By Manav Garg:
A perfunctory glance at your morning newspaper and you wonder what primary dailies would do in case rapes and sexual harassment vanished off the face of the nation. You find incidents from all corners of the nation, be it major metros, tourist destinations or even remote villages. The “lucky” ones out of this pool of victims get a follow up from the best journalists writing for India’s leading dailies, followed by the evergreen – “the system will do everything in its power to punish the guilty and avoid any such incidents in the future…” on prime time. Then, you discuss and debate on how the Indian penal code is probably too relaxed in terms of punishments for sexual assailants, how passing the buck can save a rapist, and how the system in itself is rotten.
Let us look at pure numbers for a while. If you were to look upon the number of “reported” rape cases in different nations across the globe in the year 2010, the “most developed” nation of the world, the U.S.A. will top the charts, with 84767 “reported” cases that year. What’s more is that this figure has been consistently high throughout our fact sheet, showing a gradual fall from 93883 cases in 2003 to the number in 2010.
A distant second is our very own nation, India. Undergoing a constant rise in reported cases of rapes, you observe the 18233 cases in 2004 swelling up to 22172 in 2010. The number of such reports in the United Kingdom oscillates around a static line to reach 15934 cases in 2010.
When this data is converted to a rate per one lakh people, the numbers for India come out to be significantly lesser than that of either the USA or our former colonial masters.
You blink your eyes. Look at these figures again. The ones who are not petrified of numbers and figures probably cross check my calculations or graphs – some doubt my sources. But these records stand as they are, portraying India as a safer haven for women when compared to two “developed” and “modernized” nations. But numbers lie. And so we try to get behind these facts and figures.
Ignoring the discrepancies in the definition of rapes from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the obvious and glaring problem here is that these are “reported” cases. In a nation like India, you’d expect a lot lesser cases to be reported, be it because of the low literacy rate of our population (only about 70%), a tiny percentage of our populace residing in the metro cities where one can expect better police facilities and more media attention than other parts of the nation (only 3.6% of our population resides in the 5 biggest metros) or the general outlook and prejudices which make it impossible for a woman to come out in public and talk about a sexual crime against her. Nations like the USA and the UK with better literacy, and a society that is more likely to accept such a victim are likely to have a much smaller fraction of rape cases going unreported (I am simply conjecturing here, there is no possible statistic to prove this theory).
But what should worry the people of India is not the mere number of rape cases in the country. It is not even the brutality of certain cases that caught the eye of the media in the recent past. What makes the life of an average woman so tough is the way we tackle the crimes against women. I will not start talking about ministers blaming women for stepping out late at night or wearing a skirt. I will not talk about existing prejudices against rape victims either.
It is a combined effect that the frequency of such cases, the way they have not been limited to late night and isolated outskirts of the cities, police officers who believe that a girl in a pair of shorts “had” to be ogled and whistled at, and a horribly low conviction rate of rapists in the nation that simply instills a fear in the mind of every girl crossing a street alone in the evening, even after possessing the same rights as her assailant legally, and even after being worshiped as a deity on various occasions. It is the fact that a married woman is considered the property of her husband and marital rape does not result in the same punishment as a rape that makes sure India continues to be one of the worst destinations for women to live in, even behind countries like Saudi Arabia at times, where women lack the most basic rights.