India is a country that has existed over the centuries in the imaginations of the Europeans. Kamasutra, Taj Mahal, spicy-curry, IT professionals, slums, snake charmers, noisy dirty streets – flash in an average Western mind . Of late, if one were to ask the same average Westerner, India has an additional adage – “Nation of Rapists”. Going by the attention rape has received in media , one can safely assume that the favourite national pass-time in India is rape. Recently, during my routine medical check up, the nurse asked me, “What is it with rape and India” ? To be fair, the nurse was only showing genuine shock and meant well. She reads newspapers, watches television and this is the picture of India she had been exposed to lately. Indians, in particular those living abroad will unanimously agree that they wish they could simply melt away like snow as rape hits nation’s image. Are women safe in our country today as compared with their Western counterparts? Most definitely not. Is there an inherent bias against women? Absolutely there is. Are there multiple cases of brutal rape in India – Hands down yes. Interestingly, an Indian friend recently tried to convince me how rape is lower in India compared to Western countries where it appears proportionately higher. In Western countries marital rape is considered as rape under law, in India it is not. So such a comparison would be illogical. The best way to approach rape as an Indian problem is to confront it frankly and not to deny them as ungrounded. Confronting rape means looking at the data and re-evaluating knowledge in the face of social facts. We need to separate myths from reality if we are to get down to identify why rape happens in India ? and what can be done to solve it ?
According to the police, 50 % of all sexual crimes in India, are committed by teenagers, who know they can get away with it, whereas majority of victims are in the 18-30 age group. According to the National Crime Records Bureau report, out of total rapes reported across India, 98% were committed by a relative or neighbor, in other words, the victim knew the alleged rapist. Although, Delhi tops the chart on rape among Indian cities, the highest rape rates are in northern Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. In rural India during situations of conflict, rape is often a way to attack the honor, and thus the morale, of one’s enemy. In general, 68 % of Indians surveyed think that provocative clothing is an invitation to rape !!. A snail paced judicial system (15 judges for every 1 million) and a dearth of police (1 officer for every 200 citizens) makes the course of justice bumpy. Why are such a large number of sexual crimes commited by teenagers in India ? A part of the answer is sexual repression. Pre-marital sex has always been disapproved of in Indian society as though Indians are born to be vegetables till they marry. A culture that is knee deep in misogyny coupled with unwarranted sexual deprivation grounded in pseudomorality, and a fear of “loss of honour” by reporting rape, provides a fertile ground for male sexual aggression. Poor and corrupt law enforcement and murder to silence the victims invariably contributes to the accentuated brutality in rape. Enactment of laws alone will not resolve the problem – a frank admission of moral hypocracies and change of social attitudes is the only way forward.
However, to designate India to be “nation of rapists” and over-whelm all other images of India as a country, is a bit over the top, and definitely hyper-reactive. For instance, adjusted for population growth over time, the annual rape rate in India is 2 per 100,000 people compared to 9.8 in Bangladesh, 3.6 in Morocco, 4.6 in Bahrain, 12.3 in Mexico, 114.9 in South Africa. It is difficult to compare statistics from many countries to one another. In several countries where Sharia has replaced secular laws, “rape” can only be proven if the rapist confesses or if there are four male witnesses. Women who allege rape without the benefit of the act having been witnessed by four men or if the accused/victim happens to be married, then it is only considered to be adultery. To top it all, a man can simply evade rape charges via Sharia Law by offering to marry her !!!. Therefore the issue of under-reported rape in these countries is much higher than in India.
The recent change in perception about India in the West from “curry fairy” to “rape monster” seems stuck at the moment and we all know how difficult it is to change perceptions. They need to be enlightened that what is happening differently in India now is that the Indian media, in recent years, is actively publicizing several rape cases to bring social attention to the cause. This is an internal effort to facilitate pro-reform movements and our effort to transform. Fortunately or unfortunately the international media took the cue from Indian media and as a collateral it draws a lot of negative global attention. Therefore one must be careful not to misinterpret a media-driven reform endeavor and hijack it in to an international mudslinging fest.