When the tsunami of protests against the Delhi gang-rape case reached the presidential palace last December, many hoped that it would be the turning point in India’s modern age struggle - one to provide women the freedom of movement, and an escape from oppressive and daunting safety problems.
But hardly have the embers of Delhi rape victim’s pyre extinguished that papers are strewn with news of one sexual assault after the other. In the clutch of fear is not only the pitiable Indian woman; guests are not spared either in this country that preaches ‘athithi devo bhava’.
Just this month two terrible instances have been reported, the first one pertaining to the gang-rape of a Swiss woman, who was accompanied by her male companion in Datia area of Madhya Pradesh. Little did the poor woman know that cycling and camping would be such a crime in India for it took little time for six or more men to pounce on her and rape her, just like predators in search of a prey in the jungle.
Coming from a continent where camping in the countryside meadows and forests is considered recreation, the couple from Europe were completely out of touch with the badlands of Chambal. Her male companion was thrashed and both were also looted of their cash, mobile phones and laptops before the horrific act of gang-rape was perpetuated.
Sad but true, the two will now take home not happy memories of an India tour they had sought as a holiday, but the worst nightmare of their lives.
Soon after this incident, we heard that a British woman had no option but to jump from the first storey room of her hotel in Agra after its manager and his assistant tried to force themselves on her. She is now nursing a fractured leg besides a shaken soul.
No wonder the United Kingdom has issued an advisory to women travellers to India, cautioning them against increasing cases of sexual assault on young women.
Recently, we also saw the arrest of the son of a senior IPS officer, Bitti Mohanty, who had been on the run for the past six years in a case related with a German woman’s rape.
The scroll of such misdeeds is unending and India has to live with the ignominy that is being heaped on us by these prowling hooligans, who are unfettered by law, leave alone basic human values and decency.
The question of why these crimes take place in such frequency in India brings out starkly the point of disjointed evolution of India; for the maturation of the mind has not kept pace with the rapid economic progress made by the country. While the population has more money and opportunities, mentally we are trapped by feudal mindsets, which reinforce the belief that men are superior.
There can be several reasons why a man rapes a woman or why a gang-rape takes place, but the lack of sexual freedom along with the urge to establish the superiority of their masculinity may be two reasons why India particularly has such a huge problem on its hands.
The behaviour may be the outcome of what well-known American feminist, activist and author Gloria Steinem describes as the “cult of masculinity”, which she felt is the basis of “every violent regime”.
This is precisely the reason why rape has been used as a tool of assault in so many wars, where the victors not only derive sexual pleasure from the act, but want to inflict humiliation on the losing side.
It is also because of this rationale that Marcia Cohen and Sherrie H McKenna in their papers ‘Rape: Psychology, Prevention and Impact’ published by Yale have tried to debunk the myth that rape is primarily a sexual act and justified that rather it is a crime of violence.
According to the studies they cited, most rapists belong to the lower economic strata. Startlingly, they plan before raping, so it is not necessarily a spur of the moment occurrence, especially when the crime is done in a pair or as a gang. The choice of victim is often “left to chance and circumstance”.
While several other criminal and psychiatric reasons have been quoted by studies, the Yale paper said a “more widely accepted theory is that most rapists seem to come from a subculture of violence whose values may be different from those of the dominant culture. Therefore these adolescents and young men may be demonstrating their toughness and masculinity in a more violent and anti-social manner”.
This possibly hits the nail when it comes to examining the Indian problem, where disjointed growth is creating different societies for different people. According to Nicholas Groth, author of ‘Men Who Rape’, gang-rapes are predominantly committed by young men, who wish to be held in high esteem amongst peers and thus demonstrate sexually aggressive behaviour. They sometimes try to show their act to be a legitimate one by supposedly enforcing a code or punishment on women they perceive not fitting their ideal notion and seemingly immoral in some way.
Interviewed offenders in the Yale study, therefore predictably, “believed that the prevention or avoidance of rape was the responsibility of the women.” The rapists’ advice to women was not to “go out alone, not to hitchhike, not to drink alone and to learn self defence!” Their thinking only further reinforces the validity of the ‘cult of masculinity’ theory.
Whatever may be the reasons for this debase crime, the need for resolving it cannot be understated. Besides discarding the insouciant approach of the unaffected bystander, a two-pronged approach may be the answer. The first solution has to be education, where feudal mindsets are slowly reformed to instill respect for women, and the second should be the swift deliverance of justice.
Nothing would work better than that.