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NCRB Reports 7.8% Increase In Crimes Against Women, Can We Ever Deal With India’s Rape Crisis?

Trigger Warning: Rape, Domestic Violence, Marital Rape

Yet another rape has garnered nationwide attention. Once again, igniting debates on women’s safety and security in India. A 19-year old Dalit woman was allegedly gang-raped by four men in the Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh. Dissecting the details of the case or appropriating blame is not the purpose of this article.

The outrage on the streets, galvanised by caste groups and student organisations, has restarted the paradigm of protests common in the aftermath of brutal rapes. It raises the spectre of the infamous 2012 ‘Nirbhaya’ case- unrest on the streets, sympathetic lip service by lawmakers and celebrities, monetary compensation to the family, stringent legal action against the rapists, squabbling news anchors, and hand wringing by concerned citizens on social media.

What then? Can women and young girls now breathe a sigh of relief? Can we venture into public spaces after hours without fearing for our lives? Has the menace of leering men waiting for an opportune moment to strike, should any woman step beyond the realms of appropriate behaviour been dealt with?

Of course not.

“Women Should Know Their Place”

I have been a member of varied social groups both online and in real life, where the topic of women’s safety and security is discussed with furious enthusiasm at best and tepid apathy at worst. As per the latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), there has been an increase of 7.8 per cent in crimes reported against women in 2019, compared to the previous year.

This uptick is based on a total of a little over four lakh reported cases, a fraction of actual crimes in a country of 1.3 billion. Analysing reports and lamenting the inaction of the state has done nothing to curb the burgeoning catastrophe.

However, imposing blame on society is the easy way out. Society, after all, is a microcosm of individual sensibilities.

Talking to a couple of elderly ladies in my family has been an eye-opener. Some time back, the topic of women’s safety cropped up in one of our evening discussions. While one of them found the subject distasteful, not ideal as tea-time talk, the other unleashed a tirade against the victimised women themselves.

“What are you saying?” I blurted out, shocked at the blatant insensitivity.

“Well, what do we know about this woman? Maybe she did something or had issues with the man. It’s not our concern.”

I reined in a reflex response and waited for her to go on.

“These days, women think they can do anything. You cannot compete with men; you don’t have to. Women should know their place.”

This nugget of life advice came from an educated, mobile phone wielding, urban middle-class woman. Women should know their place. Those who don’t will face the consequences I completed in my head.

Her views are hardly a reflection of consensus. When such misogynistic stereotypes are reinforced and sermonised in households, we remain trapped in echo chambers that facilitate discrimination.

The epidemic of rapes in India, those reported or quietly suppressed, stems from a skewed social setup that treats women as extensions of men in the pecking order. Mere props without an independent identity; faceless nobodies to be used and exploited to settle scores or shown their rightful place.

However, imposing blame on society is the easy way out. Society, after all, is a microcosm of individual sensibilities.

In her book, ‘Why Men Rape’, Tara Kaushal underscores the glaring fissures evident in our very homes. While interviewing men convicted of crimes against women, she presents their views on expected female behaviour. Irrespective of class or caste, the defining scales of segregation in India, those men often blamed their victims for the crimes.

“A Woman’s Modesty Is Interlinked With Her Sexuality”

At times, assault is relegated to an act seeped in uncontrollable love and passion. The feelings for the woman were so pervasive that the man could do little but take her against her will to satiate his desire. It’s biology; men are programmed that way, etc.

Once married, the wife is duty-bound to serve the husband, and her missteps in wedlock are punished for keeping her in check. According to the NCRB 2019 report, almost a third of cases registered under IPC for crimes against women were under ‘Cruelty by Husband or His Relatives’. Since marital rape in India is unrecognised in legal parlance, such issues are seldom dealt with seriously. Usually, ‘ghar ka mamla’ (family matter) is beyond the scope of law and order.

Another customary norm is to regard women as properties of men, discounting their identities. Without perceived individual rights or freedoms, they become entities devoid of equal status. They are often violated to settle caste rivalries and herald shame, undermining the family’s social standing.

In India, marital rape is not recognised as criminal under law. The Indian culture is such that men believe they have a right over their wife’s body after marriage.

The victim then is not a fellow human being, but a prized possession to level scores for the man’s misdoings. That, family honour is tied to the chastity of women is a common refrain in most homes throughout the nation.

Section 354 of the Indian Penal Code deals with offences pertaining to ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’. All acts short of forced penetrative intercourse are covered under this section.

The Supreme Court in 2007 clarified the definition of ‘a woman’s modesty’, in essence, as ‘her sex’. The value of a woman’s modesty thus is interlinked with sexuality. But the arduous task of proving any outrage to said modesty rests with the woman.

As our epics teach, women are entrusted with proving their purity and undergoing ‘Agni Pareeksha’ when their overlords dictate.

Far worse than such ambassadors of cultural hegemony is the third class of insidious predators – men in positions of power who misuse authority since work provides a conducive environment for peer exploitation and blackmail. The #MeToo movement of 2018 unmasked a few upstanding gentlemen, sending heads rolling. But once the initial shock value receded, the women who spoke up were systemically marginalised, their motives questioned, and selective outrage from political groups discredited them.

Understanding The Intersectionality Of Hathras

In the context of the alleged rape and torture in Hathras, caste difference has been cited as a potential trigger. Unfortunately, such discussions of triggers resonating in public fora are impediments to realising the real issues of gender inequity. A woman’s clothing, her caste, her religion, her skin colour, her choice of words, the tone of her voice, her opinion, or her independence will are all triggers that can set off the next man inconvenienced by her antics.

Candlelight marches, calls for death to rapists, vengeful police encounters or any dissuading punishments are not long-term solutions. A stringent law and order apparatus may threaten painful repercussions for those indulging in assault crimes, but the rot is rooted within ourselves.

Women protesting for justice of Hathras Rape Case
Collective change for a better tomorrow begins at home.

The system, the judiciary, and every law enforcement personnel raised in a culture that repudiates half the population cannot administer justice. Even as I write this, another woman has been raped in UP, two rapes have been reported in Rajasthan, and many more voiceless victims have stifled their screams. As agents of change, citizens are responsible for ushering in a transformation.

Collective change for a better tomorrow begins at home. Stop labelling women ‘devis’, comparing them to virtuous mythological figures like Sita, Draupadi, Lakshmi, or Parvati, and denouncing their existence as normal humans. Stop sequestering them in burqas and ghoonghats (veils) against their will. Stop equating their suppression and submission to superlative cultural ethos.

Raise daughters equal to your sons. Please give them a fair full meal, because they must grow up as healthy as boys. Educate them and equip them with tools to flourish as adults. Teach your sons to respect them. Stop being custodians of their choices. Consider their opinions because they have a well-rounded mind just like the next male, capable of decision-making.

Let them manage finances because they can think beyond household chores. Let them drive cars; they may be good, they may be lousy, but that is a risk with drivers, irrespective of gender. Let them choose a life partner. Let them set up a business. Let them manage their lives. Let them break away from the shackles of religious iconography. Let them be.

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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.

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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.

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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