Nirbhaya, Asifa, Gudiya or Unnao, Delhi, Shahjahanpur, Hathras, Pune, Mumbai. These are tips of the iceberg. These cases of rape or places where rapes and murders took place were sensational, picked up and highlighted by the media because of massive protests by the public. But there are thousands of cases which go unnoticed or even unreported. It is estimated that a rape takes place every 15 minutes in India. That amounts to over 35,000 rapes every year. That seems to be a conservative estimate because many girls and their parents, for various reasons, prefer to remain silent and not report the cases.
In 2018 a survey conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation ranked India as the world’s most dangerous country for women, ahead of Afghanistan (before Taliban took over), Syria and Saudi Arabia. The poll surveyed 548 experts on six different indices -- healthcare, discrimination, cultural traditions, sexual and non-sexual violence and human trafficking. India topped in three of the above categories – cultural traditions, sexual violence and human trafficking – and was ranked among the worst in the world.
There was a hue and cry and outright rejection of the report but little has been done to improve the lot of women. Rapes, gang rapes, gender discrimination, molestation, domestic violence, human trafficking, etc. continue unabated, proving the Thomson Reuters Foundation survey right.
Here I would like to present and analyse 10 reasons or factors contributing to the prevalence and increase of rapes in India. These are either direct or indirect factors but all in someway or the other contribute to the occurrence of rape or sexual violence against women.
1. Male Preference: Most families in India prefer boys. This male preference has several reasons. It is believed that the family name and lineage is continued by males. If there are no boys, the lineage and name stop with the parents. A girl takes up the surname of the husband. Secondly, when a boy works and earns, he brings in money which remains within the family and when he marries, he gets the dowry from the girl, whereas when a girl marries her earnings go to husband’s family and she has to give huge dowry to husband’s family. So, girls are not preferred as they become a financial liability or burden. A third important reason for male preference is that according to Hindu religious tradition and belief only a boy/son can light the funeral pyre of his parent. A girl is not permitted to do so.
Due to the mind-set or culture of male preference, girls are not wanted. They are terminated in the womb itself by abortion. If girls are born, they are just tolerated and considered a burden to the family. They are often ill-treated, not given the same opportunities given to boys, whether education, play, work, etc. while boys are pampered. When boys see such discrimination against girls by parents or grandparents, they develop an attitude of lack of respect for girls. They think it is quite alright to ill-treat girls and women as they are not equal to men. Such an attitude can lead to sexual harassment, molestation, and even rape of women and girls.
2. Anti-female Mentality: Closely related to and emanating from the attitude of male preference is the anti-female mentality among many people. This is not just because of the patriarchal mind-set in the society but also due to the financial concerns. Unfortunately, it is not always the poor but often middle class and rich people who want to avoid girl children and consider them as a financial burden.
This anti-female mentality in the family is seen in the way girl children are treated, despised, made to feel unwanted, even physically and verbally abused. A boy who sees the way the girls are treated in a family and neighbourhood picks up this wrong attitude and will lose all respect for girls and when grows up behaves the way the parents or elders behave with girls. Such anti-female mentality and behaviour flowing from such mentality will lead to sexual abuse of girls, sometimes ending up in rapes.
3. Gender-discrimination: The attitudes of male preference and anti-female mentality inevitably lead to gender-discrimination. In a patriarchal society women and girls will be considered as second-class citizens. They will even be considered as commodities or chattel to be used for sexual pleasure of men or tolerated as child-bearing machines. Discrimination of the girl child begins in the womb when through sex determination tests if the child in the womb happens to be a girl, it is aborted and eliminated, or after birth it is ill-treated, neglected and left to die. This mind-set is detrimental to respect and equality that is the right of every human being. Those who are discriminated are prone to be sexually exploited or raped.
4. Menace of Dowry System: The dowry system that exists in most communities is a curse. In spite of dowry being illegal, the practice is widespread. Dowry system leads to both male preference as well as to anti-female mentality. Deaths and suicides due to harassment, ill-treatment and burning of the brides when the demanded dowry is not given, are not uncommon. Dowry system acts indirectly as a contributing factor because it promotes and encourages a culture of male preference and anti-female mentality which in turn can easily lead to sexual exploitation and rape of women.
5. Addiction, especially to Pornography: Another major factor responsible for rapes is the easy access to and use of internet pornography. Many a youngster is addicted to pornography. Several of them watch hard-core pornography. Many youngsters and adults are also addicted to drugs and alcohol. It is often reported that before a rape has taken place, the individual or the gang of accused had got high on drugs or got drunk with alcohol and also had watched violent sexual acts in pornographic videos and movies. It is rightly said that “pornography is theory and rape is practice”.
A person who habitually watches pornographic content begins to fantasize and looks for opportunities to enact what he has seen in the pictures. Thus, he turns out to be a predator looking out for the prey. Any known or unknown person in a car or auto, garden or field or any lonely place will be an easy prey and will be a victim of the unbridled passion aroused by pornography. Minor girls, even children are not spared. Marital rapes often happen when married men watch pornography.
6. Video Games Children/Youngsters Play: Many children and youth are addicted to video games. Some of these games involve violence, including sexual violence. People who play such games are responsible for many crimes in the society, including rapes and murders. Addiction to video games is also a big factor for increase of rapes in India.
7. A Tool for Revenge and Punishment: The greatest humiliation one can exert on a woman is to sexually violate her. It is quite common in India to humiliate, punish and take revenge on a woman or her community by parading her naked or raping her. The so-called upper-caste men take revenge on Dalit women by resorting to this inhuman practice, when the latter violate or disobey some taboo imposed on them. Sometimes a woman belonging to a particular community is raped so that the whole community is taught a lesson to remain subdued and subservient.
8. Impact of Consumerism and Throw-Away Culture: There is a growing culture of materialism and consumerism. The business world promotes it. A consumerist mentality develops a use-and-throw culture. What is done to material things is somehow slowly and unconsciously transferred to human beings. Thus children, girls, and women come to be treated as commodities available for gratification, to be used and discarded. This throw-away culture can easily foster an attitude of exploiting and using girls and women for one’s sexual gratification, including rape.
9. Female-foeticide and Skewed Sex-ratio: The rampant female foeticides and infanticides caused by a culture of male preference and anti-female mentality, and the widespread dowry system, have caused a skewed sex-ratio in India. The present sex ratio is about 900 girls to 1000 boys. In certain States like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and U.T. of Chandigarh the ratio is about 800 to 1000 and in some districts in Punjab it is even below 700 to 1000. If this trend continues many boys will not find girls to marry. In such a situation of the frustrated and sex-starved youth and adults, social crimes are bound to increase and one of them is rape.
10. Lack of Proper Education and Upbringing: The reason why many of the attitudes, mentality and behaviour mentioned above exist in a society is mainly because of lack of proper education and upbringing. This is the root cause or the major factor. If the environment in which children are brought up is hostile and discriminating against girl children and women, then boys grow up with same mentality and behaviour. If boys are not taught and if they do not see the example of parents and elders to respect girls, they will imbibe the discriminating and exploiting behaviour of elders.
Children must be taught to treat everyone, boy or girl, man or woman, rich or poor with equal respect and dignity. Boys must learn from childhood to treat girls and women as their sisters and mothers. If that attitude of respect and reverence is not learned by children they will exploit, abuse, rape and kill. Lack of proper education and upbringing is a key factor that contributes to the existence and increase of rape cases in India.
Change the mind-set
We have analysed several factors which directly or indirectly contribute to the existence and increase in the number of rapes. The situation is alarming and needs multi-pronged approach to radically change this situation. Change in mind-set is imperative. And that change does not come by itself. It will require well planned moral education and above all good example from parents and teachers who have to be role models to children. What we speak and what we do at home before our children is of paramount importance because that is what shapes their mind-set, attitudes and behaviours.
Experience has proved that laws, no matter how stringent, are not enough to deter people from crimes. The provisions in the Indian Penal Code, POCSO Act etc. have stringent provisions and penalties, even death penalty but such crimes still take place. Laws and punishment do not deter people from committing crimes. In a society there will always be evil people and a certain amount of violation of laws. What we need to aim at in our society is reduction in crime rate and creating a safe environment for all, especially women and girls. Laws alone cannot ensure that.
Therefore, what is important is proper education, not just literacy, degrees, qualifications and competence, but educating people to be men and women of character, conscience, compassion and commitment. Children should imbibe from childhood certain human qualities of respect for elders, women, girls, the poor, etc; compassion and kindness towards all in need; self-control over passions of anger and sexual urges; strength to refrain from addiction to drugs, alcohol and pornography; goodwill and harmony with people of all faiths and castes. If these and other human qualities are imbibed, crime will be reduced and a safe environment for all will be created.
Obviously, it is not an easy task. Easier said than done. It requires concerted effort by all. The police and the judiciary should honestly and without favouritism enforce the existing laws to protect and safeguard girls and women. And if each family educates and brings up children properly and each school, college and university contributes towards it, radical change in mind-set and attitudes can be achieved which will bring about a change in behaviour.
Let us therefore, contribute our share as parents, teachers, religious leaders, civic leaders, police and legal fraternity, to create a safe environment for the girls and women in our society, who are like our daughters, sisters and mothers. Let us make our country a better place to live in.
(The writer is the Bishop of Lucknow)