Monday, November 3, 2014

The simple-difficult task of breaking the silence – part V: Rape

(Read parts one, two, three, and four of my series of blogposts on sexual violence in india)

The rape map of India (click to enlarge), outdated as it is, is a good one-glance artifice to immediately focus one's mind on the issue. Recent news has reported on many incidents of horrific rape, from the horrendous Nirbhaya case to the more recent Uttar Pradesh incident, bringing rape to the forefront of the Indian mind. However, most of us still dont see the problem for what it really is. We still hide behind ideas like "rare“, 'provoked', 'kidnapping and rape by strangers', 'it's not all that common' to happily ignore reality. After all, if we don't acknowledge that there is a problem, then we dont have to try to do anything about it, and if we can blame the victim or some faceless monsters, then we dont have to examine our own roles in the rape culture or change how we think and behave.

However, here's the real picture. Statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2013 show that there are 93 reported cases of women being raped in the country every single day. The NCRB data, shows that some states are more advanced than others in the matter, with Madhya Pradesh leading the line-up of ' bad place to be a woman ' with 4335 reported rapes in 2013, followed by Rajasthan (3285), Maharashtra (3063) and Uttar Pradesh (3050). and these are just the REPORTED cases. Any reported crime figures are always gross under-estimates of the reality on the ground, much more so in the case of sexual violence.

The number of rape cases that DON'T get reported are vastly higher than the number of cases reported. A UN study of 57 countries worldwide estimates that just 11% of sexual assault cases are ever reported, and this is in countries like the US! One can guess, then, how many cases actually make it to record books here, given our taboos, hangups over 'izzat', social stigma, refusal of the cops to take reports, and more. Realistically, it is possible that less than 2-3% make it to a formal report/complaint. In spite of this, India ranks number three in the world in the sheer number of reported rape cases, far, far worse than war torn poverty stricken Ethiopia at number 10 (feeling the superior glow of 'mera bharat mahaan' yet?)! Really something to think about, and time to give up the idea that rape is rare.

In fact, as a woman in India, who has lived here all her life, i can say that we all expect it, all the time. It is so common, and the entire culture around us so encouraging and supportive of rape and so much against the victim, that we have an "is this how mine happens“ moment almost every week. Every time i hear a set of footsteps behind me – even in my own lane, 20 meters from home – every time i find myself in any situation were the men significantly outnumber the women, everytime i am alone around a bunch of men, fear squeezes the gut and i automatically think 'so this is how my rape happens'. We are reconciled to it, we know that the statistical probability of this happening to us in our lifetime is far, far greater than the chances of escaping it entirely.

As for the myth of the stranger, the monster, from whom 'Indian Society' insists on saving its women. The actual, horrifying fact is that a majority of the offenders are well known to the victims. NCRB statistics show that 94% of the rapists were familiar to the victim, which includes neighbours (10782), other known persons (18171), relatives including siblings (2315) and yes, even parents (539). So let us stop to examine what, in our esteemed and much defended 'culture', makes it all right for people to rape so many women they know so well, without the least fear of retribution, justice, or punishment. Why do we have such a pathetic record of registering rapes, or punishing the rapists? (And no, one death sentence in a particularly heinous case does not count, when thousands and thousands of others go unprosecuted or slapped on the wrist with laughable sentences.)

This video may shock and horrify a few of us intellectual, educated, liberal Indians (does it though? Really?), but it is a very representative, very true picture of how the majority of the country still thinks of rape. It happens to 'westernised' women who wear jeans, have 'love' relatinships outside their castes, go to pubs, drink, smoke, mix with guys, and wear indecent clotjhes. Basically it is the fault of the victim for crossing every socially acceptable boundary imposed by the patriarchal structure of out society, it is her punishment for trying to fly too high, for having no morals. Men are not at fault, they are provoked. Either by the behaviour or clothes of the woman, or by fastfood, or some other factor! At worst, it is a mistake made by boys and should not be held against them!

However, the facts say otherwise. Women are raped no matter what they are wearing, from miniskirts to burkhas, from sarees and ghagras to bikinis. It is NOT about her clothes. It is not about attraction either because 12.5% of the total reported rape victims in India are minors and older women get raped too. From the gang rape of a 51-year-old tourist, to the rape of a child of a year and a half (how did she provoke? What was she wearing? Was she drinking/pubbing?having an affair?), to the rape of 6 year olds, 5 year olds, 10 year olds, children between between 2 and 10 years old, it happens, all the time. And this does not even include all the cases of rape as punishment, ordered by religious or even governing/political bodies.

Add to that the fact that marital rape is not a criminal offense within the Indian legal framework, except during the period of judicial separation of the partners, or where the wife is below 15 yers of age. When women's rights groups lobbied for marital rape to be criminalised, in the 1980s, it became an ongoing struggle for making this logical step to protect women in their own homes, which failed, because both the judiciary and the government argued that the contract of marriage presumes the woman's constant and never ending consent to sex. They concluded that criminalising marital rape would weaken family values in India (because, after all, what is more indian or valuable than disrespecting your partner and raping them and assaulting them and not even giving them the right to say no)!

But there’s little denying rape’s all pervasiveness in India. According to one particular 2011 poll cited by the Times of India, as many as 25 percent of Indian men admitted to committing an act of sexual violence, and roughly 20 percent of those polled conceded that they had forced their wives or partners to have sex when the woman was reluctant or unwilling. Maybe, then, it is high time to stop thinking about rape in stereotypes, and to realise that it happens everywhere, everyhow, everywhen, and the only one to blame for it is the RAPIST.

Since i posted this blog, THIS bit of news has come out. Another feather in India's Rape Cap.