When did rape cease being news?
A 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.