Only a few days had passed and I read this disturbing story of a man raping an eight-year-old girl in Delhi, and that too in front of his teenage daughter. It made me wonder what could be the reason behind a human being falling so deep in the pit of monstrosity that they hurt vulnerable people or innocent children.
Could it be psychological? Is there any explanation at all?
And then I came across these verses from The Mahabharata, Book 13 Section 40 calling women ‘poison’ and ‘snake’. The same chapter also declares that there is no creature more sinful than women. Apologies to my Hindu brothers if I have taken these verses out of context, or if I have failed to understand the historical background behind these verses, but I feel there is a stark similarity between sexual violence against women in India and any other form of violence in the name of religion.
A majority of us tend to study religion very superficially. People (especially in South Asia) are discouraged to ask questions about religion, our history books are skewed, and as a result, we believe what we hear or are being told to believe in. We don’t do our own research, compare translations or exegeses.
So now, imagine a young man from a rural area or a lesser educated background reading the aforementioned verses. When he sits with his mates, he leers at women in the neighbourhood. He goes to B-grade cinemas to watch Telagu soft porn. When he goes home, he sees women in his family being treated as sub humans. While watching Bollywood movies, he is subliminally hammered with the message that women only exist for the sexual gratification of men (thanks to item numbers specifically).
How can we expect this young man to behave around strange women?
But then the words of Manohar Lal Sharma (the lawyer who defended the culprits of the 2012 Delhi gang rape case) ring in my ears. In the BBC documentary called India’s Daughter, Sharma is heard saying,
“We have the best culture; in our culture there is no place for a woman.”
In a separate interview, this devil’s advocate also said that he had never heard of a “respected lady” being raped in India. These arguments not only make me shudder, they also make me wonder whether it is fair to blame lack of education for sexual violence.
If a lawyer, an individual who has supposedly dedicated many years of his life to study law and fight for justice, can say something so vile publicly, then how can we blame an illiterate man for being a misogynist?
People have been theorising that perhaps the Bare Branches phenomenon could be a contributing factor to increased sexual frustration among men in the Indian society. To simplify it, academics have been forewarning against the implications of a massive imbalance in the population ratio of men to women resulting from female feticide. In India, according to the statistics available from 2011, there are 939 females per 1,000 males. And it is expected to dip further to 898 girls for 1,000 boys in 2031.
But does not having a partner or inability to find a wife give men the right to sexually assault women? Perhaps in a patriarchal society it does. In a society where mingling with the opposite gender is still frowned upon (remember how Jyoti Singh she was held responsible for her fate because she was traveling alone with a man late at night), people feel victim blaming is easier than investigating deep-rooted issues.
Let’s not fool ourselves by saying things like India is a very progressive country. Like most Asian countries, India has a long way to go. Indeed the economic boom in India is admirable. Contributions of Birlas, Tatas, Ambanis and Gulabchands in making India as one of the most desirable investment destinations are impressive. The personal relations effort of the Indian government to portray their country as a safe haven for tourists is something we can all learn from. But truly, is it enough when a woman is raped every 15 minutes in the country?
And before my fellow Pakistanis start commenting on this blog seeing this as an opportunity to gloat and turning the comment section into the Line of Control (LoC), please don’t forget how you treat your women and children. Four women are raped every day in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
Don’t forget Mukhtar Mai, Uzma Ayub, Vaijanti Meghwar and Kasur’s child abuse scandal. Also, many cases go unreported because of the stigma attached to reporting such crimes and rape survivors supposedly bringing shame to their family.
Rape is a global phenomenon but it becomes much more problematic in societies and cultures where victims of sexual violence are blamed instead of the perpetrators. In such societies, rape survivors are forbidden from going to the police by their families. If they do so, they are further victimised with unnecessary questioning or justice is either delayed or completely denied in courts.
One can only wish for a time when women, children and vulnerable people can feel safe on the streets, in educational institutes, at workplaces and inside their houses.