By Ushan Dhar:
The discourse that erupted after the gruesome fate that befell a paramedic student in New Delhi last December has really exposed the full flavor of the Indian psyche. For some it seems to have reinforced, rather than contradict, widely shared social beliefs about gender and sexuality. On the other hand, the massive street protests have been seminal for the gender justice movement in India.
Over the past year, we have witnessed a myriad range of opinions on this topic. It has included violent displays of passion and anger from one sect of the population; a response, which was reasonable given the brutality of the incident. But also, fatalism and apathy from the others, who have accepted the existence of rape in our society as paradigmatic rather than anomalous.
Rape is no doubt a social evil and the public outcry that it has received in the past year is perfectly deserved. However, we still have parts of our society, be it political leaders or religious, putting out statements like ‘the responsibility lies on the victims shoulders’, ‘women dressed in revealing outfits is the cause of rape’, ‘religious women never have to face the ordeal of rape’ etc. As rational and modern thinking citizens of the country, we mostly disregard these statements as spurious. But if we analyse these statements, it reveals a much entrenched social belief that is ubiquitous throughout India, about what is accepted and to some extent even desirable in male-female sexual interactions.
In our patriarchal society, men are regarded as the decision makers and the breadwinners of the family; they are more aggressive and persistent. Women, whose role is to take care of the household, are naturally considered to be more demure and passive. This, in turn, has created a mentality among the male populous that ‘real men’ are entitled to sex. Intercourse is perceived as an act of male conquest and that men can get sexual access when, where and how they want it. As Andrea Dworkin puts it, “Rape is no excess, no aberration, no accident, no mistake – it embodies sexuality as culture defines it.”
The existence of this culture in majority of the Indian male populous has only widened the gender gap in this country. According to The Global Gender Gap Index of 2012 , India ranks 105th and is the lowest among the BRIC countries. This growing gender gap has not only resulted in increased rapes, but also other crimes against women like sexual harassment, kidnapping, abduction, dowry deaths, cruelty by husband and relatives, female infanticide and the list goes on. In fact, this unequal playing field is hurting this country in more ways than just crimes against women.
Changing ones belief and mentality is possibly the hardest thing to do for a policy maker but tackling one issue/belief is quiet possible, the Government needs to fight the problem at its roots. Indian Government should actively pursue policies towards the mitigation of this gender gap. Gender sensitization programs from primary school upwards, workshops for teacher, parents and school administrators, innovative campaigns, community awareness events are all tools available to the Government. All it requires is the will to play hard and long against a social evil that is plaguing this country. Set beliefs take time to erode and only through active campaigns against rape and other crimes against women can the Government inflict change in social beliefs about gender and sexuality.
The threat today is more imminent and real than the Government is willing to accept. After the massive public furor last year, a panicked Government finally awoke from its slumber and amended the rape laws in the country. But the continued existence of more violent rape cases only goes on to show that rape can’t be stopped just by making the law harsher. The theory of deterrence only achieves its goals when two aspects of the judicial process work in tandem; the severity of the punishment, which is achieved by a harsher rule of law and the certainty of conviction, which demands a much more systematic functioning of the law enforcement department and the judiciary. The increase of punishment for rape from 2 years to 7 years isn’t necessarily going to stop the perpetrators from committing a crime. But a system, where the consequences of a crime are high, coupled with the knowledge that most certainly you will be caught and convicted, would ultimately be able to deter more individuals from committing such crimes.
It is easier said than done, no doubt that this would require a complete overhaul and re-examination of our law enforcement departments. Innovative infrastructure needs to be put in place if the departments hope to counter this menace. Quick response facilities and adequately staffed help lines should be established all over the country. These facilities should not only be technologically capable, they also need to be properly monitored and audited from time to time to maintain an efficient performance and come up with new innovative solutions. After the New Delhi case, a special rape help-line was created but, within a couple of months, the incoming traffic overwhelmed it and consequently the response time of the police increased as well.
Among all the other crimes in recent days, rape has come to the fore front of our country. It can be equated on some level with the threat of terrorism. Like terrorism, the effect of rape is felt on two target groups – the victim and the broader population of females who are terrorized and then manipulated by fear. Like terrorists who use terror to advance a political agenda, rapists in the same way propagate the culture of subordinating women. And in a country like ours where subordination of women is already an existing norm in many minds, rapes is a social evil that needs to be eliminated!