To prevent rapes, it’s important to understand why they occur | opinion | Hindustan Times
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To prevent rapes, it’s important to understand why they occur

The greater the affluence of a state, the lower is the frequency of rapes. If affluence and better protection of women against sexual violence go together, rapes are less likely. The effect, however, is small

opinion Updated: Dec 21, 2016 12:48 IST
Caste hierarchy matters. Upper-caste men systematically rape women of low castes in north Indian villages. But when lower-caste men rape a woman of an upper caste, it becomes a crime to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, as it violates social norms.
Caste hierarchy matters. Upper-caste men systematically rape women of low castes in north Indian villages. But when lower-caste men rape a woman of an upper caste, it becomes a crime to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, as it violates social norms. (AP)

Between 2001 and 2015 the number of rapes doubled in India. In Delhi, the rise was six-fold. If we go by the incidence of rapes (i.e. number of rapes divided by 100,000 women), it was the worst state in 2015, followed by the Northeast (excluding Assam). Among the best were Tamil Nadu, Sikkim and Gujarat. While Gujarat and Tamil Nadu were among the best performers in 2001 too, Karnataka was the best then.

In 2015, the incidence of rapes varied from a high of 24 per 100,000 women in Delhi to a low of 1.2 in Tamil Nadu. Our analysis throws light on the underlying reasons.

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One influential view is that rape is about universally male imperatives of dominance and control, and thus shifts the focus from individual pathologies and moral harms to issues of systemic inequality and justice. A more nuanced view is that dominance and control are set in male attributes and behaviour (“masculinity”), regarded as a shared social ideal.

Violence is not necessarily a part of masculinity, but the two are often closely linked, mediated by class, caste and region.

A recent survey by the United Nations Population Fund in 2014 showed that more than three-fourths of men expected their partners to agree if they wanted to have sex and more than half of men didn’t expect their partners to use contraceptives without their permission. Thirty-two per cent of men demonstrated a more rigid masculinity, as they believed that women and men are inherently unequal.

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Caste hierarchy matters. Upper-caste men systematically rape women of low castes in north Indian villages. But when lower-caste men rape a woman of an upper caste, it becomes a crime to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, as it violates social norms.

Notions of honour are central to the discourse on rape. The rape of a daughter, sister or wife is a source of dishonour to males within the family structure. This deters the reporting of rape to the police, reinforced by a belief in the impunity of perpetrators, the fear of retaliation, and humiliation by the police through physical and verbal abuse.

Using state-level data, we make an attempt to identify some key characteristics that help understand better why rapes are more frequent in some states.

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The greater the affluence of a state, the lower is the frequency of rapes. If affluence and better protection of women against sexual violence go together, rapes are less likely. The effect, however, is small.

An important demographic is the ratio of females per 1,000 males. Amartya Sen in a series of papers attributes the low sex ratio or the sex imbalance to gender disparity from the womb to older age. This disparity manifests in high female foeticide, low birthweight babies, high neonatal mortality, high maternal mortality through iniquitous intra-household allocation of food and medical care. Although there has been a slight improvement in the all-India sex ratio, there is a huge disparity across states. Some of the affluent states such as Delhi, Haryana and Punjab also have the lowest sex ratios. Scarcity of women is associated with higher incidence of rapes. This effect is in fact much stronger than that of affluence.

Low bargaining power acquired by women through labour force participation exacerbates their vulnerability to coercive sexual intercourse, especially if the male spouse is unemployed.

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One major problem with anti-rape laws is that their enforcement is feeble and painfully slow, and thus largely inconsequential as a deterrent to sexual violence. Interventions that address masculinity seem to be more effective than those that ignore the powerful influence of gender norms and systems of inequality.

Geetika Dang is an independent researcher, Vani S Kulkarni is a lecturer in sociology, University of Pennsylvania, and Raghav Gaiha is a visiting scientist, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

The views expressed are personal