us? We can’t really ignore the equal and important influence of schools and it’s not just about the textbooks, but also the teachers. If moral policing is wrong, then is moral teaching right? This is not to suggest in any way that schools should let go of their rules and regulations, but, do you need to question a girl or a boy’s moral standards and upbringings and character in order to uphold your regulations?

If moral policing makes you scared of the law enforcement and question their dedication in protection you, wouldn’t moral teaching, moral parenting etc make you scared to approach those around you for help without being judged or questioned? Of course the policeman is a mere stranger. If his words can stress you, imagine those words and questions coming out of your relatives and dear ones.

Source of rape culture or gender based violence can’t narrowed down to only family upbringing in India. Commercial media are also something we need to discuss.
Recently big youth names such as All India Backchod released a new video focusing on something that has crossed our minds many times but never formulated into discussion: Bollywood and its influence on harassment.
Normalisation of stalking, differentiating between a good and bad character through their dressing and item numbers that makes no sense and is only for pure entertainment involving a women dancing in minimal clothing.
Classic Bollywood tales, or even daily India soap operas for that matter had this trademark way of telling the viewer who was evil and who was the good ‘sanskari’ woman. The good ‘sanskari’ woman wore traditional clothing, with simplistic way of living and mannerisms and in the shows she always obeyed her elders no matter how idiotic they may be at times.
The villain or vamp wore western clothing, drank alcohol and flaunted a blunt and flamboyant lifestyle. Even if she did wear sarees, it would be the low-cut or sleeve blouse design with heavy make up. Growing up with such images all around you, stereotyping women into such categories in real life is unavoidable. Especially for those classes that come from villages and the only exposure they have to understand city life and its people is commercial media. While Bollywood has now started taking a different direction with activist films such as ‘Pink’ catching our attention, one might wonder if this is too little too late. This feeling can be summed up by this one status I saw on Facebook a few days ago:

Big B thinks that ‘Pink’ can change men’s mentality, but he doesn’t think that actors stalking, teasing girls in movies can also influence men.

If one movie can raise expectations of people to bring about a mentality change or at least open up a discussion like never before, we should also consider the fact that its challenging years of influence brought around by movies of contradictory nature.
While for Indian soap operas- well lets just be thankful nobody expects us to become a housefly all of a sudden. YET.

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Presenting: Sanskari housefly.

Education, Bollywood, family and … POLITICIANS. This one needs no introduction or conclusion. Just one question How are we so comfortable knowing that such politicians actively represent US and are making decisions that affect US in the parliament?

But after all of my frantic writing on types of rape, what influences them and everything else around that area, I’m still left to wonder what can i, as an individual do to stop all this? Maybe nothing. Maybe I can get a few people involved in a discussion regarding this issue but would that lead to anything? Most of the people around me are of similar mindset.
But I guess it’s about not being content. Celebrate our economic achievements, our military accomplishments, our space missions but always remember that it’s not enough.

We have a world-class metro, but we need a separate women’s department in order to ensure our safety. So don’t be content with the metro, be pissed off about the need for a separate coach. Be pissed that segregation is required to co-exist without harming each other.

Be happy that we can live the glorious life that enables us to shop in places like Mall of India, Select City Walk and what not. But be pissed off that the brutal incident of Nirbhaya occurred right outside that symbol of development and luxury.

Be excited about a woman winning a medal for India at the olympics. But then look at Dangal and realise that many of them hard to go through years of struggle, gender discrimination and governmental corruption to reach where they are.

Go out at night and celebrate your new job or promotion or the new iPhone you got. But then remember that incidents of sexual assault with Uber and Ola drivers are still a threat when you want to go back home and some ministers might just blame you for anything that might happen.

If your best friend comes out to you about being gay, appreciate the fact that he trusted you. But then remember he can’t live his life to the fullest or marry the person he loves.

For everything that makes you optimistic, add a little bit of cynicism to it. Our politicians have this tendency to put this blanket of optimism on us for everything. Covering us with that blanket helps them to escape out of major issues still surrounding us. Hold them accountable in any way you can. Work with NGOs, talk to people who might not agree with your viewpoints and in every elections, discuss these issues with your friends and families. Make them realise that there is a lot more than stake than economic rankings with every vote. Make politicians realise that this generation is not a bunch of toddlers that you can distract with candy.

Ek surgical strike apni society and politicians pe bhi karlete hai, shayad kaam karjaye.

 

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