Involve men in the battle against rape
By now, we have heard all the answers to the rape `crisis’ — as it is being described — which has been going on. Each incident seems worse than the last, the victims and perpetrators younger and younger, the sense of remorse totally lacking in the offender. We have debated how the law must kick in with full force, that the death penalty is the only solution. But we still know little about what young people growing up understand about sexuality, what it means and how it must be handled. No, we know very little.
We hear all sorts of nonsensical advice on how young people should behave. They must not hug in public, they must have no proper interaction between the sexes, they must get married young to avoid temptation, I could go on. Much of this comes from politicians, but such sentiments are very much there in the puritanical society that India still is.
We are still very uncomfortable talking about the fact that young people have sexual desires, so it is brushed aside giving rise to frustration and ignorance. It is not spoken about at home, it is rarely spoken about at school. Imagine what a difference it would make to young people, especially young boys, if sex education were made the norm and accepted in schools. There is nothing new with this argument, except that it remains very much in the realm of discussion. Young boys have little knowledge of sex and what they do comes from sources which tend to distort it. It is not that the appropriate knowledge does not exist. There has been at least two decades of research on the subject by educators resulting in valuable inputs for adolescents in school curricula. But the problem is that it has never been implemented.
If parents don’t want their children to learn about sex in a scientific way, teachers are also reluctant to deal with the subject. Unless this warped culture is changed, there can be little hope that young men will become more sensitive to what constitutes unwanted behaviour. In most cases, they seem to think that sexually assaulting a woman is no big deal.
The other aspect that all state governments need to consider is the circumstances from which the rapists, or at least the majority of them, come. In the Delhi gang rape, they came from the real margins of society, themselves brutalised and degraded. Many young men who come to cities for jobs find themselves isolated, marginalised and victimised, with no moral compass on what is right and wrong. Most of them have had little normal contact with women at all and what little they have has been of a predatory nature.
There is the myth too that Indian family values are strong and that these are protective. This is often far from the truth. Sexual and other violence often comes from those closest to us. Boys grow up seeing their mothers brutalised by their fathers and take this to be the norm. The family as the foundation for a young person’s character is often the reason why he is unable to deal with women in a rational and respectful manner. Violence in the family is often unreported, turning out damaged young men who, in turn, feel that assaulting women is normal behaviour.
Given the rate at which rapes are taking place, it has become imperative to look beyond just the law and NGOs. Many years ago, the powerful Sikh clergy spoke out against female foeticide. It had a salutary effect. The pool of people who should be engaged should be widened, starting with teachers. The clergy of different faiths, cultural organisations like the RSS, other civil society movements and a massive media blitz could help. Politicians cannot speak in neutral terms about these horrible crimes any more. They are not incidents, or aberrations; they seem to be becoming more frequent and violent.
And most of all, more men should be drawn into the fight. I don’t mean those holding candles at vigils. I mean from the cohort like those who carried out the Delhi gang rape. The change will come when this is addressed and not through the fear of the law alone. The discourse at the moment is disjointed and sporadic. It becomes high decibel after every incident. It has to be ongoing, it has to be consistent and it has to include, most of all, young men who have grown up thinking that hitting or raping a woman is not a criminal activity.