At an outdoor event a few years ago, a group of youngsters was promoting awareness of the rising number of sex crimes in India. They were strongly urging those nearby to just say “NO” to rape. The first thing I wondered was whether anyone had walked up to them and nervously insisted on saying “YES” instead.
The slogan makes no sense to me. The average Indian must be aware that rape is a heinous act. But sometimes, knowledge isn’t even three-quarters the battle won. People know for a fact that junk food is bad for health. That doesn’t stop them from clogging their arteries.
The problem is that many Indians don’t understand what rape is. And it causes them to either subliminally encourage it or passively ignore it.
Rape, at least in India, is a reiteration of gender politics. It stems from the sexual/social frustrations of a patriarchal society. Along with it, archaic power trips that walk the line between misogyny and pseudo-science. In rural and urban communities, young men are conditioned to exercise control over a woman’s physicality. They see evidence of it, all around them.
From micro-managing how women explore their sexuality to ostracizing them during menstrual cycles. Dictating how many children they ought to give birth to. And ignoring just how poor the state of public governance is, as far as health and safety measures are concerned. Even in educated, socially liberal and supportive Indian families, sinister undertones of gender inequality creep in. Whether restricting education, asking for dowries, engaging in marital rape or following the dynamics of breadwinner vs homemaker.
In 2013, a friend had given me the opportunity to co-create a documentary pitch on India’s rape culture. We wanted to focus on the post-verdict scenario of the Soni Sori case, with references to the military-assisted rapes in Kashmir and the Vachathi gang rape incident. We had tried to research as much as we could, on the subject matter. While I had known, prior to that, there existed a deep-rooted national disrespect towards women, I was startled at how structured the culture of rape has been.
These are some of the prominent types of rape in India.
- Marital rape that goes unnoticed in urban and rural India and still remains a non-criminal offense according to the Indian Penal Code
- Systematic rape as a form of social dominance against “unwanted” ethnic communities and other minorities
- Gang rape perpetrated out of sexual frustration and social anxiety of Indian males
- State/military rape carried out by state officials and army officials in conflict-stricken areas
- Corrective rape committed in communities to enforce gender stereotypes (Also, well-documented in South Africa)
Unfortunately, the average Indian refuses to discuss rape as an issue unless a TV news channel broadcasts an over-produced montage of some high profile incident. Even then, it would turn from being a watercooler conversation to a repugnant meme that someone gregariously forwards to a WhatsApp group.
The only way to fight it is to formalize the need for awareness. Once again, the hope for humanity rests inside the tiny, unkempt heads of the children. We need to educate them that rape culture has been intricately woven into the fabric of our country’s history. Especially, before post-pubescence takes over and they are already on their way towards becoming monsters themselves. Not just rapists, stalkers, psychopaths, and misogynists, but the sort of Indian who chooses to ignore just how unsafe this country is for women.
Saying “no” to rape is not going to change anything. Instead, we must dig deeper to remove the cancerous growth of patriarchal-fueled sexual violence. Because unless there is a significant unlearning curve, the rate of gender-based crimes will continue to be on the rise.
Stripped and torn,
a damsel unlearns.
Her thighs leak crimson
and her eyes – salt and dirt,
lorded over by wolves,
with tunnel vision, taking turns.
They whistle for the rats
to come and get their fingers greasy too,
they advertise – “bring your friends,
the neighbors and the military coup”;
the great Indian rape tradition