Kathua. Unnao. Surat. The list is never-ending. Every day there is a new report of a child, less than 12 or 13 years old, whose torn body is found on the streets, mutilated, tortured, cut. Gang rape is a regular feature, and increasingly, it’s not once or twice, the perpetrators in question have clearly gang-raped the child for days on end. Insertion of iron rods, stones, sticks into the female’s vagina is now a commonplace occurrence. Too often, there is just enough of the female’s body and flesh left for a post-mortem examination.
How do we respond? We take out candlelight marches. We shudder at the thought of these ‘monsters’, these ‘depraved perpetrators’. We post messages about how ashamed we are and stand in silence with posters.
Is that what we think is going to make a difference? It won’t. Name the problem. A subgroup of Indian men. There is something so deeply twisted, so fundamentally horrifying in the psyche of humans, fed and permitted by our culture and society to grow and spawn, unrestrained by the norms of civilisation that there is a large, increasing group of men who are beasts in disguise, who pounce on our women and children and feed off of them with glee. Do not forget that in order to gang rape, these groups of men must have been collectively aroused. Do not skip over the fact that perpetrators of gang rape laugh, scream in glee, and hold down a screaming, begging, or comatose child or woman while the rapist of the moment pants and tears apart a child’s body. Yes, this is incredibly graphic, and I won’t apologise for it. We say ‘gang rape’, we quickly shudder and shut our minds to it. Rape isn’t simple and NEVER quick.
Do not turn away from the image that large, grown men are being aroused by the sight of a lifeless, broken body and it gives them an inordinate pleasure to rape. If we are to even have a prayer of a hope at defeating them, we have to face the unspeakable, unimaginable depth of brutality that so many men in our society are capable of.
This is not purely a law and order problem. It isn’t even just a social problem. It’s a psychological issue. It’s a characteristic of male violence. Let’s not ignore that an 11-year-old has been tortured, ripped with tools, and marked with over 86 injuries. Torture used to be the domain of armed forces when extracting information – what purpose to torturing a child unless the perpetrators gloried in it? This is not simply a crime. It is violence that goes so deep within the human psyche that the sheer savagery is leaving the rest of us stunned. Terrorism is easy to understand. Murder for money or revenge is easy to understand. But this? It is not, and yet we don’t know enough. Have we tried, truly, to find out what is driving this monstrous behaviour?
No more platitudes. We don’t need more laws that these perpetrators don’t care about. We need to break into this underworld of snarling bestiality that is thriving in India. We cannot deal with a problem if we do not understand it fully. What we need is more knowledge, more prevention, and much more security. If today, in 2018 India, it is crowded with beasts of this nature, we have to react accordingly. Life simply cannot go on as usual. There is a war on women and children in this country, and we should be reacting accordingly, not waiting for a corrupt government that will pass a few laws whose effectiveness is always a matter of question.
Demand that the government invest in research. Map the zones where there are increasing numbers of rapes or where the violence is extreme. Certain regions and cities appear far too often in our newspapers, yet we do not focus our resources and efforts coherently.
Whether the death penalty should be imposed for rape, a discussion that is being opened up again, is a separate question. What should be an immediate issue, however, is enforcement of the laws on the books. Deterrence as a rationale for law enforcement can only be measured after enforcement is effective, and the public has a reasonable expectation that wrongdoing will be caught and punished. As long as culprits believe the law enforcement machinery will not respond appropriately, they will carry out crimes with impunity. Focus on making law enforcement and prosecution throughout the country smart, effective and immediate before pushing for new laws or punishments.
Demand that the government massively increase investment in police officers, especially on patrol. Ensure that highways and other danger zones are patrolled by well trained, well-armed police officers.
It is crucially important to remember, however, that the army, border security force, and other paramilitary forces have also been perpetrators of rape and terror. The people that are supposed to protect civilians have frequently treated the women and children like disposable pieces of flesh. Any additional deployments should employ rigorous screening to weed out individuals with such tendencies. All staff employed on armed duties should be subjected to rigorous psych screening to identify threatening traits. Wherever police or extra armed forces are deployed, it is therefore imperative that they are trained, and screened for potential sexually coercive traits themselves.
We need to demand committed investment in the training and profile mapping of these individuals. A balance has to be struck between deploying female police officers and male officers. Regrettably, experience with women police officers in the country has not been as positive as might have been hoped, and women have abused their detainees with as much violence and arbitrariness. To assume that use of more women will be sufficient would be a mistake, but nevertheless, recruitment and deployment of far more female police officers may provide a balance to the threat posed by the police itself.
Demand that extra units be deployed to remote villages where rates of gender violence or of discrimination against communities is already high. Demand that Khap panchayats, all of them be disbanded and be made illegal. We should be ensuring that powerful village elders enforcing patriarchal norms are removed from their sphere of influence and banned from exercising control over the women in the village. Khap panchayats have frequently handed down horrifying diktats to perpetrate rape as punishment. It is a known fact that Dalit women, or women of other minorities and poorer women will be targeted with more frequency.
Any reports of communal or casteist tensions should immediately be responded with extra protection for the women, or deployment of armed female patrol officers to the villages. Increasing punishment may not deter the criminals who often do not think about consequences when they indulge in their frenzied savagery. The mere presence of armed patrolling officers will make access to the victims less easy.
There is sadly very less research on the mental profiles of rapists in the Indian context. Barring a couple of studies where the lone researcher interviewed rapists, we do not have a sustained research focus on the psyche behind these rapists. We assume that all rape must be motivated by similar reasons, and simplistically reduce it to a power dynamic, stating that it is ‘patriarchy’. Human beings, nor criminal tendencies are definitely that simple. Research on violence against women in other countries shows that it is simultaneously influenced by varying and overlapping factors. But lessons learnt abroad cannot be introduced into India, a society with a far higher level of violence. We cannot yet answer the question of what power it is they seek, nor do we know how to spot these dangers. A gang rape on a woman or a child of a minority community could be driven by factors different to that of a gang rape on a woman or a child who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. Sexual proclivities, violent pornography, focused hatred – all of these could be a factor, but the amount of effort into researching these influences in India is woefully low.
At-risk boys and men should be spotted and efforts made to ensure that they do not pose a risk to the women and children of their society. There is plenty of research on ways to mitigate and deal with violent tendencies before they break out, and we should be focusing more effort on preventing these individuals from turning into monsters, instead of waiting for a verdict from courts for five years.
Our children are being swallowed up and devoured by the worst of human beings. We cannot afford marches and pleas and calls for justice anymore. Marches will achieve little without a solid strategy behind it. We need an overhaul of society and the way, so many boys and men in this country are being socialised. Rape is highly complex, and to reduce it to ‘patriarchy’ or ‘power’ would be a terrible mistake. There is a terrible pathology gripping many individuals in this country. It has to be identified and treated like the cancerous poison it is, and not like an occasional gaping wound. The problem is in our psyche, and it’s time we looked further.