Rape in India: Women are vulnerable, unsafe, and deprived of agency
The demand for equality by women creates insecurity in a patriarchal, conservative, male-dominated society and can result in the expression of violence against the same women who do not conform. Women come to be defined in relation to men.
If a girl goes out alone at night, is she inviting people to take advantage of her? Unfortunately, even on an issue where women’s agency must be prioritised and there must be no victim-shaming, opinion seems to be divided in India. Many make statements about the victim being responsible for her fate, which are retracted after some outcry, but still remains part of the discourse around rape.
In a society where girls and women have the same rights as men, gender roles that subjugate women remain unchanged. The “collective conscience” of society restricts women from absolute freedom. The right to choose a partner and think independently is still forbidden.
The recent gang rape of a 22-year-old girl student in Mysuru, when she went out with her classmate to a secluded spot, reeks of the same apathy. The 2012 Delhi gang rape brought the rape epidemic into public discourse. Despite the conviction of the perpetrators, and overhaul of laws, such cases continue unabated. Some make headlines, others find a a mention in the inside pages of newspapers.
Many researchers argue that sexual violence occurs when we consider the victim as less than a human being, with no agency of their own. The demand for equality by women creates insecurity in a patriarchal, conservative, male-dominated society and can result in the expression of violence against the same women who do not conform. Women come to be defined in relation to men.
Is it, then, a punishment meted out to these “bold” women? Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus on which the Delhi gangrape occurred, told an interviewer from Tihar jail that “people had a right to teach them a lesson”. He added, “The woman should have put up with it.” There was no remorse.
Shakti Mills (2014), Badaun (2017), Kathua (2018), Hyderabad (2019), Hathras (2020) — these horrifying gangrapes have eerie similarities. The rapists were strangers to the victim, and acted with complete nonchalance. No fear of the law or the State. This is not to say that women are not raped by men they know or are related to, for that is the dominant grim reality in India.
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) states that 77 rapes were reported every day on an average in 2020. While this is a drop from 88 rape cases a year in 2018, India still has a long way to go. A total of 371,503 cases of crime against women were reported across the country in 2020, compared to 405,326 in 2019, and 378,236 in 2018. Crimes against women in cities were down by 8.3%, but a “majority of cases under crime against women were registered under ‘Cruelty by Husband or his Relatives’ (30.2%) followed by assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty’ (19.7%), kidnapping and abduction of women (19.0%) and rape (7.2%),” the report said.
In August, the Chhattisgarh High Court discharged a man from facing trial for allegedly raping his wife. The judge relied on an exception under Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which states that “sexual intercourse or sexual act by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape.”
It should, therefore, not come as a surprise that in the recent United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Report, India slipped two places from 115 in 2019 to 117 in 2020. Growing gender inequality remains a grave area of concern in this context.
Perhaps the root of the problem lies in the assimilation of the rape culture in daily discourse. This cruelty against girls should not be normalised, forgotten, or relegated to another news story of the day. Traditional gender roles and rape culture need to give way to an open and honest conversation about this epidemic, to which half of the population of this country remains vulnerable.
Vineeta Dwivedi is a faculty member at Bhavan’s SP Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR)The views expressed are personal