New Internationalist

The problem of rape is getting worse


The women’s movement is exhausted by rape statistics. Photo: WeNews, reproduced under a CC License

Why am I returning repeatedly to the theme of rape, I puzzled, as I began this blog post. Because, I realized, the problem’s become worse, not better. Rape stories are headlined practically every day. This morning, I read that a 14-year-old girl was gang-raped in my home state of West Bengal. She was home alone, not a ‘brazen hussy’ out on the streets asking for it, as misogynists love to claim. The perpetrators then poured kerosene on her and set her ablaze. She died in agony – mental and physical. Even worse, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, a woman, insisted the media is blowing things out of proportion. Things are not worse than they were before Mamata Banerjee was elected, apparently. Worse, worse, what’s the definition of worse? I wonder. Being raped and burnt, when death is the kindest option? Listening to the ravings of a minister busy blaming the media instead of taking action? Or a feudal old man pontificating that the solution is forcing girls to marry younger, to keep them out of trouble?

Then there’s gang rape, apparently a favourite pastime of our sexual predators. They now video it on their cell phones and send out rape images to friends. Even with such hard evidence available, the rapists manage to escape. Few of them are arrested. Worse, even fewer are convicted.

I am sick at heart, as are my activist friends who have fought for women’s rights for decades now. Against dowry, or to convict men who burn their brides because of unmet dowry demands. Against child marriage, domestic abuse, violence of all kinds, for the girl child, against female foeticide, for female literacy. Now, decades later, we find domestic violence and rape statistics higher than ever before. The fact that rape figures are at their highest ever leaves the women’s movement deeply exhausted. Many women have talked about feeling almost defeated at the state of Indian society today.

Take Haryana, India’s supposedly most successful state. The Sunday Times (of India) informs us that last year, 60 women were raped there every month. The same article goes on to say that Madhya Pradesh and Delhi have even worse figures. Haryana is only the tenth most terrible state, rape-wise, while Mizoram, Tripura and Assam have the dubious distinction of being ranked the three worst states.

Analyzing the rape scenario is complex. It’s easy to throw out theories about Haryana. For decades, Haryana aborted female foetuses without a qualm. Now there are no more brides. A local farmer says, ‘Finding a bride here, is like finding a precious grain of wheat, in a famine-stricken field.’ The men have to go far away and pay money – bride price – to find foreign girls from poorer states like West Bengal and Bihar. So apparently the farmer wasn’t surprised that Haryana’s sons of the soil resort to rape these days. I am told that perhaps Mizoram shows such high figures because women are stronger, fight back and report rape there.

All I can hope for is that more women, especially young women, engage in the fight against rape and violence. I have met many young women whom I admire for their chutzpah. But too many are far too busy with other distractions. They wear Playboy T-shirts because they think that that battle was over before they were born. And to them the women’s movement is not really cool. They are into going green. Yet Bangalore headlines blazed the fact that techies – young women working in IT – were raped and killed. No dalit girl can boast such column inches. So no more can it be seen as a battle for dalit, adivasi and poor women to fight. It’s a war out there. And all those bright young things should join it, to make India a safe place to live in. We appear to have come full-circle.

Right back to where we started.

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