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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  1. #1 nirupama 20 Oct 12

    They way rapes are happening people have come to accept it as another incident and the media has also in many cases dealt with irresponsibly. There are two things which are critical : one is
    the legal system and the other the police. As long as both these don't improve it will be a far cry. We can raise voices, do dharnas but the system has to change which means the Government has to take notice and ensure that there is a strong punishment.

  2. #2 Iris Gonzales 20 Oct 12

    It's a very important issue Mari. We have to keep on writing about it. Your piece is very important. Let's keep the fight.

  3. #3 KaminiGK 20 Oct 12

    Rape is the most heinous crime and actually rape is nothing to do with sex. It is violence, frustration and an act of a coward & spineless mind. Its deep frustration, anger & various deep seated pent up emotions. Our country is pathetic & laws are broken .

    Men who rape, the people who support & try to cover up the crime are the ones who think the women deserved it/ she asked for it; they are people with extremely low standards or “NO” standards of thinking.

    Disbelief, denial and cover-up to preserve family reputation have made sexual abuse an invisible crime in India.

    Our country must make a law of life imprisonment or death for this crime as the victim even though she may recover physically; she never recovers completely; mentally.
    For e.g. the Aruna Shannaugh case, pls read the article below for details:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aruna_Shanbaug_case

    The accused Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki served a couple of months in jail for “Robbery” and not rape, he is free and works in a hospital in Delhi with another name and identity, while his victim is a vegetable and in coma from 1973 till date!

    Our country & the people must wake up and take this crime seriously. There has been a spate of rape incidents in Haryana recently as many as 17 in a month in which a number of victims have been Dalit women.

    It is stupid to assume that only single men are perpetrators of this crime; married men are rapists as well. Similarly, married women are frequent victims of rape.
    Some khap panchayat leaders have suggested that the growing incidence of rape be addressed by relaxing the laws relating to child marriage which in itself is an offence under Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006.

    This is a rape of reason, based on a dangerous and completely false idea that masks the distinction between sexual desire and rape. While the first is a natural human desire, the second is a violent, coming back to the point that Rape is an act of an aggressive urge to dominate the victim; power and humiliation are integral to this act of violence rather than sexual fulfillment.

    Coming back to my point; Rape has nothing to do with sex. It is a cowardly act done by spineless low lifes of the world and the only punishment for this heinous crime should be life imprisonment or death !

    Kamini G.K

  4. #4 david cohen 20 Oct 12

    Mari Marcel Thekaekara sadly sets forth in her poignant and hard hitting blog that rape is getting worse in India, not better. The blog has me asking why and and what actions do we need to take? I have to also ask whatis it like in my own country.
    Clearly acts of rape have to be punished and that means the police force can't wink away the problem in misogynist fashion. It also means there has to be well trained police officials including empathetic women that victims can meet with to report the rape tha has occurred.
    More than that there has to be zero tolerance of government officials--men or women, old or young-- for rationalizing the rapes that occur or trying to excuse violence by blaming the victim.
    That means women have to be organized to battle this and their efforts must be multi-generational. Each new generation--and generations are only a few years apart-- must learn, organize and step up.
    Not only women, must be in this fight but so must men. Fathers, husbands, partners, brothers all have a stake.
    Language matters too. In America we have a candidate for the US Senate from the state of Missouri who modified rape with the phrase ’legitimate rape.’ His comment went viral
    but he remains competitive.
    Withiin our communities people need to be organized and outspoken--women and men-- to create a cultural norm of zero tolerance, no rationalizing of rape and officials held accountable for their actions, or inaction or language.
    David Cohen
    Washington, DC
    October 20, 2012

  5. #5 Ludwig Pesch 21 Oct 12

    This is shocking yet needs the very publicity authorities seem to shun most. So Mari, do keep up the pressure. For readers like us, circulating increases the pressure for India's authorities to be accountable and take action, be it nationally or internationally.
    What comes to my mind, still shocked at what I have just read: how may India's EDUCATIONAL COMMUNITY (formal and otherwise), knowing that there are talented members of high integrity and courage, find a SHARED constructive agenda? This in order to speak in ONE VOICE, using appropriate language that achieves its aims (respect for women of any age, belonging to any class or religious community). They need to find a common, non-sensational vocabulary that cannot be misunderstood; one that is suited to also discuss urgent matters with the potential victims of rape and abductions and conveying it at home, to colleagues and friends. A vocabluary that instills courage and self-confidence, rather than fear. There is clearly a need for creating contents for widely circulated texts books and/or online contents besides sensitizing members of the press and other mass media rather than further sensationalizing while reporting.
    What this column sadly conveys at this point is that women and girls in India haven't seen the worst yet; but for hope they need some realistic source of hope where they are today as well.
    Just sending ever more (potential) predators to jail hardly seems to be viable. As the US seems to demonstrate, quite tragically for millions of family, ever larger jail populations (mostly uneducated young males) merely aggravate social disparities, violence; and perhaps make the fate of female victims even more unbearable. Providing them with good self-defence and rape-prevention workshops in the worse affected regions may also help (apparently available in some European countries).

  6. #6 Anuja 22 Oct 12

    Truely , women of the street in Pune too are becoming 'available property' Just for fun, take bikes close to them , just to scare them and have a good laughter.

    Unruly men all over- This was not Pune I knew. Today when a women confronts people look at women and not men !!!

  7. #7 Manjula Pradeep 22 Oct 12

    I do agree that the problem of rape is getting worse. But earlier these kinds of incidents were not registered in the police stations nor reported widely by the media. Also the awareness about their rights amongst women and young girls has increased. Use of technology to humiliate and insult a woman is a phenomenon happening for past few years. This intensifies the seriousness of the crime committed by rapist/s. There is a need to relook at section 375/6 of the Indian penal code although a bill on sexual assault against women is being debated. Ultimately, women and young girls have to be trained to defend their rights.

  8. #8 shoba Ramachandran 22 Oct 12

    Rape has no discrimination - no reservation - no penalty. No backward and forward caste, no abled or disabled, no rich or poor, no modern or orthodox, no fair or no dusky, no crook or straight, no aged or young or child...... This is attitude which churns your blood. More and more youth have to get come together and raise their voices against rape. Where is our freedom to live freely? The very young too should be informed because it happens to kids travelling in school buses with male drivers getting touchy, feigning affection.

  9. #9 Chris 23 Oct 12

    Hi Mari,
    Thanks for the insight. Rape is not something I don't like to think about, leave alone talk about.. its inhuman and dishonourable. Even the rapist is without any honour.

    Of course the young women will engage in the fight against rape and violence. But, they will only with the support of the men in their lives. If their dads, brothers, husbands, teachers, work colleagues all stand up and join us in this protest, I am sure they will have the courage to do something about it.

    It annoys me to think - Why is it that our men looking the other way ? Where are the men ? Aren't they the protectors in the life of a girl/woman? Their silence is unbearable. What is the use of men in our society? Its heart breaking to see what's happening to our beloved country.

    I am ashamed with the realisation that a girl/woman is dishonoured. The statistics of rape is so high.. and yet no one with status is able to take any action.. its almost like Rape is okay.

  10. #10 Betty Marcel 23 Oct 12

    Drastic problems require revolutionary solutions. I would suggest that women's groups lobby the Justice Department to punish covicted rapists with chemical castration.
    I'd be more than happy to be part of the lobbying effort.

  11. #11 Beulah kaushik 25 Oct 12

    it is a mamoth task Mari and your article has driven home what a menace it is to our society. Mothers need to teach their sons to respect women, to daughters to respect their bodies and always be alert. Instinct is so important, sometimes you know when the situation is going to turn ugly! We had a coffee time discussion on your article and one young boy in our group suggested martial art education for all girls and a pepper spray. ?.........
    Beulah

  12. #12 Aloke Surin 27 Oct 12

    I feel that unless punishment to fit the crime is meted out to the perpetrators of such acts, potential criminals will continue to be lulled into thinking that they can get away with it...

  13. #13 Saint 29 Oct 12

    Last year alone in Haryana not 60 rapes, but 733 reported rapes cases!!?.

    Nationwide and especially in the state of Haryana, womans rights abuse is rampant, and the govt is not doing anything or not going to do anything, the woman folks of India must raise their voice collectively and form their own protective measures, sorry to say this because the police themselves are goondas in tamil ’Adiyatkal’, they have no morality or self respect, infact most rape or other dalit victims are further abused by the police. No policitian will genuinely take up these issues, as most politicians are corrupt and bigoted, ofcourse press has it's own deterimental role in not reporting and doing their diligence to help victims. Anyways, I thought to make a point about the number, Haryana is a animal kingdom, not civilized human society.

  14. #14 priya thomas 30 Oct 12

    three boys raping and setting a minor afire -any rapist or for that matter anyone commiting a sexual crime is a beast with no conscience or respect for his fellow human-no amount of moral science classes could help them-they have no sense of right and wrong-once proven guilty by the court of law their hands should be chopped-let them know the same humiliation they inflict on their victims-and without their hands they could never harm again.
    someone mentioned the aruna shanbaug case-i read about it and saw the pictures-a young girl's life destroyed while he,whom you would actually want to puke on,is enjoying life-our judiciary should wake up-being soft will just exacerbate the situation-punishment should be quick and stringent-only then will these cowards learn-they wouldnt want their hands chopped off.

  15. #16 Dont Fcking Worry abt it 17 Sep 13

    These sorry punk ass indian rapists should get fucked in the ass by a giant dildo, a metal one to be exactly. That should set them mofos off to show them how that fucking feels to be molested out ur own rights! smh..

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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