Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ending India’s Rape Culture

NEW YORK – The crime seems incomprehensible. A 23-year-old physiotherapy student is dead, 12 days after having been raped for more than an hour by six men in a bus traveling on main roads in the Indian capital. Her internal injuries from the iron rod that her attackers used were so severe that doctors had to remove her intestines in their effort to save her life.

Indians, it seems, have had enough. Dozens of large and increasingly angry demonstrations have been held to demand that the government ensure women’s security and stop treating rapists with impunity. While the authorities have sought to quell the protests – cordoning off central New Delhi and subjecting the rest of the city to traffic restrictions – violence has escalated. After a policeman died, live ammunition was fired into the crowds – killing a journalist, Bwizamani Singh, and provoking a rebuke from Reporters without Borders.

It is not simply the high rate of rape in India that is driving the protests’ virulence. In a passionate speech, Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, spoke to the deeper issue behind the protests: the blame-the-victim culture in India around sex crimes. She notes that government and police officials recently insisted that most rapists cannot be prosecuted in India, because, as one official put it, they are known to the women attacked. Other officials have publicly suggested that victims themselves are “asking for it” by their use of freedom of movement.

This return to pre-feminist discourse is not confined to India. Italy is having a similar debate about whether women’s clothes and behavior invite rape. Even in Sweden, activists complain, rapes in which the men know their assailants go unprosecuted, because the victims are not seen as “good girls.”

Krishnan assailed the fact that the conviction rate for rape prosecutions in India has fallen from 46% in 1971 to just 26% today (which, it should be noted, is higher than the conviction rates in the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the United States). Indeed, the fact that most rapes are committed by men who are known to the victim should “only make it easier to apprehend the rapist.” Instead, women who go to the police are urged not to file a complaint. “Strange people will begin to assemble at the station out of nowhere to ‘explain’ to you” why that advice is correct.

The problem, Krishnan points out, starts at the top. In the midst of the protests, Delhi Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar sparked further outrage by suggesting that women carry chili powder to deter would-be rapists. And, at a press conference, he said that women should not roam around without male escorts. Otherwise, whatever happens to them is their own fault.

Now, with the protests continuing in the aftermath of the victim’s death, officials are emphasizing the need for measures to guarantee the “safety and security” of women. But, as Krishnan notes, “the word ‘safety’ with regard to women has been used far too much.” Indian women have heard it all their lives. “It means,” she says, “You behave yourself. You get back into the house. You don’t dress in a particular way. Do not live by your freedom…. A whole range of patriarchal laws and institutions tell us what to do in the guise of keeping us ‘safe.’”

The six men accused of the bus attack have been arrested and charged with murder, and the government has ordered an inquiry into how rape cases are handled. But the government’s critics remain skeptical of official intentions, noting that only 600 rapes per year are reported in the capital, despite the thousands that are estimated to occur annually.

The deeper truth underlying the protests can be found on blogs, where young Indian men and women bemoan the fact that travel guidebooks routinely warn women about pervasive sexual harassment in India, and advise them to move around in groups. Movies, religion, music, and women themselves are all blamed for male sexual violence against women, but rapists are not held responsible. A “male-cosseting culture,” as one blogger put it, in turn supports a rape culture.

The connection between rape, male privilege, and female sexual vilification was one of the key insights of feminists in the 1970’s – an insight that they thought had been successfully applied to cultural debate about rape, and to law. In India – as in Italy, Sweden, and around the world – women and men who support freedom of movement and safety from sex crimes are being forced to refight that battle. One hopes that the protests in India will inspire the West to emulate the protesters’ lack of complacency.

In the developing world, women are in special jeopardy. Their embrace of autonomy and mobility risks putting them in conflict with a law-enforcement establishment and media that still view women through a pre-feminist lens: “good girls” who stay at home should not be raped, while “bad girls” who stake a claim to public space are fair game.

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    1. CommentedMK Anon

      "Krishnan assailed the fact that the conviction rate for rape prosecutions in India has fallen from 46% in 1971 to just 26% today (which, it should be noted, is higher than the conviction rates in the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the United States)"
      Don't get it? What's the aim? High conviction rate for rape prosecution? What kind of justice is that? Everyone is innocent until proven guilty after judiciary investigation. In this case, the justice is doing its job right.

      Rape is also a weapon to be used against man as we can see in Assange's case. What we really need is to be able to rely on the justice to find who's guilty and who's not .. and not to reach a certain conviction rate level.

    2. CommentedLanieta Tukana

      This is a particular discourse that needs to be repeated time and again. Rape has become an act that is so deeply rooted in societies that treats this vile act as justifiable and at times necessary for pacifying women or having the illusion of control over them. It is high time govts, socities and individuals address this issue as it is: a reprehensible crime. India is alike some coutries in the cultural sense of wanting their women to have squeaky clean images before marriage or when dating although the modern thinking Indian might think otherwise. Thus when a young girl is raped, she will only be too reluctant to report it even to her immediate family as this brings shame to her family and their honour. So the question is, if the stats of rape in India is so high, and considering how rape is viewed in their society, why is it still taking the Indian govt so long to enact and enable laws to protect their women and girls? Does their cultural mindset have to change? Should the issue of sexual violence be included in their school curriculum? Many have suggested in articles that it would take India ten years or more to be able to change society's view on rape culture. They only have to look at their young daughters and their women to realise that change must surely come swiftly. It is horrific to think of rape as being tolerable in our society!

    3. CommentedARae M

      I admire your coverage on the horrible rape of the young woman in India. However, we have a similar situation that has happened in OUR OWN COUNTRY:

      In Steubenville, Ohio a group of high school football 'heroes' drugged and gang raped a 16 year old girl. This girl's was unconscious body was literally carried from party to party, she was continually raped, then urinated on by the perpetrators. The pictures and videos of the evening were sent out to MANY PEOPLE via social media. None of which reported this crime or tried to stop it. Two minors have been charged as they still had pictures/videos on their cell phones. There has been evidence of suppression by some of the local authorities. This happened in August of 2012 and is expected to go to trial within the next couple of weeks.

      There has been a media blackout to some extent on this story. CNN, however did report on this, including the two rallies in support of the victim. I am appalled at the corporate media not covering this story, but not surprised. Please help get this story out. This young girl suffered, too.


    4. CommentedSiddhant Madan

      Will India's demographic dividend spur its economic growth or could it also lead to a surge in rape cases?
      Indian policy makers must make sure to increase the literacy level analogous to the increase in the young demographic level.

    5. CommentedZsolt Hermann

      I see a lot of parallels between the Indian gang rape case, and the latest mass shooting in the US, not to mention that sexual assault, rape is definitely not an Indian issue but global.
      But the main problem is that in both cases people want a quick fix, to punish or remove the last part of the chain, the guns in the mass shooting case or the raping men in the case in India.
      Of course people do not want to tackle the much more complex and difficult issue, the responsibility of the whole society.
      There is no question about the need of reducing the access to guns in the US, or about the appropriate punishment for the criminals committing rape or any other violent attacks against women, or children. But even if a death penalty is given to those committing these crimes would not change the fundamental problems initiating such crimes.
      It is naturally a multi factorial question so let us just concentrate on the "freedom of women" we celebrate so much in western societies. Unfortunately I do not see any freedom.
      Society forced women to try to become men in terms of professions, work, positions in order to sustain themselves and their children, many times they are raising alone. The consumer brainwashing completely distorted the classical woman image, with the present external look and lifestyle they have become the caricature of themselves. Especially young women today have such look, and lifestyle that even 5-10 years ago would have identified them 100% as prostitutes.
      Even 13-14 year old teenagers have no other theme to talk or fantasize about but sex, getting high, getting laid, their lives are flowing in between weekend parties.
      Every form of media is pouring either violence or sex or both.
      And this "free, western" influence is washing over the whole globe, undermining thousand year old classical cultures, removing the family model, any moral or ethical framework.
      The only full solution is a totally new education program, to re-educate ourselves about the role of the family, the different but equal roles of men and women in families and in the society, and how we could build modern societies where such roles can be fulfilled comfortably, without any pressures or prejudice.

    6. CommentedM Patel

      A thought provoking article on same topic is here: