The Nirbhaya gang rape on December 16, 2012 caused outrage and became the putative ‘turning point’ in India’s culture of rape. Four of the five accused were sentenced to death and one borderline minor, the worst of the lot, was let off easy on a technicality. It sparked debates on capital punishment and the legal position of juvenile delinquents. What we all agreed on was that this case with its gut-wrenching details was ‘the rarest of the rare’. That hardly seems true though, Nirbhaya is the norm not the aberration. Just a few months before that tragedy, Kiran Negi, 19, was abducted from amongst four women near her house near Dwarka, New Delhi. She was gang-raped by four men, had a broken liquor bottle inserted into her, had acid poured into her eyes and then left to bleed to death over a grueling course of three days in a field in Rewari, Haryana.
The case has been in court for two years, but where is the outrage? Where are the protests? The allegations that this too was ‘the rarest of the rare’? Where is the justice for the victims of the 23000 pending cases in India?
The laws that govern rape in the country are so ambiguous and subjectively applied that it is no wonder trials last between five and ten years. The degrading ‘two-finger test’, for instance, that determines if a woman is ‘habituated to sexual intercourse’ allowed the perpetrators of Mathura, a young tribal girl to be acquitted. The law alleges that sexual habituation makes it impossible to discern matters of consent; this is perhaps why marital rape evades criminal status. That, and the importance of protecting ‘the sanctity of marriage’. The clause of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that governs ‘outraging the modesty of a woman’ makes no mention of what modesty is who it applies to. It has been used repeatedly to acquit men accused of child sexual assault claiming, for example, that it is not clear if a girl of four being molested by her school principal in New Delhi is capable of modesty.
If the laws were not enough, the authority figures are so hostile that it is unsurprising that only four out of ten cases are reported. A sting operation by Tehelka in 2013 exposed some of the misogynistic and derogatory views of the Delhi Police.
The public figures, often ones that govern the country are quoted making suspicious and hostile comments towards rape victims. The solutions they offer are as entertaining as they are shocking. Mamata Banarjee would have a ban on free interaction between men and women and Asaram, alleged rapist, would have all women refer to the men raping them as bhaiya (brother) as a method of escape. Our front-running prime ministerial candidate presided over one of the most heinous mass-rape incident, the Godhra riots, second only to the 100, 000 women who were raped in 1947 during the partition. Not even the army is exempt from blame; the 1991 incident in Kunan Posha where upwards of 30 women were reportedly raped by four Rajputana Rifles units is just one example, one that was later dismissed as a hoax.
The Indian society is puritanical and the Indian family is orthodox. Pleasure is treated with suspicion and open interaction between genders is discouraged. Sex-education is not mandatory, it is often taboo, after all, sex represents all that is evil. Both genders undergo sexual development that they are meant to be ashamed of.
Can men ever be expected to truly respect women when since boyhood they are denied opportunities to really understand them?