New Internationalist

When did rape cease being news?

girl in silhouette, IndiaA few days ago, major TV channels highlighted a case in which a dalit girl was gang-raped in Haryana, near Punjab. That’s not really news, here in India. Rape, today, is India’s fastest-growing crime. Between 1971 and 2006, the number of reported rape cases increased by 600 per cent. Women are raped every day. But dalit girls are often specially targeted, to keep their men humiliated and in their place, to teach their people a lesson, and because they are more vulnerable than most other groups.

For some inexplicable reason, this particular rape made national headlines. A teenage dalit girl was gang-raped by 12 men, 8 of whom belonged to the Jat community, a powerful, dominant caste. The men videoed the rape on their mobile phones, then sent the video clip to their friends. The village was agog with the news. When it reached the girl’s parents, her father asked his wife to go to their relatives’ home for safety – or so his wife thought. He then committed suicide. Driven by a helpless desperation, unable to bear this final attack on his teenage daughter, he drank a deadly poison.

It took the suicide to rouse the village to action and for the police to register the case of rape. The girl’s mother refused to claim her husband’s dead body from the morgue until the police arrested the perpetrators. A candlelit procession was held to demand justice. Finally, two of the 12 were arrested, though the girl stated she could identify all of them. They belonged to nearby villages.

Even though rape crimes are on the rise, rape is old hat, it therefore doesn’t often grab the headlines.  Apparently more titillating is the new phenomenon of videoing sexual encounters. Soon, that too will cease to be news.

The new generation of young girls has been propelled from a society in which lives were protected and secluded and led according to practically medieval mores, straight into the 21st century. Suddenly television and cell phones are launching them into a world they are not emotionally or socially prepared for. They are blown away by television shows which depict the ‘new woman’ dressed in alien city clothes, portrayed as glamorous and cool. They want to be that woman. So many young girls are allowing themselves to be sexually exploited and filmed in the act. In hundreds of cases, the so-called boyfriends then blackmail them, send out phone video clips to their acquaintances and sometimes, far too often now, coerce the girls into prostitution or casual sex with their friends. If the girls refuse, they threaten to put the videos online, or text the clips to their family, friends and society at large. The terrified, compromised girls submit to the blackmail and are enslaved until something or someone frees them.

I directed a desperate mother and daughter for counselling to Vimochana, a women’s group in Bangalore. The daughter’s boyfriend had filmed her in a compromising situation. The girl was an easy blackmail target. Apparently, this is a new, as yet not publicized, crime.  

In most of southeast Asia, it is still the norm for young men to marry virgin brides chosen by their families and tradition. A tiny élite break from that tradition. So when the girls think they’re being cool, their temporary boyfriends are merely having a good time until they marry the girl mummy chooses. The vast majority of our men (and their mothers) are hypocrites. It’s a fact of life. No-one has started a campaign to educate cinema-struck girls about this bitter truth.   

As for the rape victim from Haryana, I hope the media continues a relentless campaign until all 12 men are indicted. Most women who watched the rape story said: ‘I wish someone would castrate the bastards!’ That’s uncharacteristic of the average Indian woman, which shows their seething anger. Most Indian women have felt that helpless, frustrating, ballistic anger when they’ve been groped, molested, or experienced some kind of sexual harassment and can’t do anything to hit back. There’s a current campaign going on against domestic violence. We need something massive to handle rape and sexual crimes. And we need it right away. 

Photo: Harska K R under a CC Licence

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  1. #1 onedaywonder 27 Sep 12

    A major problem is the attitude of the Indian police who don't take rape seriously unless it is a politicized case. A campaign to get them to perform their duty better...?

  2. #2 Maj General Sudhir Vombatkere 27 Sep 12

    Nice one, Mari!

  3. #3 Gerard Oonk 27 Sep 12

    Really shocking news & blog Mari. Will translate in Dutch and put it on dalits.

    Gerard Oonk
    directeur Landelijke India Werkgroep/
    director India Committee of the Netherlands
    Mariaplaats 4e, 3511 LH Utrecht
    tel. 030-2321340

    Lees de nieuwe India Actief (nr. 26):

  4. #4 Suja 27 Sep 12

    dear mari
    ur blog is so timely
    last nite i wrote to my family and today to my friends
    u would have been a recipient soon ;)
    of my response to 1 billion rising
    the call to men and women to rise up against the mindless violence against women
    what can we do mari for this young woman ?
    does it make sense to go visit her in her home ?
    to stand up with her ?
    here is the long email i sent
    i am already getting responses from women i shared this with
    saying they will come join the dance and rise
    dear family
    yesterday i read about this campaign
    1 billion rising
    to highlight the fact that
    1 out of every 3 women in the world will be raped or beaten in her lifetime
    1 out of 3 is crazy scary ...
    1 billion women will be violated in some way
    and to say we will not take it any more - this wholesale violence has to be stopped !
    too often after reading the news i have wondered of late - what can i do apart from talk about it to people
    looks like some women have sent out a call
    for a day when we all can stand up and be counted
    against this violence ..for these women ..for us ..all of us and women who feel overwhelmed by stories of violence
    eve ensler who started this said

    Right now one out of every three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That is a UN statistic. That is equivalent to one billion women and girls.

    There are two possible futures.

    One is a future without women, where rape is so prevalent that it kills love and tenderness and intimacy and connection.

    Then there is the other future. It begins on 14 February, 2013. It begins as we prepare for One Billion Rising, a call to the billion women who have been violated and the men who love them, to the women who have been beaten and raped and mutilated and burned and sold and who know the destruction of the female species heralds the end of human kind. . And in these months leading to One Billion Rising we will link our issues and stories and villages and cities to the dancing.A call to walk out of your homes, your jobs, your schools and find your friends, your group, your place and music and dance. A global dance action, our feet on the earth


    i know it sounds crazy - what can a day of dance do ?

    but i know it has touched a chord in my heart

    and i want to stand up and dance - if thats the way i can say ENOUGH already

    earth hour was a crazy thought once ...recycling was a crazy thought ...universal suffrage was a crazy thought once ...

    if enough of us will stand up ...year after year ..will it not work ?

    i know some of those 1 billion women - raped and beaten

    and i read about the rest who are raped in haryana's villages and paraded naked

    and overpowered and molested in assam

    and beaten in homes not far from me in bangalore day after day

    and in a selfish way i know i am going to be there because

    because i am cautioned so often to fear the violence that men may visit on me - in the dark ..on strange paths ...when i desire to walk on my own alone ...when i park my car ...when i search for a bird in quiet green ....when ...why should my life be circumscribed by this threat this fear of violence ?

    and crazy as it sounds

    it feels so good to know that there will be a day set aside

    when across the world people will be united by that same feeling of ’enough already’

    feb 14th then ? wherever you are shall we dance ?

  5. #5 dhun daruwala 28 Sep 12

    A truly disgusting state of affairs. The Cow Belt has the most incidences of sex crimes.Will this region have the reputation of being the rape capital region of the world ?
    Capt.Dhun Daruwala

  6. #6 Bandana Leo 29 Sep 12

    Thank you Mari to keep struggling for each human being to be respected.
    Much to do in schools and colleges.

  7. #7 Veronica Irene Rajah 01 Oct 12

    Dear Mari,
    I fully agree. Some stringent action has to be taken against the rapist.
    We should not forget there are hundreds of cases going unreported as parents don't want a stigma against their daughters. Their futures will be doomed.
    Wake up people and come forward with some solution.
    Best wishes.

  8. #8 Peter Berger 03 Oct 12

    As a teacher, I was constantly advising my female students not to give up their independence but to complete their education and be employed and independent before becoming brides, as to my mind it gave them that time to mature and see a little more of the world and understand that there were good and bad everywhere.
    My male students too were castigated for 'purchasing' their brides as if they were incapable being accepted for who they were and needed to 'buy ' a wife in the bridal mart.
    I don't know if it worked or not in the long term but it certainly gave them food for thought for a period or two.

  9. #10 robertEHarrington 30 Jan 13

    Your article could lead to the wrong conclusion: Indian womans are raped because of new technology or because they don't behave right inside the new shiny bollywood-world.
    My impression is: Indian woman are and always have been raped all over the time - the lower their caste the more they are at risk. New Technology may change the way, but the cruel fact still is: Indian men (didn't and) do not care.
    Therefore it's not the attitude of women to be changed - primary it's the society's (and the man's) attitude: The Indian society has to Respect the basic individual women's rights - regardless of her social status.

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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.

Read more by Mari Marcel Thekaekara

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