The lockdown during the current pandemic saw people from all walks of life shutting themselves within four walls. While almost everything came to a grinding halt, rape could not be kept from continuing to infect India. Rape is a shadow pandemic that has only grown steadily in our country. When the grisly Hathras rape came to light during the second half of 2020, it reminded us how rape incidents continue to be reported despite a lockdown or shutdown. New Year 2021 began last week, and then today there is a news report of a 50-year-old woman gang-raped and killed in Budaun district of Uttar Pradesh. Do a Google search on rape statistics for India, and you will be shocked to see that a woman or girl is raped every 20 minutes. This abysmal state of women safety in our country is being generalised as the side-effect of the ‘inactivity’ of men during the pandemic. It might even be true to a considerable extent. But this argument cannot answer the question of the staggering rate of rape incidents in India before the advent of pandemic. So, what are the possible reasons behind the prevalence of this heinous crime across the nation?
An idle mind is a devil’s workshop. The phrase summarises the languor during the pandemic and most importantly the effects of unemployment in general. Unemployment, especially among youth is a bigger problem in hand that is weighing our economy down. Aimless enrolment in courses with less scope and dwindling fandom for yesteryear most-sought-after professional degrees like engineering stack precious human resources in the shelves of unemployment. Unemployed graduates, being an economic liability for our country, face the psychological hardships which arise as an effect of denial from the society and the declining social status. Problems like delayed marriages or continuous rejections in the forum of arranged marriages emerge as a result of unemployment. Sexual frustration as a result, is an equally severe problem. Such factors make unemployment a valid cause for rape in India. Although a heinous crime like rape cannot be justified with reasons, alleviating the crisis of unemployment is a necessity in our country that can effectively contribute towards solving the social evil.
While the unemployment is a valid concern to be addressed, the other facet of rape crisis in India that precedes the former in importance is sex education. To expect a country like India to implement sex education throughout the country where the quality of the education is dismal may be far-fetched. But sex education is indeed the need of the hour. India has always been notoriously quiet in addressing this topic even as we know that the land gave birth to works like Kamasutra and world-renowned sculptures of erotica which are quite commonplace in popular discourse. What seems to be accepted as a way of life in our country’s history is now hidden behind the curtain. The lack of awareness on sex education among youth is a major contributor of sexual crimes in our country. Generations of people have lived and passed without really understanding what sex means. We are still a society where the lessons on sexual reproduction in humans in schools are either skipped or widely cringed upon; sometimes, boys and girls are given these lessons separately, which is unnecessary and almost defeats the purpose of sex education.
Sexual illiteracy leads to ambiguity in understanding the difference between good sex and bad sex. Majority of women in India cannot distinguish between right or the wrong way to have sex. Many men in our country do not wear condoms and believe in the myth that condoms decrease pleasure. Hence, they’re dissuaded from using them. Confusion and fear is what characterises sexual literacy in our country. Social conventions and rules in the name of discipline and tradition, hinder people from exploring and understanding their sexual needs which leads to sexual frustration. This results in sexual harassment and serious crimes like rape.
The mystery surrounding sex education gives rise to myths and rumors that prevail in every nook and corner of our society. These myths have so much been imbued in Indian society that we can no longer tell the difference between a myth and the reality. Both men and women do not know how to address their sexual needs. With limited access to resources and exposure to harmful content like porn lead to pernicious misunderstandings. The recent find that porn support rape only adds fuel to the fire. While men are led the wrong way, the women’s lowest status in the social hierarchy does not allow them to approach avenues to educate themselves. The concept of honor is placed in a woman’s vagina which chains her to sexual illiteracy.
Speaking of honour, the sexual violence and rape for honor is a parasite that still exists different towns and villages, if not cities. We have seen several honor killings and rapes, which are based on caste rivalries and gender superiority. But rape is also being used as a tool to assert the superiority of the so-called upper castes over the lower caste (or vice-versa due to caste or political rivalries). Hathras case is a classic example of this phenomenon where the girl’s tongue was cut off by her rapists who belong to “upper caste” before she was sexually abused and raped. The case was widely perceived as a crime for upper caste’s assertion before it was declared a rape. While honor killing remains the known phenomenon in India, honor rape is indeed becoming a matter of concern. Increased prevalence of rape and gang rape for honor worsens the situation of women.
While the causes of rape incidents need to be addressed as the most important issue, false claims like provocative clothing and stigmatising the victim are weeds that have infested the already baleful situation. Hope for a good life after rape becomes bleak for the victim in India. Men not being open to marry rape victims, the aggrandised concept of virginity are all examples to the pressure that society puts over a rape victim.
The government has not been able to adequately address odious acts of rape in India. Invoking fast-track trails for rape cases since Nirbhaya case in 2012 has reduced the time frame for the trails to months. While this duration is still considered lengthy, some argue that the time is not enough to convict or acquit the alleged criminals. Either way, the plight of the victim does not get mended (that is, if the victim is lucky enough to be alive).
Increasing the severity of the punishment of rape is being mooted as a solution to the rape crisis. While the idea is appealing and might attract a lot of support from people, it is undeniable that there is a risk that might follow suit if this is implemented. Increasing the severity of punishment and assigning capital punishments as verdicts to rape cases might end up threatening the perpetrators who might try to conceal the crime by murdering the victim and trying inhuman ways to hide and clear the evidences. It was recently witnessed in the rape of a veterenarian in Hyderabad late last year. Thus, the decision to increase the severity of punishment might consequently prove to be a grave mistake, which can perpetuate violence and gruesome murders. In a country like India where women are already facing acid-attacks and bestial and barbaric murders, this is indeed a huge concern to be considered.
The remedial actions taken against the rape incidents has only become anti-climactic. The safety of women is incorrectly perceived as putting women in their homes before the night sets in. The numerous measures taken by the government for women safety only seeks to protect women. These measures do not seek to annihilate the obstacles but have consistently been acting to keep women off trouble. It does not take a microscope to discern that these measures hamper the freedom of women. The recent actions taken by Delhi government to increase the installation of streetlights and to provide tickets free of cost to ride the local buses are textbook examples of the aforesaid argument. Women safety at the cost of women freedom cannot be the solution to the problem.
Let us assume women stay indoors. Does that mean rape will cease to take place? A big no. Numerous studies on rape show that more than fifty percent of rapes in our country are committed by the persons who are known to the victim or persons who are related to the victim. Moreover, domestic violence, marital rape, raping minor girls and babies do not happen in roads and parks. When the threat is indoors and not just outside, where can women go?
Rape culture is a sign of declining civic sense in a society. It effectively means that the society is under grave danger of reverting back to barbarism. Brutality and merciless violence are simply not what being human means. Humans are good by nature as Rousseau said. The bestial acts committed by humans are indicative of our race taking a step backward against nature. The question is, are we going to stay muted as this happens?
-Subiksha A (Freelancer)
Picture: Representational (Credits – AP / worldpoliticsreview.com)