In the Budaun district of Uttar Pradesh, a priest and two of his aides were accused of raping and killing a 50-year-old woman inside a temple. Subsequently, the priest and his two aides brought her dead body outside her house. They informed the family that she fell into a dry well within the temple premises. The post-mortem report, however, confirmed rape, a broken rib, a broken leg, and a damaged lung. Four days after the incident, the prime accused was arrested and has been sent to 10-day judicial custody.
Of the 88 rape cases that are reported daily, this particular case comes off as striking probably because it highlights the dynamics behind the extremely prevalent rape culture in India. To violate a woman’s body inside a temple, a place of worship, in a culture that links a woman’s worth to her chastity, is startling. The undercurrents of rape culture can only be analysed taking into account the socio-political nuances, mainly those related to patriarchy, caste, class, and power.
Patriarchy and Societal Norms
In the majority of the Indian households, women are regulated from a very young age to be docile, dress a certain way, and conform to archaic societal norms. Even after doing so, as per the 2019 NCRB Report, 4,05,861 cases of crimes against women were registered.
Throughout her life, the woman has to bear the brunt of gender-based violence in various forms. This is manifested in the form of female foeticide and infanticide, female genital mutilation, toxic relationships and acid attack, domestic violence and dowry-related deaths, sexual harassment, rape, to name a few. This based on the notion of the female being the weaker sex and men and society asserting their control maintaining the status quo. Having seen discriminatory treatment towards the women of the household and in mass media like movies and TV shows, the minds of the young boys absorb such norms and values. This plays out in the later years in the form of leering, eve-teasing, stalking and progressing to a higher degree of violence if remains unchecked. It’s this unchecked liberty and assertion that culminates into rape.
Caste and Power Assertion
Rape is often used as a tool to humiliate entire communities. Caste is the underlying hierarchical structure of Indian society, especially in rural hinterlands. Although abolished on paper, the stark and sturdy caste hierarchy often manifests itself in gravely violent acts. It has been frequently found that perpetrators from higher castes raped the victims from lower castes to assert and maintain the status quo in case of changing power dynamics. Data from Crime in India 2019 report shows that cases of rape against Scheduled Caste women increased by 37%. However, trials have only been completed in only 6.1% of crimes against Scheduled Castes and 8.4% in the case of Scheduled Tribes.
In the Khairlanji massacre, while sentencing the main perpetrators to death, the judge concluded that there was no evidence of rape or any caste angle to the killing. As Arundhati Roy mentioned in her book The Doctor and the Saint, “For a court to acknowledge that caste prejudice continues to be a horrific reality in India would have counted as a gesture towards justice. Instead, the judge simply airbrushed caste out of the picture.”
The Problem of Victim Blaming
The most common resort to finding a solution to any rape case is evidently victim-blaming. Chandramukhi Devi, a member of the National Commission for Women, in response to the aforementioned Baduan rape case, said, “Even under any influence, a woman should keep track of time, and should not venture out late. Perhaps, had the victim not gone out in the evening, or gone along with a family member, she could have been saved.” Madhya Pradesh’s chief minister recently called for raising women’s marital age to 21 and for police to track the location of working women to ensure their safety. All of the “protective technology” against violation of a woman’s body is aimed at women incorporating additional safety gears to protect themselves from potential harm, and if they fail to do so, the onus is on them for being underprepared.
The solution is always oriented towards the victim being more cautious, thus providing an escape from addressing the root causes of rape culture so prevalent in India. Be it inside a temple as evidenced in the aforementioned case, a moving bus as in the catastrophe bestowed upon Nirbhaya, or in the quest to assert and reinforce caste hierarchies as in the Khairlanji rape and massacre, questions are always raised on why the victim was not more cautious and not what enabled the culprit to act on their urges to violate another individual’s body.
Is the Death Penalty the Solution to End Rape Culture?
As evident by the aforementioned case, a rapist can be anyone: even a priest, at the pinnacle of Brahmanical patriarchy, revered by hundreds of people. According to the 2018 National Crime Records Bureau report, 94% of rape cases that took place in 2018 were committed by someone known to the victim. This implies that sexual predators exist everywhere and assigning a preconceived perception to what a predator is expected to look like and furthering this belief into thinking they lack any sort of humanity enables the predator to not hold any accountability for their actions. Instead of ushering away from “certain kinds” of people, it is imperative to encourage social shifts in society that would address the root cause of the problem.
Not all people who facilitate or regulate rape culture are necessarily rapists. Consider men who do not rape but would be willing to if it was certain that they would not be punished or men who do not rape but will not intervene when another man does, and so forth. In essence, there is a relatively small number of people who resort to committing what is legally termed as rape.
Moreover, in a flawed system like ours, there are high chances that those in possession of power and resources will get away scot-free as they do now. Death penalty for rape can also serve as a motivation for rapists to kill their victims. Moreover, in a country like ours, where rape is seen as a taboo that will bring shame to the victim’s family, most cases go unreported and marital rape is still legal, the gravest punishment for rape will not be a solution to end rape culture at once.
Major Reasons for Low Reporting of Rape in India:
- Social Stigma
- The family of a 6-year-old rape survivor said they faced such stigma in their community that their older daughter had dropped out of school. Another lawyer assisting a 14-year-old survivor of gang rape reported that the girl’s father abandoned the family, unable to handle the “shame.” (Source)
- On 14th September 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit woman was allegedly gang-raped in the Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh by 4 upper-caste men. After fighting for her life for two weeks, she died in a Delhi hospital. After her death, the victim was forcibly cremated by the police without the consent of her family, a claim denied by the police. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath recommended a CBI probe, against the wishes of the victim’s family who wanted a judicial probe to be conducted. Report by the CBI has confirmed that the victim was gang raped and murdered. (Source)
- Lack of empathy
- Male dominated Police force.
- Women police personnel constitute a meagre 8.98% of the police force across India: BPR&D. Studies show that women are more likely to report sex crimes if female police officers are available.
- A painfully slow system
- Only about a third of rape cases reported to the police result in a conviction.
- Victim Blaming
- In a 1996 survey of judges in India, 68 per cent of the respondents said that provocative clothing is an invitation to rape.
- Discriminatory upbringing
- “Boys will be boys” mindset, which reinforces violent tendencies among boys.
- Encouraging rape victims to compromise
- In a rape case, a 17-year-old Indian girl who was allegedly gang-raped killed herself after police pressured her to drop the case and marry one of her attackers. (Source)
While it is imperative for the government to come up with a law enforcement arm dedicated to dealing with crimes of sexual assault, it is equally essential to encourage social shifts in the perception of sexual violence. Considering how deep-rooted rape culture is in India, it is important to sensitize children at school to enable unlearning of attitudes that contribute to the formation of rape culture. For instance, students need to be taught that it’s wrong to make lewd remarks or leer at other individuals. Gender sensitization classes followed by tests need to be mandatory, educating students about their rights. It is also important for workplaces to conduct such workshops and have a zero-tolerance policy towards any kind of sexual harassment.
It is of utmost importance that public office bearers stop “Blaming women for their choice of dress or work hours, because that does nothing to make India safer for women” and set positive examples.– Economic Times
The government also needs to come up with proper rehabilitative protocols for rape victims, create easy access to doctors and psychologists. It is essential for predators to know that the judicial system works in favour of the victims, not the other way round. This would require holistic reforms to ensure fair justice and police system. It would also entail effectively empowering the marginalised groups like women, SC, ST, minorities, and ensure that everyone has access to the judicial system that will uphold the rule of law.
Article by Vihita Nevatia, Team ulaunch