The gang-rape and murder of an aspiring 27-year old veterinary doctor brought under sharp focus on the safety of women in Hyderabad, capital of the country’s youngest state.
The charred body of the victim, a resident of Shadnagar on the suburbs of the state capital, was found in an underpass adjacent to the Bangalore-Hyderabad national highway-44 and Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in the early hours of Thursday morning, leaving many questions about the safety of women.
Almost every year, India outrages over one rape case that makes it to the news - Unnao, Kathua, Nirbhaya, and now Priyanka Reddy. And year after year, media fuels it's outrages which die out after a few weeks - and we prepare for the same event next year.
Though the outrages are genuine and fueled with utmost anger and disbelief - they somehow seem to be almost a lost cry for help. The officials, police and government alike do little in their power to take the anger and pain as an accelerant in bettering the state of affairs.
Instead of screaming "hang the rapist" - there are more fundamental issues that we have to deal with first. Not addressing these issues to make sure we don't have another rapist to hang - is the first problem itself.
What Are The Root Causes Of This Rape Epidemic In India?
In a report from India Today, Delhi Police reported that 5 women were raped and 8 women were molested every day last year. According to Delhi Police data, 2,043 cases of rapes were registered last year as compared to 2,059 cases the year before that and 2,065 cases in 2016.
According to another report by Times Of India, 51 of all legislators in the country have a record for crimes against women, of which 4 have rape cases against them. There were 3, 38,594 cases of crimes against women reported in 2016 of which 38,947 were rape cases, and 2,167 were gang - rape cases. The conviction rate for these cases was approximately 25.5%, which means only 1 in 4 cases were convicted.
If these harrowing statistics weren't enough to send a shiver down your spine - here are some comments, verbatim, from ministers regarding rape in India -
"If the limit of morality is crossed by women, such cases will happen," Dharamveer Goyat, a senior politician in Haryana.
"Boys make mistakes. They should not be hanged for this. We will revoke the anti-rape laws," Mr Yadav had said during his campaign for the general elections.
"To my understanding, consumption of fast food contributes to such incidents. Chowmein leads to hormonal imbalance evoking an urge to indulge in such acts," said Jitender Chhatar, a resident of Jind's Chhatar village and thua khap panchayat leader.
Looking at these comments we can see what the issues are, very clearly.
- Toxic Masculinity: Toxic masculinity is difficult to narrow down but the closest definition is the one from the Good Men Project -“a rejection of the perceived opposite, femininity, that is so pervasive as to become unhealthy for both men and those around them.” This can be seen just by thinking of some of the insults that a man may be subjected to if he doesn’t live up to the desired “toughness” of himself or those around him: words such as “pussy,” “sissy,” or even as straightforward as “girl” imply to men that being perceived as feminine is something to be avoided. Social Theorist Jackson Katz also sums up impacts of toxic masculinity from a male perspective well in his documentary Tough Guise 2: “We can’t show any emotion except anger. We can’t think too much or seem too intellectual. We can’t back down when someone disrespects us. We have to show we’re tough enough to inflict physical pain and take it in turn. We’re supposed to be sexually aggressive with women. And then we’re taught that if we step out of this box, we risk being seen as soft, weak, feminine, or gay.” So the relation between toxic masculinity and rape culture is very evident.
- Misogyny: Let's take a look at Bollywood, for starters. The Bollywood hero is the perfect archetype for the entitled Indian male. Most Bollywood wooing is basically sexual harassment. You could argue about whether popular culture reflects society or shapes it, but they amount to the same thing. This dehumanising of women — as a means to satisfy various male urges — might account for our skewed ideas of sex and sexuality. What we need to ask is, not “Why is Indian culture so brutal to women and why does India defend rape and honour killings” but instead “in whose interests, and through what processes, is an “Indian culture” being produced, that simultaneously blames women for rape, and justifies surveillance and denial of women’s autonomy in the name of protection of rape?” Why, in India (and elsewhere in the world too), are we seeing loud pronouncements of victim-blaming and rape culture from influential politicians? Misogyny is the answer.
- Lack of Education and Sex Education: Madhumita Pandey in her research work, asked convicted rapists in Delhi jails questions like - " Do you masturbate?”, “When did you first have sexual intercourse?”, “Did you ask for consent?” - most of these men did not understand what consent meant or that it needed to be sought. Their stories also highlighted a sense of entitlement and ownership over the victim. Young men in India mature and develop in a male-dominated environment, with little or no sex education. And in rural areas, with very little contact with female peers after puberty. Together, this leads to misdirected masculinity, characterised by male sexual dominance and unequal gender attitudes and behaviour. Differences in gender roles intensify during adolescence when boys enjoy new privileges reserved only for men – such as autonomy, mobility, opportunity and power. Whereas girls have to start enduring restrictions. Their parents curtail their mobility, monitor their interactions with males and in some cases even withdraw them from school. This is why India is in great need of comprehensive sexuality education or modules focusing on sexual violence and exploitation awareness.
- The Judicial System: The Indian Judiciary system is the one place that should help women and men who are a victim of this crime, but instead they seem to be the ones to shun them first. Police refuse to write complaints, engage in victim-blaming and ask the victims questions like "what were you wearing?" Even though there are laws in place for the crime, very rarely do rapists get convicted in the first place due to long stretched out trials, or bail money. While the survivors or their families visit court every day and look to seek justice of some sort - unless a case makes a national buzz, the rapists are very often let go off. Even in courts, lawyers cross-question victims to make their stories sound unbelievable or to blame the victim.
How Do We Fix The Issue At Hand?
Now that we know the root causes of why the issue has stagnated in India even amongst the outrages and activism, here's another hopeless try at trying to form a solution that may help us get rid of it.
- Believe Women: When a woman tells you she was sexually harassed or assaulted, listen to her tell you what happened — and believe her. Don’t think that she made a mistake wearing that short skirt — believe her. Don’t think that she shouldn’t have gotten that drunk that night — believe her. Don’t think that only an idiot wouldn’t have stopped the guy — believe her. Don’t think she said this because she wants to ruin the guy’s career — believe her. Believe her. Please, just believe her. A lot of people go through with the mindset that "innocent until guilty" is a fair way to go - but when it comes to rape - the outcasting, questioning and refusal to believe is what makes the situation worse. And false rape accusations are real, yes - but also very, very, very rare. Rape almost always ruins a woman's image in this country, she has more to lose than the actual rapist - so when a woman shares her story - listen and believe.
- Sexual Abuse Takes Many Forms: There’s a stereotype that rape is a man jumping out of the bushes and attacking a woman they don’t know. That is extremely rare. Most sexual assaults are by people the victim knows. More typical? Say, waking up naked and sore next to that guy you were talking to after being blackout drunk the night before. Going out with a guy and telling him over and over that you don’t want to do anything that night, but he doesn’t stop, and it’s late, and you’ll probably have to stay over his place anyway, and you reluctantly agree even though it’s the last thing you want to do. And that’s on top of having your ass being groped by a stranger on a train, having graphic phrases yelled at you while you walk down the street, or having to change your outfit because you can't walk down the street in peace. And rapists? They’re not all cartoon-like monsters, they look normal on the outside and they feel like they’re normal on the inside. They’re a lot like your friends. They’re a lot like you.
- Name the real problems: Violent masculinity and victim-blaming. These are the cornerstones of rape culture and they go hand in hand. When an instance of sexual assault makes the news and the first questions the media asks are about the victim’s sobriety, or clothes, or sexuality, we should all be prepared to pivot to ask, instead, what messages the perpetrators received over their lifetime about rape and about “being a man.” Here’s a tip: the right question is not, “What was she doing/wearing/saying when she was raped?” The right question is, “What made him think this is acceptable?” Sexual violence is a pervasive problem that cannot be solved by analyzing an individual situation.
- Call out your friends and others you know: Don't hesitate to call out sexist jokes or language that perpetuates rape culture. And don't engage in sexist behaviour just to please your friends. Call out anyone and everyone. Family, friends, colleagues. Ask them why sexist jokes are funny, tell them why they are not. Do not be a bystander to a system that promotes sexism and toxic masculinity.
- Raise Your Sons To Respect Women:
- Teach your kids bodily autonomy. If they say, “Stop!” when you’re showering them with kisses, don’t make it a game. Just stop. Teach them that they are the boss of their own body and everyone else is the boss of theirs. And yeah, that means that if they’re not in the mood to hug Grandma, they don’t have to hug Grandma. Most importantly, teach them that no means no.
- Let boys express their emotions. Boys have always been encouraged to hide their emotions, told that being stoic is the only way to “be a man.” Let them cry. Let them play.
- Don’t segregate boys and girls. Have them play together from a young age; don’t differentiate between activities for boys and activities for girls. Let your boys play with dinosaurs and dolls, let them play superheroes and dress up in tutus. It’s all kids’ stuff.
- Encourage your kids to stand up for others. It’s not okay to make someone feel bad. If someone is being bullied or teased, your role is to call it out and let the person know that it’s not okay. Do role-playing scenarios with your kids so they’ll know what to do.
- Don't Teach Them Surface Level Respect: It's not just about opening doors, pulling out chairs and saying "ladies first" - respect is more deep-rooted than that. Teach them that women or girls are the same as they are - human - and they deserve to be treated with respect just as anyone else would. Teach them that women are people, not objects.
The systematic oppression of women in this culture is abhorrent. Standing up, believing and joining the conversation and actually trying to put an end to the root of all the issues is the only way we can stop being angry and actually putting our anger to good use.