Rape Culture in India

In the last over a decade, India has acquired a new title – the rape capital of the world. According to a report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), over 4 lakh reported cases of crimes committed against women in 2019, up from 3.78 lakh in 2018 and 3.59 lakh cases in 2017. 88 rapes take place as per a report NCRB – and this is just 10% of all crimes against women. Experts say that picture could be far worse as most such crimes go unreported in the country, and the conviction rate is below 30%. 

Several gang rape cases caused widespread outrage across the nation and highlighted the fact that how pervasive sexual violence is in the country. The cases that shook up the entire nation – Unnav rape case, 19-year-old lower caste woman was gang-raped by four upper-caste men, Kathua rape case (2018), Hyderabad rape and murder case to name a few. In 2012, the heinous and ghastly Delhi Nirbhaya rape case exposed the grim reality of bestial crimes against women in India. In this case, a 23-year student was raped and brutally murdered. The barbaric nature of the crime appalled the country and brought worldwide attention to the rape crisis of India. The government sought to appease the widespread street protests in many cities and lawmakers were forced to refer this case to a fast-track court, and the judgment was pronounced in less than a year. The law concerning violence against women was amended by the Parliament. The maximum punishment for rape resulting in death (or vegetative state) of the victim was modified from life imprisonment to include the death penalty. Other laws related to sexual crime were made stricter, in the hope that this would deter people from committing such crimes. 

This case caught international headlines, and the convicts, after a supposedly historic judgment, were executed after 10 years. Right after two weeks of this judgment, a 23-year-old girl from North India was assaulted and doused in gasoline before setting her on fire. In the wake of such cases, India made the law to hand out the death penalty to the convicts of sexually assaulting a child under 12 years of age. Unfortunately, these laws do not seem to create fear for the abusers and rapists, and the number of these ghastly crimes against women is only increasing.

Who is responsible?

Culturally, Indian society is a patriarchal society where women are considered as secondary citizens. This “value” gets etched in children’s psyche from a very young age. The birth of a boy in a family is a highly celebrated occasion while on the birth of a girl child, the mother is often subjected to abuse. The demands and desires of a boy are considered superior to that of a girl child. Sex-selective abortion, high levels of female infant mortality, child marriage, teenage pregnancy, lesser wages for women, unsafe workplaces, domestic violence, maternal mortality, sexual assault, and neglect of elderly women… the list just goes on that highlight the patriarchal nature of Indian society. Marital rapes are very common too but hardly reported to protect the family honor.

Indian society highly stigmatizes the victims of sexual assault or rape and victim shaming is very common. What she was wearing, what time she was traveling alone, were her gesture suggestive, or maybe she was smoking or drinking to give wrong signals to offenders, and the list goes on.

For men, the list of excuse starts with “men will be men”, and can justify the act as protecting culture, family honor or teaching a lesson to a rebel. A minister from the government even suggested on an occasion that women should give in while being raped so the rapists do not commit a heinous crime after the act or murder the victim. A judge even stepped ahead, and said that because a smaller number of marriages taking place due to coronavirus lockdown, it is natural for men to rape to fulfill their sexual desires.

These highly offensive remarks again highlight the deep-rooted social prejudice against women and emphasize how Indian society objectifies women, and how men are just born superior to women.

The increasing socioeconomic divide

India today is one of the fastest developing economies in the world. But benefits of the accelerating economic growth and the westernization of culture due to globalization are not reaching all social and economic classes equally. The upper-middle-class and rich class are the biggest beneficiaries of globalization and have accelerated the adoption of western-style dressing. This socio-economic and cultural divide is going broader by the day and manifesting in terms of the increase in the crime rate. In many rape cases, the convicts confessed their intention of teaching the woman a lesson for ‘hurting the Indian culture’ by wearing pants or staying out till late. Ironically, men are never punished for wearing western attire or not acting exactly what the culture teaches.

Caste dynamics seep into every aspect of Indian society. Cast-based rivalries, and sometimes religion-based ones become prime motivational reasons for sexual violence. Sexual violence against marginalized groups including tribal people and lower caste (who form the bottom of social hierarchy) is very prevalent.

In such cases, rape becomes the show of power and an exercise to show the lower-class people their place and vulnerabilities.

The awakening of hope

After the widespread outrage against the sexual crimes, protests by thousands of people across the country demanding justice have pushed for strong penalties in the long-running court proceedings. More cases are being reported the government is being called on to address the broad pandemic of sexual crimes against women.