After the rape and murder of a veterinarian in Hyderabad on November 28 and the burning of a rape survivor in Unnao on December 5, there has been an outcry for justice for the victims. The public expected or at least hoped that situations related to women’s safety would change for the better after the unfortunate and beyond heinous rape of Jyoti Singh on December 16, 2012. However, statistical records reveal that one rape case is reported every four hours in the national capital making it 6 cases per day. Delhi happens to be the residence of some of the highest authorities in the nation. Yet crimes against women on a daily basis continue to haunt the city.
After the Jyoti Singh gang rape and murder in Delhi, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act was passed in 2013 which widened the definition of rape and made punishment more stringent. It gave a more detailed definition of the term sexual abuse with a special focus on child sexual abuse and pornography. Some experts argue that the number of reported cases of sexual abuse has gone up because the IPC has been able to provide a more concrete definition of the term ‘sexual abuse’.
Dated 8 December 2019, there is a newspaper report of a teen being gang-raped twice in three months, in Palwal district of Haryana. Another recent report comes from Ghaziabad where a woman was gang-raped and attacked by acid by four men. The police responded to her distress call but have failed to make any arrests. The city news section of any Delhi based newspaper will have rape news on a daily basis. Appearance and reappearance of such abusive behaviors has become a norm in the capital; that national capital which ironically is supposed to have the most vigilant police and security forces.
It is important to figure out the reasons that have led to this widespread problem of sexual abuse. The main reason is obvious and quite evidently the patriarchal mindset that is deep-seated in India since the Vedic age. The patriarchal practices appear more explicitly in rural areas and it is more widespread in north India than the south. Harsher ways of establishing male dominance are rape, domestic violence and abuse. This patriarchy takes a less monstrous form in our ‘everyday experiences’ like catcalling or varied forms of groping. Yes, this has become a norm now. People everywhere have gotten so used to such practices that more often than not, women choose to not respond to any ill comments. In fact, it is actually unnatural is a woman goes out and does not receive crude stares and remarks. As sad as it is, this has become a harsh reality of Delhi as well.
Where are we going wrong as a society? How can we remedy this?
The central problem lies in the mindset that we possess and pass on to others. There is an unspoken male entitlement that usually makes the hetero male almost invincible in the Indian social structure. A regular middle to lower class Indian family considers the female to be a burden. Birth of a boy is celebrated and that of a daughter is a matter of worry. In worst-case scenarios it leads to female foeticides and infanticides. Social coercion by those members who are respected in the community (who by the way are almost always males) compels the others to follow the same patriarchal path.
Another reason for increased sex-related crime is the stigma that Indians have attached to the topic of sex. There is next to zero sex education, there are sexual repression and all of that changes to aggression over time. The Curriculum must be inclusive of knowledge about the opposite gender and how to understand and respect them. In some schools in Haryana, little girls are taught to not talk to boys or befriend them. They are taught from a young age that girls are responsible if they are raped. This practice of victim shaming needs to change now. If a sexual offender is convicted they should be the ones taking responsibility for the crime. There is no such thing that bring shame to the victim and their family. These are social practices that will go away only with proper education.
Media plays a great part in determining the mindset of people. After the recent Hyderabad rape and murder case, a post was widely circulated on social media. It urged media to change their narration from “she was raped” to “he raped her”. These small changes have the capability to go a long way.
Bollywood is another culprit that is promoting casual and widespread sexism. There are hardly any movies with a strong female or even a transgender lead. The hetero male is portrayed as an all-powerful hero who goes around saving the day. There are rather vulgar scenes of eve-teasing in many movies which the storytellers casually let it pass as comedy. What they do not realize is that more than half of the illiterate Indian population learns these activities from films and go on to apply them in real lives.
It is indeed time to change the way we think. And this needs to start at the grass-root level. Take a bow as an individual that we teach our kids love and empathy and kindness. Government policies and laws can only punish the victim and deter the crime by instilling fear among the citizens. But change comes from within. Self-reflection is essential. When we improve as an individual, we progress as a society. If you believe that you also practice certain sexist practices, it is never too late to unlearn them.
On the counter side, government and non-governmental organizations need to work hand in hand to spread greater awareness about gender equality in the society. Moral policing comes from within. A combination of a changed mindset and a strict judiciary will only bring about progress, slowly but surely.
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