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Sexual Violence In India: A Tale Of Misogyny, Dominance And Entitlement

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Trigger Warning: This article mentions rape, and sexual violence.

When nearly a 100,000 women were raped and abducted during the 1947 Partition of India, when women of all ages are/have been brutalized in the most sadistic manner during communal riots at various times in the country, when Dalit women are raped, murdered and tossed aside or hung from trees on a regular basis in remote interiors of the country, when Nirbhaya had to die in the most horrific manner imaginable to set in motion the country’s movement against the crimes against women, when an 8-year-old was viciously violated and killed, when women are raped on a daily basis by people close to them, even their own husbands, fathers or grandfathers—well, all of these times, what happens is not merely distorted minds seeking a rush of pleasure by stooping to the lowest depths of humanity, but it’s a power-play of a much more frightening nature.

There can be no justification for the unthinkable acts against humanity that keep getting committed across the country.

Sexual violence is more a case of establishing dominance than it is a need for sex. The perpetrators of sexual crimes have been brought up with the deeply twisted notion that the woman needs to be tamed; they have been conditioned to think that women are nothing more than baby-making machines and objects that are meant to afford physical and voyeuristic pleasure. Perhaps they have grown up seeing their own mothers being beaten up and raped by their fathers. Perhaps, they have been jilted in love (or THINK they have been). Perhaps, there has been trauma in their own past or failures and insecurities in their present. Or perhaps, they have had a perfectly good life but are simply sadistic.

Either way, there can be no justification for the unthinkable acts against humanity that keep getting committed across the country. And at the end of the day, it is the deep-rooted insecurities arising from a warped sense of masculinity, the need to make the woman toe the line, that drives these people to commit such horrific crimes. Of course, this is aided by the firm belief that perpetrators of such crimes often go scot-free in India, and even if they do get caught, the law takes its own sweet time before anything of consequence actually happens. Unfortunately, in our country, such sad precedents have been set time and again that turns this belief into something akin to knowledge.

Sexual violence as a means to subjugate and colonize women has been going on for centuries all over the world, from the very dawn of civilization. Women have been that second-class citizen, the seductress and the sex slave, whether in the history of African American slavery, during the Jewish genocide at the hands of the Nazis, or through the ages whenever one group of people has attacked another, mostly due to racial or religious bigotry. Wartime rape and brutality has been an unwritten rule since time immemorial. Rape and sexual assault have been used time and again as a weapon to incite fear in the hearts of women, to threaten and punish them. Each such transgression of humanity is possibly a subconscious act against the entire female sex rather than necessarily against one specific woman.

Rape and sexual assault have been used time and again as a weapon to incite fear in the hearts of women, to threaten and punish them.

The fact remains, then, that it is the society that has created these monsters, ensuring them that their phalluses have power and if nothing else works, then this surely will. Every time a parent assures a son that he could have anything he wants, and abuses a daughter for wanting the same thing, a monster is created.

Now—why is it that no one seems to care? What has the spate of legal amendments following the 2012 Delhi crime come to? What exactly has been achieved? Why should we prepare ourselves to read in the morning paper about yet another bunch of inhuman rapists with no regret or remorse for what they have done?

Mindless exertion of power is thus one of the primary reasons behind the psychology of rape or any sexual violence because this is seen as one surefire way to feel good about yourself, however much of some wretched vermin you otherwise are. Pin down a helpless woman, violate her in the worst possible ways, insert things inside her, smother her and then burn her dead body—only then she will learn her ‘lesson’, won’t she?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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