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Growing menace of rape in India

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“While a murder destroys the physical frame of the victim, a rapist degrades and defiles the soul of a helpless female.” – Justice Arjit Pasayat

Sexual harassment and rape are two sides of the same coin. Both showcase the power of men to dominate that of women. Both have one victim- women. Both are barbaric in nature; but many people extenuate sexual harassment to rape, just because the victims are not physically harmed. Whereas in rape- the victim is ravished like an animal for the fulfillment of desire and lust of another man. Both have the same object- to undermine the integrity of the victim, physically as well as mentally.

It is troubling enough that such a small proportion of reported rapes make it to court, worse still that so few victims come forward in the first place. But most disturbing of all is the reason why so many people keep their suffering to themselves: because they do not think they will be believed. That rape is still a dirty secret, hedged about with so much blame and shame that victims feel they cannot come forward, is testament to how far we still have to go.

There are, of course, great legal difficulties in rape trials. Sexual assault is one of the few crimes where proof lies not in the physical facts of the matter, but in the subjective intentions of those involved. One person’s word against another’s, with no corroborating witnesses, is highly problematic for a legal system predicated on the concepts of innocent until proven guilty and proof beyond reasonable doubt.

Some facts related to rape

Rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. According to the 2019 annual report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) an alarming increase in registered crimes against women. On an average, around 1,000 crimes were registered everyday over 3.5 lakh in a year. On an average, 93 women were victims of rape every day. On-third of them were minors. Around 87,924 women registered cases of sexual harassment, an average of 241 a day. Every day, on an average, 28 women were burnt to death in cases registered as ‘dowry death’. On the other hand, rapes by juveniles remained high in India with 3 minors being arrested for rape, assault and attempted violence on women and girls each day.

The figures, shocking as they are, reflect only a small percentage of crimes committed against women. As is known, most cases go unreported. For example, the National Family Health Survey- 4 revealed that every third married woman had experienced physical and/or sexual violence but only 1.5% had sought help from the police. Accurate data collection is very important to inform policy initiatives.

Reasons behind sexual violence problem

  • Few female police: Studies show that women are more likely to report sex crimes if female police officers are available. India has historically had a much lower percentage of female police officers than other Asian countries. In New Delhi, just 11.65 percent of police officers are women (According to Union Minister of State for Home Reddy-2019), and they are frequently given inconsequential posts that don’t involve patrol duty. Of the 161 district police stations in Delhi, only one has a female station house officer. When women do report rape charges to male police, they are frequently demeaned.
  • Not enough police in general: There aren’t enough police dedicated to protecting ordinary citizens, rather than elites, and the officers that are available often lack basic evidence-gathering and investigative training and equipment: Delhi, for example, is home to one of the largest metropolitan police forces in the world with some 84,000 officers. But only one-third are involved in any kind of actual “policing” at any given time, while the rest provide protection services to various politicians, senior bureaucrats, diplomats and other elites. There is one officer for every 200 citizens and about 20 officers for every VIP. Many of those who do perform police duties can be found shaking down motorists, participating in protection rackets and simply looking the other way as crimes take place.
  • Blaming provocative clothing: There’s a tendency to assume the victims of sexual violence somehow brought it on themselves. According to a survey, 68 percent of the people believe that provocative clothing is an invitation to rape. In 2012 after Nirbhaya gang rape a legislator in Rajasthan suggested banning skirts as a uniform for girls in private schools, citing it as the reason for increased cases of sexual harassment.
  • Acceptance of Domestic violence: Thomson Reuters Foundation named India one of the worst countries in the world for women in 2018, in part because domestic violence there is often seen as deserved. A report by UNICEF found that 57 percent of Indian boys and 53 percent of girls between the ages of 15 and 19 think wife-beating is justified. A recent national family-health survey also reported that a sizable percentage of women blame themselves for beatings by their husbands. When a boy grows up seeing his father assault his mother, he starts to accept such a behaviour and repeats it.
  • Lack of public safety: Women generally aren’t protected outside their homes. The gang rape occurred on a bus, and even Indian authorities say that the country’s public places can be unsafe for women. Women who drink, smoke or go to pubs are widely seen in Indian society as morally loose, and village clan councils have blamed a rise in women talking on cellphones and going to the bazaar for an increase in the incidence of rape.
  • Stigmatizing the victim: When verbal harassment or groping do occur in public areas, bystanders frequently look the other way rather than intervene, both to avoid a conflict and because they — on some level — blame the victim. Male politicians contribute to the problem, making statements that make light of rape or vilify rape victims’ supporters.
  • Encouraging rape victims to compromise: Rape victims are often encouraged by village elders and clan councils to “compromise” with the family of accused and drop charges- or even to  marry the attacker. Such compromises are aimed at keeping the peace between families or clan groups. What’s more, a girl’s eventual prospects of marriage are thought to be more important than bringing a rapist to justice.
  • A sluggish court system: India’s court system is painfully slow, in part because of a shortage of judges. The country has about 15 judges for every 1 million people, while China has 159. A Delhi high court judge once estimated it would take 466 years to get through the backlog in the capital alone.
  • Low status of women: Perhaps the biggest issue, though, is women’s overall lower status in Indian society. For poor families, the need to pay a marriage dowry can make daughters a burden. India has one of the lowest female-to-male population ratio in the world because of sex-selective abortion and female infanticide. Throughout their lives, sons are fed better than their sisters, are more likely to be sent to school and have brighter career prospects. In recent days, Indian politicians have put forward slew potential remedies for India’s sexual violence problem. But it’s worth noting that it will be hard to end discrimination against women at police stations when it starts in the crib.

Way forward

To even begin an attempt to alter this, we need a robust conversation around men, which has to begin in schools, public fora and highest offices. Boys have to be taught that it’s wrong to talk disparagingly about women, feel up girls surreptitiously, make lewd remarks and leer at them. This cannot be left to parents alone.

It should be a part of the school curriculum from primary school onwards, where attitudes are shaped. For older students, gender sensitisation classes and tests should be mandatory. Violence against women is so deeply rooted in India, that this sensitisation should be prioritised as much as basic reading and writing skills. Girls must be encouraged to be strong, vocal and intolerant of transgressions, however small.

Workplaces must crack down on men who make sexualised jokes, even of the ‘water cooler’ kind. We should stop taking sexually offensive banter lightly, because it leads to a desensitisation, which starts casually and eventually normalises sexual violence.

Most importantly, public office bearers and role models need to stop blaming women for their choice of dress or work hours, because that does nothing to make India safer for women.

Instead, it emboldens male vulturine behaviour and robs women of their potential, by forcing them to cut short their work or leisure activities.

In the meantime, the most immediate solution is to set up a special law enforcement arm that deals with sexual offences. India’s police force, heavily overworked, mostly desensitised and routinely pulled in different directions, can no longer be counted on to devote the time and dedication needed to deal with this deep and wide social issue.

To conclude, it may be asserted that no reform can be successful, unless it is accepted by the people at large. The societal attitude towards rape and its victims must change. To achieve this goal, social workers and /or organizations must make sincere, intensive efforts and organize educative programs, mass awareness camps, and advertisements to change the societal values.

However, we must remember that it is not the sole task of one sector of the society, but of every individual, to cooperate with the criminal justice system, to protest against this inhumanity called rape. Rape is an expression of domination, power and aggression; a serious violation of the dignity and freedom of a person. Hence, each one of us must bear the moral responsibility of raising our voices against the occurrence of these vulgar incidents and support their ill-fated victims in all possible ways, so as to establish a society where womanhood will be respected, with equal concern and sensitivity.

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