The National Crime Records Bureau, under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India released the Crime in India report in 2018 which states that “Majority of cases under crimes against women out of total IPC crimes against women were registered under ‘Cruelty by Husband or His Relatives’ (31.9%) followed by ‘Assault on Women with Intent to Outrage her Modesty’ (27.6%), ‘Kidnapping & Abduction of Women’ (22.5%) and ‘Rape’ (10.3%). The crime rate per lakh women population is 58.8 in 2018 in comparison with 57.9 in 2017.”
Almost 34,000 rapes were reported in 2018, which has barely changed from the previous year. Just over 85% led to charges and 27% led to convictions. One rape was reported every 15 minutes on average in India in 2018. Also, rapes that end in murder are counted as murders because of an international standard taken by the bureau.
Uttar Pradesh saw a surge in the number of crimes committed against women, from 56,011 in 2017 to 59,445 in 2018, followed by Maharashtra where the numbers increased from 31,979 to 35,497. India is a country where the NCRB data, year after year showed an overall increase in the number of crimes against women. It is also very ironical since a large number of the population worships female deities, yet the women and other marginalised groups are the worst affected.
Government data shows that 99% of cases of sexual assaults go unreported. In most cases, the perpetrator is actually someone related (not a stranger) to the survivor. So, it is evident from this that the reality is far more horrific than the data suggests. In debating with the data most of us tend to miss the origin and the causes of such repetitive violence. Cases of marital rape, domestic violence are often pushed under the carpet because the patriarchal culture over the years has helped normalise them. These types of cases go unreported because they are not considered an act of violence, abuse or rape.
When some news like the Hyderabad rape case, or the Kathua and Unnao rape case make it to the national headline and cases of domestic violence that happens around on a daily basis gets hushed up, it defeats the purpose of the media. Public opinion and sensitisation do not surface because of the ‘hierarchy’ of importance that the media follows in reporting Gender-Based Violence (GBV). News of GBV doesn’t surface up until a woman is made to suffer the worst, and candle marches do not take place every day, while in the country, 1 out of 3 women are assaulted daily.
The media must take an active step in reporting GBV, and the gender sensitisation of the media is necessary. The media often downplays the role of violence in these crimes and normalises them to a certain extent, which in turn normalises the character of the sexual assault.
Media can play the role of counter-hegemony in a world where patriarchy is the hegemon.
The NCRB data is also problematic as it considers ‘women’ as a homogenised category. The report does not mention the social and economic identities of these women. Women from socially marginalised groups and lower classes are more prone to violence such as trafficking. The data needs to create subsections consisting of these factors which can help to identify the groups against which most crimes take place. This homogenisation of the data creates a vast array of problems for the policymakers since policies will not work if the formula is ‘one size fits all’.
The series of ‘advice’ that the women were told to abide by follows a similar trend of responses that families use to restrict women and control them in the public sphere. In these responses, the onus of minimising sexual violence falls on women themselves. This reflects a gross misreading of the societal structure by the government and in turn, perpetuates sexual violence.
The advice ranges from avoiding certain places after dark, not wearing ‘western’ clothes, not having relationships with males. Many even are told to learn self-defence courses. This approach fails to question the role of the perpetrators, the law enforcing agencies and the people in power – the ministers and the bureaucrats who have time and again failed to ensure safe spaces. Also, it does not take into account the case of women who are disabled and belong to marginalised communities who do not have the resources to afford self-defence courses and live in less developed areas.
The percentages of women in law enforcement agencies are very less. Also, proper gender sensitisation does not take place in these agencies and they often end up ‘suspecting’ the survivor. In the end, it is the women who are locked up inside their houses and are devoid of economic, social, and cultural resources.
Policies that aim to achieve gender equity must consider all these factors to curb the rise of GBV. Women’s movement and gender sensitisation initiatives must become a permanent feature of the school curriculum. The structure must be broken which perpetuates GBV, the normalisation of rape jokes and portrayal of misogyny in films and popular culture must be stopped only then the violence can be stopped.