India’s rape culture: Rape amidst ‘religious fervour’

The last week of November shook us all with the unnerving news of horrific rape of women, several cases across the country from Ranchi to Hyderabad. Why is India the most unsafe country for women?

 India’s rape culture: Rape amidst ‘religious fervour’

Gargi Chakravartty

The last week of November shook us all with the unnerving news of horrific rape of women, several cases across the country from Ranchi to Hyderabad. Seven years after the Nirbhaya incident in Delhi, in spite of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill, the question that faces us is: why is India the most unsafe country for women?

The 2017 Report by the Global Peace Index had claimed India to be the fourth most dangerous country for women travellers. The Gender Vulnerability Index 2017, compiled by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, found Bihar, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand to be the bottom four in term of safety of women.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), after a delay of two years, has at last released the Annual Crime Report 2017 on October 28. It shows 3,59,849 cases of reported crimes against women in 2017, out of which 32,559 cases of rape were registered in 2017: that is, 89 cases per day. It seems one rape occurs every 21 minutes.

Rape is the most obnoxious form of violence against women. It stems from a patriarchal mindset.

How patriarchy controls the rape narrative is complex. It is a manifestation of power and dominance over the weak. Historically rapes and indignities heaped on women were a tool to subjugate not only the gender but also entire caste communities. It is a systemic social problem which has not been addressed and acknowledged properly.

In 1972 we were shocked at the incident in which Mathura, a 16-year-old tribal girl of Maharashtra, was raped by two constables who were later acquitted. The Supreme Court judgement triggered off a nationwide agitation by women. Since then, rape became an important issue on the agenda of women’s struggle.

Similarly, when the news of acquittal of all the policemen in the case of rape of Ramiza Bee by the Raichur Sessions Court came out, it aroused widespread indignation in the early eighties.

In the 1990s we have witnessed the case of Bhanwari Devi of Bhateri (Rajasthan), who was gangraped by higher caste men angered by her efforts to prevent a child marriage in their family. The way she was maltreated by the police and the way the accused were acquitted by the Court, drew widespread national and international media attention and became a landmark in Indian women’s rights movement.

But the moot question remains: why has this trend of rape and gangrape been on the increase that makes us hang our heads in shame and anguish? The problem has aggravated with the rise in Rightwing ideology that believes in total subjugation of the womenfolk.

The Rashtriya Sevika Samiti and Durgavahini schools may teach young girls martial art, lathi wielding etc. so as to learn self-defence from boys from other communities, but they orient them also to be conventional and bound to tradition, obedient to the patriarch of the family, according to the precepts of manusmriti. The idea of being beaten up by male family members is often justified.

Marital rape is not recognised; non-consensual sex by the husband is seen as his right. Growing boys are familiar to subjugation of women members within the family.

There is a two-fold regressive aspect in cases of rape, molestation and stalking. First the conservative social mindset immediately blames the victims with regressive narrative such us—why was she improperly dressed? Why was she in the wrong place at the wrong time? In the case of Hyderabad’s Nirbhaya (the young doctor who was raped and killed in Hyderabad) it was asked by a politician as to why she did not call 100 for police before informing her sister. He failed to understand the traumatic Moment.

The feudal mindset prevails and encourages to spread such regressive ideas. If she makes a public appearance, it is as if it was her fault that she made herself available to all the males around. They forget that there had been incidents of rape of an infant child or a few months old baby, and also 70- year-old women.

The second aspect is that these incidents tend to push our society backward. Parents start thinking of not sending their daughters to school or coaching classes for reasons of safety. Or, as we have seen, the immediate reaction being forbidding women from going to work for nightshifts. This is a ridiculous retrogressive reaction.

How would women nurses, doctors, paramedical staff carry out their duties at night?

On the one hand the government gives the slogan of beti bachao beti padhao, but by curtailing the woman’s space in the public sphere they, on the other hand, would cage her and make her homebound. At a time when we speak of empowering women, these regressive ideas are bound to disempower them.

There is a parallel between the crimes of lynching of minorities and Dalits and the gangrapes of women in recent times. In both cases, the brutalities of the crimes and the sadistic behaviour of the accused are similar. We have seen Shambhulal Regar hack a Bengali migrant worker Mohammad Afrazul in Rajasthan and get the murder filmed before sharing it with others.

The manner in which the young vet doctor girl in Hyderabad was raped by several men and then such acts were filmed before the victim was burnt to death reflects the perverted macho psyche of the accused, and is similar to the brutality of the lynch mob and individual killers.

This kind of perverted mind is the outcome of cultural lumpenisation, which is a systemic social problem, whose cure needs deep understanding of this cancerous malaise. Public lynching or execution of the accused is not the solution.

We have seen earlier Dhananjay Chatterjee, Billa, Ranga were hanged for similar crimes, but that did not check or stop the waves of such heinous crimes. Public lynching means taking the law into one’s own hands and also directly endorsing mob lynching in our country, which has made India virtually a “lynchistan”. This is not acceptable.

A doctor cannot cure a patient unless he is able to diagnose the illness. And there lies the failure of our politicians who govern the country. Many of the Members of Parliament are part of the disease.

They have such criminal cases against them. Women’s empowerment and safety seems to be just a lip-service for them. These are not taken seriously and placed on their list of priorities.

Otherwise why would only 20 per cent of the budget, allocated under the Nirbhaya Fund for safety of women, be utilised? This is the report of the amount spent between 2015 and 2018, according to official data. We need to recall that the Nirbhaya Fund was announced by the then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in the 2013 Union Budget in order to support the initiatives by NGOs working towards protecting the dignity and ensuring the safety of women in India.

It is not just non-utilisation of the Nirbhaya Fund, but also a reflection of an indifferent attitude of the government towards the problem. It has slashed its fund from Rs 244.48 crores to Rs 18 crores for rape crisis centres. Instead of rape crisis centre in every district, it has decided to have one centre per state and Union Territory.

Ironically, the government gives priority to the Bullet Train Project, building statues and celebration of Hindu religious festivals. The casual and callous attitude of such politicians explain the reason for reducing the planned number of 660 Rape Crisis Centres to 36.

Thousands of pending cases of trial in courts, thousands of posts of police lying vacant, training and gender-sensitised orientation of police not being taken up across the country and not spending on infrastructures like street lighting, patrolling on streets—are some of the gross lacunae to be addressed on a war footing.

Women are harassed when they go to police stations to file FIRs. In most of these heinous rape cases, the issue of jurisdiction of rape cases is being raised and valuable time for immediate intervention is thus being wasted.

In the Telangana rape case, this did happen. Those policemen who were responsible have been suspended. This is a mockery of justice! This is a kind of paid leave for them, as they will be brought back to their posts after three months.

Why are they not being dismissed from their jobs? That would have given a signal of warning to the rest of the police machinery. The police need to be accountable to the public. Crores are spent on the security of the VIPs. Why can’t there be more money spent on women’s security in public places?

In the last few years we have seen the involvement of politicians, particularly of those in the BJP, in rape cases — on June 4, 2017 Kuldip Singh Sengar, a BJP MLA (UP) was accused of rape of a Dalit girl in Unnao. In January 2018 in the Kathua rape case of an eight-year-old Asifa Bano, two BJP ministers were accused of helping the culprits. The child was continuously raped in a mandir from January 10 to 17. It is a shame that our country allows rapists to be elected to political office and this is also backed by national political parties. In many cases the accused are acquitted. Pressure needs to be built up so that each and every acquittal report is scrutinised to find out who is responsible for such acquittals. That will expose the nexus between politicians and criminals.

In spite of having adequate laws, implementation of judicial recommendations have adopted policies of exclusion. Rapes by men in uniform, whether in Kashmir or the North-East, are excluded from punishment. The AFSPA and Bhanwari Devi incidents are classic examples of how impunity is practised.

After each and every gruesome incident of rape and murder, there is an immediate outrage with spontaneous protests. But that momentum recedes in course of time till another such incident take place.

Since the days of Mathura rape case, the women have taken up sexual assault of women as their prime agenda. But this is not merely a gender issue. This is a societal problem which is worsening with the upsurge of retrogressive Right-wing ideology combined with the growing consumerist culture as a fallout of the shift from the Nehruvian economy.

The penetrating effect of the social media, pornographic blue films and a total degeneration of cultural ethics have created an environment which is bereft of any moral value.

There is too much of religion in the air, too much spending on religious festivals, too much stress on religious faith in our country. But is there any reflection of such high-sounding religious sermons on our society?

On the contrary, in the midst of such ‘religious’ fervour, there is not an iota of spiritualism, rather cruelty, barbarism, brutality of the lowest order—all symptoms of an unethical, unhealthy society.

Are the women of our country safe?

When can our women live without fear, and move around freely with their heads held high?

(The writer, a former Associate Professor of DU’s Maitreyi College, is the vice-president of the National Federation of Indian Women)

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