• kewal sethi

rape and the society


rape and the society

the recent rape in delhi which drew sustained protests on the streets for a long period was not an isolated event. such incidences have been occurring with alarming frequency. once in a while particularly brutal incidents get commented upon but generally the public ignores them being something which happens to someone else.

in a way serious crimes have shown an upward trend over the past many years for which data is available. given below is the graph of some serious crimes i.e., murder, rape, and kidnapping.

A Incidence of cognizable crimes in India 1953-2007




report published by the National Crime Records Bureau compared crime rate from 1953 to 2003.

according to the National Crime Records Bureau, 24,206 rape cases were registered in India in 2011, although experts agree that the number of unreported cases is much higher.

india is sometimes described as a rape prone country. so is united states. in year 2008, over 90,000 rape cases were reported in united states. rape is thus not connected with poverty or backwardness. comparative chart of rapes in india and united states is given below. it is to be noted that given the population difference, the rapes per thousand persons will be much more striking. at the same time, it is also to be noted that many of the rapes especially those by relatives go unreported in india and the exact figures are not available. still it underscores the fact that rapes are not linked to backwardness of poverty. but it is to be noted that while the incidence of rape is increasing in india, it is decreasing in united states.





what then is the reason for the increasing incidence of rape. it is to be noted that as against rape prone societies, there are also rape free societies. many tribal societies are reported to be rape free. there is a group of intellectuals coming under the label of 'functionalists' who hold that rape, as also all crime, is functional for society. universal conformity to normative expectation is unlikely. durkhiem even calls it "normality of crime". he believed that crime is "bound up with the fundamental conditions of all social life". davies holds that "crime is a symptom of the disassociation in society between culturally prescribed aspirations and available means." on the other hand conflict theory people believe that violence is the primary mechanism that holds society together. social relations are unequal and exploitative. male nature is conceived as bequeathed by apish ancestors. freud blames it on id which surfaces on occasions as repressive force. still others hold that personality, society and culture form inseparable trinity. psychologists hold that every man is endowed with the sex urges, or what freud calls 'libido'. it is intense at moments and when the society fails to provide an out let, it leads to rape. pande says "surrounded by moral stringency, fear of adult rebuff, sense of shame and the like, he adapts to the fears that surround him by asserting his aggressive masculinity and resorts to rape". rape is looked upon as more an expression of power than a passion trip.

be it as it may, in india, the basic cause of rape is stated to be the women's status. it is argued that barring the vedic ages, the woman has had always a lower status in indian society. first of all education was put out of her reach. then she was deprived on right to property. she was expected to be passive in all spheres including sex. it may, however, be pointed out that this attitude was common to all lands. thus rousseau said that "women remain good only if they stay within the shelter of domestic life". blackstone said that, "by marriage, the husband and wife are one person; in law …. the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended".

but the things are changing and the women are entering all the fields sex, or talk of sex, is dominating the literature, painting, sculpture and movies. television and radio are in the forefront especially so far as advertisements are concerned. newspapers are full of pictures of seductive women. this has led to a change of approach to sex. but like other criminal behaviour, this has also led to reinforcement of negative attitudes towards women. the worst part is that the institution of family has become ineffective socializer for children. it is thus the socio-cultural milieu which has led to rise in rape cases.

there were loud protests when RSS chief mohan bhagwat said that rapes take place in india and not in bharat. people like punia pointed out that rapes take place in rural areas also. in fact, he said they were more in number in the rural areas. to their mind bharat resides in villages and india in cities. but those who speak about india and bharat are not talking about territories but the bent of mind. two different cultures are existing in india presently – one influenced by western approach to life, the other traditional. the 'traditional' is often condemned as backward looking, unfair to the women, the dalits and so on. but as pointed out above, the incidence of rape does not decrease with modernity. the fact remains that the 'traditional' is also associated with respect for the elders, for the traditions, and also with inbred restraints which are imbibed right from birth. the joint families where cousins are brothers and sisters, even if twice removed, were lessons in how the girls should be treated. it is not that there were no aberrations but the prevailing atmosphere was not overtly sex oriented. where men are in harmony with their environment, rape is usually absent. as against this, in the new situation now developing in india, these restraints are not present. harmony is especially conspicuous by its absence. getting their information about women and sex from pornography, some men don't see anything wrong with forcing a woman.

an author has put it in a nutshell. she says, "the cause of rape is located in the culture. as the myriad manifestation of a misogynist and patriarch culture were articulated, it became increasingly clear that rape could be reasonably defined as a concrete acting out of culturally normative belief and images" she adds, "the objectification of women in culture-wide images, such as in advertising, the denigration in movies, and the institutional oppression as encoded in the legal system leads inexorably to rape". (mary j. odem – confronting rape and sexual assault). it is this culture which leads high court to acquit 42 out of 43 accused in a rape case holding that consent is implied.

in this context, the study by peggy reeves sanday is worth describing. she has written an essay on the rape incidence on the university fraternities. under the influence of liquor and drugs, rapes and gang rapes take place on universities campuses. she was roundly criticised for such an open insinuation. she then wrote a defence of the write-up. in this she describes her experience with rape prone and rape free societies. she says " from my study of 95 band and tribal societies I concluded that 47% were rape free and 18% were rape prone". she defined a rape-prone society as one in which the incidence of rape is reported by observers to be high, or rape is excused as a ceremonial expression of masculinity, or rape is an act by which men are allowed to punish or threaten women. on the other hand a rape-free society is one in which the act of rape is either infrequent or does not occur. she concludes that "the outstanding feature of rape-free societies is the ceremonial importance of women and the respect accorded the contribution women make to social continuity, a respect which places men and women in relatively balanced power spheres. rape-free societies are characterized by sexual equality and the notion that the sexes are complementary. although the sexes may not perform the same duties or have the same rights or privileges, each is indispensable to the activities of the other". she cites the example of minangkabau tribe in western sumatra. it is not that they are isolated and not in touch with others and the urban atmosphere. banks, universities, modern governmental buildings are found in two of the major cities of west sumatra, the traditional homeland of the minangkabau people. at the major universities, it is not uncommon to find minangkabau Ph.D's trained in the US. people own cars and travel by bus throughout the province. most children go to local schools, and many increasingly attend college. but the fact remains that women are the mainstays of village life. it is a matrilineal society. since women bring up the children, it is the custom that women would inherit the property. husbands stay in wives' houses. missing from the minangkabau conception of sexuality is any show of interest in sex for the sake of sex alone. she cites a case of rape which involved a group of males who ganged up on a young, retarded woman. in this case the leader of the group hanged himself the next day out of fear of avenging villagers. the rest of the assailants went to jail. it is this public condemnation which may be responsible for the restraints. other rape free societies are said to be the taureg of north africa, the pygmy and the nkundo mongo of sub-saharan africa, the jivaro and the cuna of south america, the khalka of mongolia, and the gond of india

it is not that all rape free societies are tribal in origin. sanday also talks about a university where everyone, administrators, faculty, and students are on a first-name basis, which makes the atmosphere egalitarian. in the fraternity heavy drinking is not a requisite for membership and is not a part of initiation. sexual assault is a serious offense treated with suspension or expulsion. individuals bond together in groups not to turn against others but because they are drawn together by mutual interests. she agrees that such campuses are rare. the fact remains that they can exist even within so called 'advanced' cultures, if there is a will. the characteristic of rape free societies are defined in following terms, "in rape free societies, women are treated with considerable respect, and prestige is attached to female reproductive and productive roles. interpersonal violence is minimized and a people's attitude regarding the natural environment is one of reverence rather than of exploitation.

bill patrick, in his blog, states the reasons for such societies that women are sacred and are heavily involved in ceremony and worship – unlike in the patriarchal religious traditions of judaism, christianity, and islam. also that while the work of women and men might not always be the same, both sexes are equally valued. men who are conditioned to respect the female virtues of growth and the sacredness of life do not violate women.

indian philosophical thought has always laid emphasis on the sacredness of life. the atman gets the human body so that it can reach the pinnacle of existence. this attitude was ingrained in our minds which is now being subjected to attack by the materialistic way of life. it is in this sense that the remarks of mohan bhagwat should be taken. if this means going back in time to good customs, that should not be frowned upon. respect for all, especially for women, is sine qua non for a rape free society which we should try to bring into existence. the change can start with the youth especially those who bore the water cannons and the cold weather to protest against these barbaric incidences. our hopes lie with them.

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