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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 39 September 23, 2023

Dark world of Rape Culture in India | Badre Afshan

Saturday 23 September 2023


In August 2022, when the Indian subcontinent was celebrating seventy-five years of its freedom from colonial rule, the State of Gujarat freed on remission eleven men jailed in Panchmahal for life for the gang-rape of a pregnant woman during a religious pogrom in 2002. The men were convicted in early 2008. This was a religious conflict. In March 2022, a 22-year-old Dalit woman in Tamil Nadu’s Virudhunagar was subjected to sexual assault by eight people, including school students, who had threatened to publicise intimate videos of her. They blackmailed and sexually abused her for almost six months before police arrested them. This was a caste conflict. Using a more recent incident on 4 May 2023, that of the gang rape in the north-eastern State of Manipur, which is labelled an ethnic conflict, this paper has analysed and explained the historical trajectory of rape culture, factors responsible for this rape culture, actions of the offenders involved in the crime of rape, using sociological theories. A rape is a rape, no matter what the label of the conflict is. With greater understanding of how rape of a woman’s body is used socially, some recommendations are also made for reducing this form of crime in the country.

IN INDIA, RAPE, sexual assault, and verbal harassment against girls of all ages and socio-economic classes are now frequent occurrences. Numerous women are distressed, and their families’ well-being is permanently threatened by these acts. Rape is not an India phenomenon, it is of worldwide occurrence and is a symbol of the victor dominating the loser; the victim woman’s body is the representation of the defeated community, caste, ethnic group or gender. In 2021, there were 144,300 reported rape cases in the United States. The four Nordic countries Sweden, Iceland, Norway, and Denmark had the highest rate of reported sexual violence in Europe in 2020 (all Statista data).

Historical Trajectory of Rape Culture

Rape Culture, in feminist parlance, describes a culture or society in which rape and sexual violence are normalised and perpetuated through various means, such as victim-blaming, trivialising sexual assault, and promoting harmful attitudes towards consent and gender roles. Though specific definitions of this term vary but the reality the term describes is clear.

Clementine Ford (2012) defines rape culture as ‘a social system that has slowly normalised rape and sexual assault through the bombardment of images, language, laws and social attitudes’ (para 2), and Sarah Jackson (2011) refers to rape as ‘an act of terrorism’ (para 2). Rape culture is a social culture in which rape is excused or minimised. Rape-supportive beliefs and behaviours go unchallenged, permeating television shows, films, and other media. Rape culture exists in many societies worldwide, and its historical roots can be traced back through various eras and timeframes and societal norms. Here is a brief overview of the historical development of rape culture:

  • Ancient Societies: Historically, rape and sexual violence were often used as tools of war and conquest, with women being treated as spoils of war. Ancient texts and mythology often depicted instances of sexual violence, reinforcing a culture where such actions were seen as acceptable or even glorified. Rape and sexual violence were often used as weapons of war to assert dominance over conquered populations. In many ancient societies, women were seen as property and the sexual assault of women from defeated groups was common.

 The first example of woman as spoil of war, unfortunately, is the Greek Helen from Homer’s Iliad, about 800 years before Christ. She was not a rape victim but her love story can be doubted, she returned to Sparta after the fall of Troy; Paris of Troy did not want to take any men, not even the king of Sparta or the brave warrior like Agamemnon. It was a woman. If we believe India’s Mahabharata to be more ancient, we have the classic example of Draupadi, who was straightforward molested in public. The sad part is, the molestation is so cleverly camouflaged in the epic; Krishna’s divine intervention is a matter of adulation and there is no protest that the husband and family did not intervene. Ramayana too revolves around a woman’s abduction. However, in a modern democracy that is India, for justice in every rape case, women cannot really wait forever for divine intervention. Even modern wars have rape like in the Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina war, says the Association of Women Victims of War that campaigns for the rights of women victims of rape and similar crimes during the Bosnian war 1992-1995. Milan Lukić’se rape campaign was a significant component of the ethnic cleansing of Višegrad in 1992 and notorious.

  • Middle Ages: Rape was often treated as a property crime, with fines or compensation being paid to the victim’s family or husband, rather than focusing on the violation of the victim’s rights. Marital rape was not recognised as a crime, as women were considered the property of their husbands. In India, the laws have recently been amended. The classic example we have here is Prithviraj Chauhan’s abduction of Jaychand’s daughter, Sanyogita. This is paraded as a love story and there are numerous stories of women being taken by rival factions, too many to list here.

The concept of a Lakshman Rekha came first through the Ramacharitamanas, the popular north Indian rendering of the story of Rama. The first version by Tulsidas (1530s-1600s) does not feature the Lakshmana Rekha story in the Aranya Kanda. However, in the Lanka Kanda of the Ramcharitmanas (35.1), Ravana’s wife Mandodari rebukes him on his boisterous claims of valour by pointing out that he could not even cross a small line drawn by Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana.

  • Colonialism: During the era of colonialism, European colonisers frequently used sexual violence as a means of asserting dominance over indigenous populations. The abuse and rape of enslaved women and men were widespread during this period, not only in Asia but the American continent as well.
  • Early Modern Period: With the Victorian era, the idea of ‘chastity’ became a key aspect of women’s virtue, and rape was often seen as an attack on a woman’s purity and honour. In many cases, victims were blamed for the assault, and perpetrators could escape punishment, if they married their victims.
  • 19th and Early 20th Century: Over time, societal attitudes and beliefs about rape contributed to a culture where victims are often blamed for their assault, and myths such as ‘she was asking for it’ or ‘she didn’t say no’, perpetuate the idea that consent is not necessary in certain situations. Rape laws began to evolve, but they were still focused on protectingwomen’s virtue and often required proof of physical resistancefrom the victim. These laws were often ineffective in prosecuting cases, and many rapes went unreported and unpunished. In this context, India’s laws are inherited colonial laws.
  • Feminist Movement and the 1970s: During the second wave of feminism, activists started addressing rape and sexual violence as systemic issues, challenging societal attitudes and norms. The term ‘rape culture’ emerged as a way to describe a culture that minimises and trivialises sexual violence, places blame on victims, and perpetuates harmful stereotypes.
  • Present-Day: Rape culture remains an important issue in contemporary society, with ongoing efforts to challenge harmful attitudes, educate the public and enact policies that protect survivors and hold perpetrators accountable. The #MeToo movement, which gained momentum in the 2010s, brought widespread attention to sexual harassment and assault in various industries and workplaces and highlighted the pervasive nature of rape culture in modern society throughout the world. In the USA, the National Statistics Domestic Violence Fact Sheet says, one in every four women are subject to sexual violence. The Indian statistics is no better.
  • Legal Changes: Over time, many legal reforms have taken place to address rape and sexual assault more effectively. These include recognising marital rape as a crime, lowering the burden of proof, providing support services for victims, and increasing public awareness.
  • Media and Popular Culture: Media representations have often perpetuated harmful stereotypes and trivialised sexual violence. This includes victim-blaming narratives, glamorisation of assault in movies or music, and the objectification of women’s bodies. It also includes denial of media coverage and glorification of such episodes, with victim names and faces. Excessive visuals of violation of women’s bodies has permeated the Indian film industry too, and this violence often goes beyond what artistic license permits and artistry needs.
  • Campus and Online Culture: The issue of sexual assault on college campuses and within online spaces has gained attention in recent years. Discussions around consent, bystander intervention, and creating safer environments have become prominent topics globally

When rape is used as an instrument of violence, it serves multiple purposes for the perpetrator:

  • Power and domination: Rape is an act of violence that allows the perpetrator to exert power and dominance over the victim. By forcefully violating the victim’s autonomy and bodily integrity, the perpetrator seeks to establish a sense of control and superiority.
  • Intimidation and fear: Rape can be used as a tool to instil fear not only in the immediate victim but also in the broader community or a particular group. The intention may be to discourage resistance or to create a climate of fear to silence potential challengers.
  • Retribution and punishment: In some cases, perpetrators use rape as a means of punishing women or girls they perceive as having violated social or cultural norms, often with the aim of reinforcing gender-based power dynamics. Even today, many khap panchayats in all corners of India operate on this premise.
  • Suppression and degradation: Rape is an act that seeks to demean and dehumanise the victim, treating them merely as an object to be used for the perpetrator’s violent desires.
  • Social and political control: In conflicts and war zones, rape may be employed as a weapon of war to destabilise communities, break social bonds, and gain control over resources.

Rape Culture in India

Outside of wars, for several hundred years, India has been home to societies in which sexual violence, particularly against women, has been normalised and excused, and where the prevalence of sexual assault is not adequately addressed or condemned. While rape culture is a global issue, it manifests in different ways in various countries, including in India. India registered 31,677 cases of rape in 2021; an average 86 daily, while nearly 49 cases of crime against women were lodged every single hour, according to the latest government report on crimes in the country. The number of rape cases in 2020 was 28,046, while it was 32,033 in 2019, the National Crime Records Bureau’s (NCRB) ‘Crime in India 2021’ report showed. The NCRB functions under the Ministry of Home Affairs (a report in The Hindu, 31 August 2022 said). Among States, Rajasthan (6,337) was on top of the list followed by Madhya Pradesh (2,947), Maharashtra (2,496) and Uttar Pradesh (2,845), while Delhi recorded 1,250 rape cases in 2021. The unrecorded cases are many more.

India, like many other countries, has struggled with issues related to gender-based violence and rape culture. Some factors that contribute to the perpetuation of rape culture in India include:

  • Gender inequality: India, like many other countries, faces deep-rooted gender inequalities, where women are often treated as inferior and subservient to men. These attitudes can contribute to the normalisation of violence against women.
  • Victim-blaming: In instances of sexual assault, victims are often blamed for the crime, with society questioning their behaviour, clothing, or actions instead of holding the perpetrators accountable.
  • Lack of reporting: Many cases of sexual assault in India go unreported due to fear of social stigma, victim-blaming, and mistrust in the justice system.
  • Slow legal processes: The lengthy and cumbersome legal process in India can discourage victims from pursuing justice, leading to a low conviction rate for sexual offenders.
  • Inadequate support systems: Victims often face challenges in accessing support services, such as counselling and legal aid, which can further discourage reporting.
  • Cultural attitudes: Certain cultural norms and practices may reinforce harmful attitudes towards women, perpetuating gender-based violence.
    Indeed, rape is a horrific and devastating form of violence that can be used to assert power and control over women. In this context, rape can be viewed as a means of using women as instruments of violence, subjecting them to physical, emotional, and psychological harm.

It is important to understand that rape is not about sexual desire but rather about violence, power, and control. It is a criminal act that violates human rights and causes severe physical and psychological trauma to the victim.

The Manipur Incident

The viral video of the 4 May 2023 incident brought Manipur, where violence first broke out nearly three months ago and has already claimed over 160 lives while hurting hundreds, back into the spotlight. One of the victims told The IndianExpress that they had been ‘left to the mob by the police’ the day after a video of two Kuki-Zomi community members being paraded naked and sexually attacked in Manipur circulated (The Indian Express, 20 July 2023).

Two women, one in her 20s and the other in her 40s, are seen being driven to go toward a field while completely naked by a group of men. The two women can be seen being aggressively groped. The victims further claimed that the younger woman was ‘brutally gang raped in broad daylight’, in a police complaint that was submitted on 18 May 2023.

The younger woman, however, claimed in a phone interview with The Indian Express that ‘The police were there with the mob which was attacking our village. The police picked us up from near (our) home and took us a little away from the village and left us on the road with the mob. We were given to them by police’. The interview continues to say, ‘After all the men were killed, and the mob did what they did, we were just left there and we escaped’, the woman said. She said that when her father and brother came forward to protect her, they were killed by the mob. She said that two months after the FIR was filed, neither she nor her family were aware of the existence of a video documenting the incident, the circulation of which has aroused widespread indignation and forced the State government and police to take action.

The role of police in this case is questionable. The Indian police have become the facilitator of the crime instead of being the protectors of the rights of the victims. In an ideal society, the police serve as a crucial element in upholding the law, protecting citizens, and preventing and responding to criminal activities. They play a vital role in maintaining law and order and ensuring the safety and security of the community. Police as mute spectator of crime is a serious concern when it comes to law enforcement and public safety.

However, instances where police appear to be indifferent, unresponsive, or negligent in addressing crimes can occur for various reasons, such as lack of resources, corruption due to bribery or other unethical practices, bureaucracy and inefficiency, lack of trust due to historical issues, discrimination, or abuse of power, misplaced priorities etc. But police participating in perpetration of rape crimes is unacceptable in any civil society.

According to Sushmita Dev (TMC Member of Parliament), the girl is now afraid of the police. ‘If a victim does not trust the police anymore, then it is a constitutional crisis’, she says. According to Kanimozhi (a DMK MP), although the victim’s father served in the Indian Army and defended the country, he was unable to protect his family (NDTV, 29 July 2023).

The Supreme Court of India, taking suo moto cognisance of the video, has said that the visuals indicate ‘gross constitutional violations and infractions of human rights’. Addressing law officers in charge of law and order in the State, the three-judge Bench headed by the CJI said that, ‘The court is deeply disturbed by the visuals which have appeared in the media since yesterday, depicting the perpetration of sexual assault and violence on women in Manipur’. Chief Justice Chandrachud said that it did not matter that the video was not a recent one, but rather recorded an incident that occurred in May, when the violence initially broke out. ‘What matters is that this is just simply unacceptable... This is the grossest of constitutional and human rights violations... We are expressing our deep concern... We will give the government a little time to take action, or we will take action’, the Chief Justice warned.

The situation, responses, and comments from all demographic groups from all over the country and beyond were covered and reported regularly by audio-visual, print, and social media. This led to unprecedented social support in the form of a mass movement in various parts of the country that included corporate organisations, school and college students (both boys and girls), working professionals, housewives, and the general public through candle marches, slogan shouting, and a call for immediate action against the attackers. India’s recent history speaks for itself, however.

Recent History

Bihar: The Pararia mass rape was an incident of caste violence that affected several regions of Bihar in the 1980s and 1990s. The incident took place in a village near the temple town of Deoghar. Here twenty-six families were gangraped by policemen and as many as forty-one women, including a five-year-old child were violated. They belonged to the Yadav caste, designated Other Backward Class. The police also looted valuables, jewellery, and utensils from each house in the village. Nose rings and accessories worn by the women were forcefully removed, causing injury. The official response was ‘it was done in response to the villagers’ refusal to move for the Punasi dam project’. Such a response from a government arm like the police is unacceptable, whatever the reason.

As recently as on 7 June, a website reported from Patna that a minor tribal girl was gang-raped by eight youth(Ref: Latestly).

Uttar Pradesh: After details of a violent gang rape and murder in Hathras in 2020 were released to the public, protests broke out all over India. The story of four upper-caste men brutalizing a 19-year old Dalit woman, and her subsequent death from injuries set off new conversations about violence against marginalised women in India, challenging both traditional spaces and the urban middle- to upper-class Me Too movement.

The Hathras case follows a 2012 Delhi gang rape that galvanised a national debate on the treatment of women. The Hathras story is a reminder of the ongoing violence Dalit women in India experience, says a researcher. ‘The patriarchal view of upper- and lower-caste women are vastly different.

Upper-caste female bodies have historically been constructed as desirable, racially pure and protected, so as to maintain caste-purity. On the other hand, lower-caste and Dalit women’s bodies are constructed as readily available and without any subjectivity. Religious customs and social norms have allowed upper-caste men to have easy access to Dalit women’s bodies. Caste-supremacy is maintained through Dalit women’s bodies.’(Ref: The Conversation. )

In the year 2019, 59,853 cases of crime against women were registered in UP, which decreased to 56,083 in 2021, say the national crime statistics.

We must not forget the case of Phoolan Devi, a Mallah woman growing up in a very poor UP household, entangled in a land dispute with the upper caste local landlord. After being sexually abused repeatedly and married off at the age of eleven, she joined a Gujjar dacoit gang. The leader raped her repeatedly until he was killed. Later Phoolan became the gang leader, returned to the upper caste village of Behmai and killed eighteen Thakur men here. The Samajwadi Party made her a Member of Parliament in 1996. She was assassinated outside her house by an upper caste man on 25 July 2001. This is not about what Phoolan did but what was done to her.

Tamil Nadu: On the net, on YouTube you can still find the video of J Jayalalitha, speaking to a journalist about the physical attack on her in March 1989, when violence erupted in the Tamil Nadu Assembly between members of her party and the ruling party. The then chief minister allegedly called her all sorts of name after she called him a criminal. Later she was physically assaulted and the loose end of her saree was pulled out. This isn’t about the politics; it is about our assemblies and political culture thirty years ago. It was a time when despite Ambedkar, Periyar and other social reformers, and social justice, women’s bodies were thought to be ‘violatable’ even at the highest people’s forum.

Tamil Nadu is not free of caste crimes, including rape of women still. In Keezhamaligai village in Ariyalur district in Tamil Nadu, where the dominant group are the Vanniyars, the Hindustan Times reports how horribly a 17-year-old had died in 2017, and her decomposed body was found more than a fortnight after her disappearance was reported. No one had paid any attention to a missing pregnant young Dalit. An RTI-based data collection carried out for nine months since January 2021 by A Kathir, the executive director of the NGO, Evidence, has shown that 300 people from SC/ST communities were killed in caste murders across 33 districts of TN from 2016 to 2020; many of the women were raped.

The NCRB data records 442 rape complaints and 1077 molestations in Tamil Nadu in 2022, which is just the tip of the iceberg. A decade after four Irula tribal women were raped by four cops from the Thirukovilur police station, in Villupuram in November 2011, the victims are still waiting for the trial to begin at the Villupuram (SC/ST PoA) Special Court. ‘We are not expecting compensation. What really bothers us is that the policemen, who raped us and brutally tortured our relatives, are still free’, said one of the rape victims to a website. The eight people arrested in 2022 for the gang rape of a 22-year-old Dalit woman in Virudhunagar include a politician and minor school boys. This reflects the mindset of youngsters in the country.

Delhi: And what about New Delhi, the nation’s showcase for the world. In January 2022, police in the Indian capital arrested 11 people, including nine women, after the brutal gang rape and torture of a young woman that included her being paraded through the streets of East Delhi and humiliated.
The woman is married and has a 3-year-old son. The woman, 20, was allegedly abducted and raped by a group of men in a revenge attack. The victim’s head was shaved, face blackened, and a garland of shoes put around her neck as she was hit and paraded through the streets in East Delhi. Video of that part of the abuse went viral, causing widespread outrage. It shows a group of women forcing the victim to walk and hitting her while onlooker’s cheer. So, women are no less shy of taking part in another woman’s rape and are a part of this stoking of rape culture. Before that, in September 2021, there was the rape and murder of a 21-year-old woman in New Delhi. Again, in 2021, a 34-year-old woman in Mumbai died after being raped and brutally tortured, bringing back memories of the 2012 Delhi rape and murder of a young medical student.

Cultural Theory of Rape

The cultural theory of rape, also known as the sociocultural theory of rape, is a framework used to understand and explain the prevalence of sexual violence in society. This theory explores how cultural beliefs, norms, and attitudes contribute to the perpetuation of rape and rape-supportive environments. It focuses on the sociocultural factors that influence individuals’ behaviours and attitudes toward sexual violence. The cultural theory of rape posits that the way societies conceptualise and communicate about sexuality and gender roles can either promote or discourage sexual violence. It highlights that cultural beliefs and attitudes toward consent are crucial factors in understanding sexual violence.

Societies that place a strong emphasis on obtaining enthusiastic and enduring consent tend to have lower rates of sexual violence compared to those that do not prioritize clear consent.

Key elements and concepts of the cultural theory of rape include:

  • Gender Roles and Power Dynamics: Feminist theorists argue that rape and the fear of rape enable men to assert their power over women and maintain the existing system of gender stratification (Adamec and Adamec, 1981; Brownmiller, 1975; Riger and Gordon, 1981; Russell, 1984; Sanday, 1981).
    The theory recognises that many societies have deeply ingrained gender norms and power dynamics, where men are often expected to be dominant and aggressive, while women are expected to be submissive and passive. Inda is one such society. These traditional gender roles can foster environments where sexual violence is seen as a way for men to exert control over women, reinforcing a hierarchical power structure. This is fostered by the fact that partner violence is not recognised socially as violence in India.
    Rape functions as a mechanism of social control in patriarchal societies (Brownmiller, 1975; Riger and Gordon, 1981). The power dynamics of rape refer to the unequal distribution of power between the perpetrator and the victim which plays a significant role in sexual violence. Rape is not solely about sexual desire; it often involves exerting power, dominance, and control over the victim. Understanding the power dynamics of rape is crucial for comprehending why sexual violence occurs and how it perpetuates in certain contexts. Perpetrators often use intimidation, threats, or physical force to instill fear in their victims. This fear can further establish the power imbalance, making it difficult for the victim to resist or report the assault. The aftermath of rape can also involve power dynamics, as survivors may experience feelings of powerlessness, shame, and a loss of control over their lives. Recovery and healing often involve regaining a sense of personal power and agency.
  • Sexual Objectification: The cultural theory of rape acknowledges that the objectification of women in media, advertising, and popular culture can contribute to a culture that views women as commodities or objects of sexual desire rather than autonomous individuals with agency and rights. This objectification can lead to a devaluation of women’s consent and bodily autonomy, increasing the risk of sexual violence.

Feminists also argue that the representation of women, the social construction of femininity, the socialisation of men and the social construction of masculinity can explain rape. For example, often those men who see women as sex objects and as inherently inferior to men are more likely to commit to rape (Polaschek & Ward, 2002). Men who hold these beliefs think that they are ‘entitled to control women’s sexuality, and to determine what a woman really wants’ (Polaschek & Ward, 2002, p.14).
Such men also think they ‘are entitled to shape women’s sexual and nonsexual behaviour, and to decide what is acceptable or unacceptable’ (Polaschek & Ward, 2002, p.14). Therefore, women should meet male needs on demand, men are entitled to rape women.

  • Rape Myths and Victim-Blaming: Rape myths are false beliefs or stereotypes about sexual assault that can perpetuate rape culture. These myths may include ideas like ‘she was asking for it’ or ‘she didn’t really mean ‘no’. The comprehensive definition of ‘rape myth’ provided by Martha R Burt (1991) is, ‘prejudicial, stereotyped or false beliefs about rape, rape victims, or rapists’ (p. 26). These can include beliefs that victims are ‘somehow responsible for, or contribute to, their own victimisation, which in turn decreases the perceived responsibility of the perpetrator’ (Tatum,2008, p. 25). Myths such as these are, as noted in the above definition of ‘rape’ itself, ‘the mechanism that people use to justify dismissing an incident of sexual assault from the category of ‘real’ rape’ (Burt, 1991, p. 27).

Victim-blaming, which places responsibility on the victim rather than the perpetrator, is often tied to these myths and discourages survivors from reporting incidents and seeking support. Filipovic (2008) explains that the threat and reality of rape itself is similarly a tool of control: ‘Rape and other assaults on women’s bodies... serve as unique punishments for women who step out of line’ (p. 19), women who ‘step out of the traditionally female private sphere and into the traditionally male-dominated public one’ (p. 22). Jessica Schiffman (2010) argues that women know continuously throughout their life that if they attempt to exist ‘outside an ill-defined sphere of safety, they will be held responsible for whatever happens to them’ (p. 14).

  • Normalisation of Sexual Violence: When sexual violence is depicted or trivialised in popular culture, such as in movies, music, or online media, it can contribute to the normalisation of such behaviour. This normalisation can make it harder for society to recognise the seriousness of sexual violence and may desensitise individuals to its impact. Further, when the media objectify the human body, especially that of black women, in television, movies, and magazines, the message is that bodies are ‘things’ that can be violated (Maxwell, 2014). Beyond fictional drama, media perpetuate rape culture by referring to ‘rape’ as ‘sex’, or sympathising with the rapists rather than the victims, as evidenced by a CNN reporter’s coverage of the Steubenville rape case (Madden, 2014).
  • Institutional Responses: The theory also recognises that the way institutions, such as the legal system and law enforcement, handle sexual assault cases can either reinforce or challenge rape culture. A lack of appropriate responses and consequences for perpetrators can perpetuate a culture that condones sexual violence. In India, the processes and procedures are characterised by difficulties in registering a complaint, establishing that a rape had occurred, the effect of a low conviction rate, a humiliating inquiry, and stigmatization of the victim. These circumstances are exploited by the offenders, which leads to the increased rape instances in India (Goel, Legal Service India. com).

Overall, the cultural theory of rape emphasises the importance of addressing underlying cultural norms and beliefs to effectively combat sexual violence. By challenging harmful attitudes, promoting consent education, and creating more equitable and respectful societies, we can work towards reducing the prevalence of rape culture and supporting survivors of sexual violence.
Addressing the power dynamics of rape requires comprehensive efforts on multiple levels, including:

  • Education and awareness: Raising awareness about rape as a form of violence, promoting consent education, and challenging harmful attitudes and beliefs can help shift societal norms. John Stoltenberg (1993) has argued that a major step towards a rape-free society is ‘comprehensive curricula that teach[es] not just the facts of life, not just information about safer sex, but also the meaning of informed consent and bodily integrity’ (p. 221). This, of course, would not, in itself, eradicate rape culture, but it would be the first step towards doing so. The larger aim must therefore be to not only educate boys and men to stop rape, but to educate boys and men to embrace a version of masculinity that does not rely on the model of coercive and aggressive sexuality provided by a patriarchal rape culture. Furthermore, girls and women need to be similarly empowered through education that deconstructs rape myths such as victim-blaming and woman-hating (sometimes referred to as ‘slut-shaming). India has her own terminology of sexual dominance and is a nation which still resists basic sex education in schools. The median age of the nation today is 28.2 years and this is not a generation taught to respect women.
  • Legal measures: Implementing and enforcing laws that condemn rape and hold perpetrators accountable is crucial. Holding perpetrators accountable through legal systems that prioritize survivor support and justice.
  • Support for survivors: Providing comprehensive support services for survivors, including medical, legal, and psychological assistance, is essential for their healing and recovery. The support service India has is not adequate.
  • Empowerment of women: Empowering women educationally, economically, socially, and politically can help reduce their vulnerability to violence and discrimination. According to several ASER reports and another report in 2018, the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights had said that in India around 40 per cent of 15 to 18-year-old-girls were out of school and among them, almost 65 per cent were taken out of school by parents for household work. This is violation of a girl child’s RIGHT to education enshrined by a law, passed by parliament. The two Covid years have not helped. This is violence towards the girl child, though not acknowledged by society in India. Parents and society see the girl child only as tool for work, nothing more.

Male involvement: Engaging men and boys in conversations about consent, respect, and gender equality is vital to challenge toxic masculinity and promote positive attitudes towards women. Fostering gender equality and dismantling patriarchal systems that contribute to power imbalances.

Reforms in policing practices: Implementing evidence-based and community-oriented policing strategies can improve the overall effectiveness and perception of law enforcement. More organisations like the RCI-VAW, the Resource Centre for Interventions on Violence Against Women (within the TISS university framework), which supports police stations across 17 States in India are needed.

By understanding and actively challenging the power dynamics that perpetuate sexual violence, we can work towards creating a safer and more equitable society for all individuals. And there is no doubt that India has taken milestone steps to address the issue of sexual violence and rape culture, including legislative reforms like the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act 2012 and awareness campaigns.

In 2013, following the high-profile gang-rape case in Delhi, the Indian government also enacted significant changes to its sexual assault laws. In a ruling in September 2022, India’s apex court said, the definition of rape includes marital rape. These changes included broader definitions of sexual offenses, stricter punishments for offenders, and measures to protect the identity and privacy of survivors. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and activists have also played a crucial role in raising awareness about sexual violence and advocating for victims’ rights. Despite these efforts, there is still much work to be done to combat rape culture in India effectively. Continued efforts are required to challenge harmful attitudes, promote gender equality, and ensure that survivors receive the support and justice they deserve.

Throughout history, there have been important strides in challenging and dismantling rape culture. However, much work remains to be done to create a society that truly values consent, respects boundaries, and holds perpetrators accountable for their actions. The fight against rape culture continues through grassroots activism, advocacy, and legal changes aimed at creating safer and more equitable communities for all. Raising awareness, supporting survivors, and promoting education on consent and healthy relationships are crucial steps in combating rape culture

Addressing rape culture in India requires a multi-faceted approach involving education, legal reforms, social support systems, and a collective commitment to changing societal norms. By addressing the root causes of violence and working towards a more equitable and just society, we can strive to prevent and eliminate the use of women as instruments of violence, including rape. It is essential to acknowledge that these issues can vary significantly from one place to another, and addressing them requires the collective effort of communities, law enforcement agencies and policymakers. Working together, we can strive for a safer and more just society.

(Author: Dr Badre Afshan teaches at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi)


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