7 years since Nirbhaya

( Indias Rape endemic )

"If you've seen her body , you would not have been able to sleep for months", an officer under duty during Nirbhaya rape case,2012.

The morning of 27th November 2019 brought a chilling reminiscence of yet another rape in the country of 1.3 billion peoples . India , who was dubbed lately according to research by many human rights and media statistical organizations as the most dangerous country for Woman , wakes up to another horrendous sight in papers as a 26 year old veterinarian doctor was raped by 4 persons and then burned to ashes. How grotesque it may sound , in reality it was much worse.

As I sit down to write , I am filled with disgust as this crime at Hyderabad brings back memories of 2012 Nirbhaya rape case in Delhi which shook the very roots of the Indian justice system and brought about a change in the laws dealing with rape.

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A student protesting in her own unique way against the Hydrebad rape and murder case.

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Since Nirbhaya , almost everyday  the papers are filled with news and articles on rape , from heinous act of abduction assault and murder of 8 year old girl Asifa, to much recent assault on the vet in Hyderabad , brings about a question that has anything really changed in this 7 + years since Delhi..?

India is a country where goddesses rule the pantheon of deities, riding tigers, slaying evil and granting good fortune.Indira Gandhi, India’s second longest serving prime minister honoured with TIME magazine’s ninth most powerful woman in the last century. Despite all of these pedestals for females in India, what still causes these horrific crimes in the country which have often grabbed global headlines over the past several years. They have spurred a far-reaching debate about the safety of women in a deeply entrenched patriarchal tendencies in the world's second-most populous nation.

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The following essay is to analyze the factors which has remain constant or even increased since 2012.

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Adapted from a story in CNN , Washington post and TIMES.

Dr Madhumita Pandey, originally from India and now a Criminology lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University in the UK, was only 22 years old when she carried out her doctoral research at Tihar Jail in Delhi.

“When I went to research, I was convinced these men are monsters. But when you talk to them, you realize these are not extraordinary men, they are really ordinary. What they’ve done is because of upbringing and thought process,” she says.

 

In Indian households, even in educated families, women are often bound to traditional roles.Many women won’t even use their husbands’ first names, she pointed out. “As an experiment, I phoned a few friends and asked: what does your mom call your dad? The answers I got were things like ‘are you listening,’ ‘listen,’ or ‘father of Ronak’ (the child’s name).’”

“Men are learning to have false ideas about masculinity, and women are also learning to be submissive. It is happening in the same household. “Everyone’s out to make it look like there’s something inherently wrong with [rapists]. But they are a part of our own society. They are not aliens who’ve been brought in from another world,” she says.

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The gang rape and murder in the southern city of Hyderabad in November gave rise to protests across the country.Protests has become a cornerstone of India's response to such crimes, often demanding stricter laws or even the death penalty for rapists. But cultural values held behind the closed doors of homes are a part of the problem that is being protested against: privilege for boys and submissiveness for girls.

"Girls are trained not to exist," says Deepa Narayan, an author and independent adviser on international poverty, gender and development. "You (girls) don't need any power. And if you want power there's something wrong with you and you're being bad." That patriarchy that still haunts the society amidst the progressiveness of the nation.

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India's preference for boys is prevalent even before birth. "In some families, during a girl's birth, the welcome is more muted. But a boy's birth is welcomed to a drum" says Narayan, who has over 25 years of experience working at the World Bank, the United Nations and NGOs.

But this is not a result of "evil" parenting, she tells CNN. "This is all done under the illusion of love. In India, they call it adjusting (to the culture)."

This same patriarchy continues as Pandey continues with her experience during her interviews at Tihar. She says that the convicts shared views that reflected Indian society's perception of the gender division of labor, with women "in charge of raising the family and taking care of household chores" and men as "outdoor agents."

This especially came to light when the conversation shifted towards relationships with their mothers and sisters.

"Of all the men that I spoke to, there were only a handful that didn't share a good relationship with their mothers. Everyone else put the mother on this pedestal," she says.

Many of the culprits has older sisters. However, the men felt they were the favorite child because their mothers were elated to have finally conceived a boy, leading to unearned privileges such as being fed first. "Mothers were playing a very crucial role in setting gender role standards," says Pandey.

Pandey said that hearing some of the rapists talk reminded her of commonly held beliefs that were often parroted even in her own household. “After you speak to [the rapists], it shocks you — these men have the power to make you feel sorry for them. As a woman that’s not how you expect to feel. I would almost forget that these men have been convicted of raping a woman. In my experience a lot of these men don’t realize that what they've done is rape. They don't understand what consent is.” They didn't express remorse and described themselves as "inmates" instead of offenders, often blaming their victims, Pandey says.

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Most of the men she met there were uneducated, only a handful had graduated high school. Many were third- or fourth-grade dropouts and belonged from low socio-economic groups. She says that this status does not correlate with violent behavior against women and that people with privileged backgrounds may have the means to evade justice more often .

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Each day, about 90 rapes are reported in India, but many more go unreported due to the fear and stigma surrounding sexual violence. According to a survey by Thompson reuters foundation in 2018, India was dubbed the most dangerous country for women due to high risk of sexual violence and forced labor.

About 30 % of cases in 2017 were aginst minors, according to National crime record Bureau

Source : NCRB , India

One of the factor, I believe, is the lack of comprehensive sexual education programs in schools. India is a country of traditions and cultures, and often these traditions are used as an excuse to not have  sexual education programs in schools.

Madhumita Pandey say ,”In India, social attitudes are highly conservative. Sex education is left out of most school curriculums; legislators feel such topics could corrupt youth and offend traditional values. Parents won't even say the words like penis, vagina, rape or sex. If they can't get over that, how can they educate young boys?”

She continues that prevention can happen in schools. "We need educational institutions to introduce some form of comprehensive sexuality education. It's crucial that there's more awareness regarding sexual violence. We need to be telling people about active consent, about toxic masculinity and the younger we get to people, the better it is."

The children are not taught about sex and or the consequences of having sex responsibly or irresponsibly, they are not taught about consent and respecting the opposite gender and these factoars are amplified by the fact that the children in our country have easy access to the internet these days. There is a lot of information on the internet that goes around and  which our children are exposed to without any supervision. When parents or teachers refuse to educate or answer sex-related subjects, curious children opt to these far less reliable resources to satisfy their curiosity such as pornography. Learning about sex through pornography can often leads the children to have wrong perceptions about sex, in general. They perceive it as an activity that could be done for fun without realizing the implications of having irresponsible sex.

But covering just the biological aspect of sex is not enough. Children do need to be taught about the concepts of consent and sexual desires also. They need to learn how to respect the opposite sex,even when it is your girlfriend or wife I believe.

 

But Rape is not just a matter of education or patriarchy, it is also used as a tool to assert dominance over the age old endemic of caste based crimes in our country. Where peoples in many backward parts of India still performs caste divide , pushing or even assaulting people from lower caste to assert the illusive dominance of being a Man from an upper caste in India. Often these crimes extend to political colors , when supporters of particular political belief rally out convicts in support like they have not done anything as often the victim belongs from a lower caste group.

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One such instance of crime happened that shocked the nation again in 2018 when an 8 year old girl in Jammu & Kashmir was abducted,raped for 7 day and killed there after. Asifa banos rape and murder show a different face of crime, as it took a communal  and political color when the activist of Right-wing Hindu groups staged protests against the arrested individuals, who are all Hindus. Two ministers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Forest Minister Lal Singh Chaudhary and Industries Minister Chander Prakash, attended one of the protests. One of the protesters told The New York Times that the arrests were “against our religion”, and stated that the protesters would burn themselves if the accused were not released.

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On 10 June 2019, six of the seven defendants were found guilty, and one was acquitted. Sanji Ram, Deepak Khajuria and Pravesh Kumar were sentenced to life imprisonment for 25 years, along with a fine of ₹ 1 lakh. The other three accused - Tilak Raj, Anand Dutta and Surender Verma were sentenced to five years in jail for destroying crucial evidence in the case. The court acquitted Sanji Ram's son, Vishal due to lack of evidence. The eighth accused, Sanji Ram's juvenile nephew, was tried at a juvenile court.

Forwarding the clock a few months to November, and yet another rape, and it all back to square one for us all.

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During my research, I had the privilege to talk to few working men and woman and students living in various metropolitans of our country , the insight they shared was something of an alarming to what the nation is heading towards. A friend of mine from Pune ,working at an reputed private entity of the state says,my office gets over at 5 and my wife’s  around 7 . In the beginning I use to worry as long as she didn’t got home, but looking at the situation in news everyday, I opted to wait 2 hours to pick her up and get back home together. After 50 years of independence, these is what freedom has come down to.

A teacher from Howrah in West Bengal shares one such experience. “ I take extra classes after school and it usually gets late coming back home. I lived in Howrah ever since I was born , and I have seen these place grow into a beautiful metropolis. One such day I was returning home by feet, few little kids , may be about 8-10 years old were playing under the overpass close to Nabanna, the administrative hub of Bengal government. As I was walking by,few of the kids taunted and passed comment “ O Boudi “ . I was immediately shocked to find the audacity of such little kids doing such things. To my anger I slapped one of them and to my shock , in return they were not at all repented and ran away with smiles in their faces, like they have achieved something by passing a comment to a lady. If this is the situation of little kids at a place which is a stones throw away from such a secured place in the state,then I wonder what is happening in the country at large. “ she continues,” I have a little sister and I now worry for her safety every time she goes out for her studies. Young boys need to know what is consent, what is ‘ Not cool ‘ to say , and it is high time to break the veil of patriarchy and address these issues from the grass root level”.

The situation stands so worse that even the most educated of females curb down below their potentials and take up dreams which will not get them in the radar of a criminal. As says a student from Basirhat currently studying in Kolkata.” I had to almost fight with my father to pursue my dream for higher studies in Kolkata, and now that I am here,my father calls me up ever so often just to know that if I am safe and that I return home before dusk. Why should I and many like me sacrifice their dreams for some mentally sick peoples,” She adds. Working night shifts ,going out with friends late has become an illusion says an IT professional from Mumbai. My parents won’t let me work late,and I don’t argue coz I understand them and quite honestly, I’m scared  to.

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The Nirbhaya case kicked off a wave of  protests in India and a more open dialogue about sexual violence, eventually prompting a response from the government. Since then, the women’s movement has taken speed in response to calls from politicians and members of the public for women to stay at home to stay safe from rape, activists had said they will not trade their freedom for safety and that it is not there fault when it comes to rape.

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The patriarchal thought exist that it is a woman’s fault that she is raped , it is in her way she dresses, in her way she talks that attracts men to do the crime. Then a question arises is that what was the fault of Asifa Bano, she was just 8 years old and at that age she doesn’t even know what sex is.

According to statistic that I shared above, almost 30 % of girls that are raped are minors, and this fact is accordance to National crime records bureau.

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But greater awareness of the problem has not brought greater safety, as many women’s rights activists say things have gotten worse in recent years.Seven years ago we could protest against the government and the supporters of the government were not threatening us with rape and death,but now they are. Says a woman activist from Delhi.

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With this, it remains difficult to pursue justice in India’s bureaucratic justice system. Cases get extended and postponed; often it takes years to reach verdicts. There are around 133,000 pending rape cases according to governmental statistics. An then they are stigma of reproting an incident for the fear of humiliation and insult in the society.

“ Who will marry our daughter now ,” was the first thought on the mind of a survivors father from Madhya Pradesh. The stigma of a girl is not a virgin exists in leaps and bound in Indian society till now , like somehow one’s character is directly corelated to ones genitals , says an activists from Kolkata working for over 10 years on cases of assaults on woman. She continues,” does my vagina holds a certificate to my character , and to the one who got raped , what was their fault? Like seriously these patriarchal thought causes a lot of problem to address the real issues to the government, and it angers me.”

Those who do report rape and sexual assault often struggle to be taken seriously. According to Human Rights Watch researchers ,often the victims are not believed, either by police, medical professionals or in court. Survivors and witnesses receive little protection from retaliatory attack. The stigma exists as many misuse these laws to ones ulterior motives and the government should implement more strictly as these laws reach the usefulness of the true peoples that it was meant to protect.

In December, a woman was set on fire while on her way to testify against her rapists. Even today , some medical professionals still conduct the degrading and inaccurate “two-finger” tests under the belief that it can measure a woman’s past sexual experience through an internal examination. The World Health Organization says this practice has no merit in determining a woman is a virgin or had several sexual partners. Yet the evidence from the procedure has been used during trials to assert that a rape survivor had a “loose “ moral.

With the uphill battles, the protest in every instances has played a crucial role in shaping the laws to protect the womans. Wheather its in 2012  or 2018 or more recently 2019.

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As I near my end of this essay, one thing bears clear to me that the “ Rape culture “ of India has become an endemic and it won’t change in a days effort by a single man.

After the rape and murder of the veterinary doctor in the city of Hyderabad , calls to hang the rapist were heard all throughout the world. A student from Kolkata says when asked what could be done to stop these crimes from happening or rather what should be the punishment. Like many other , she voice that killing them is the solution as these kind of people doesn’t deserve to live. Understanding the anguish and anger behind the dialogues , I wonder whether capital punishment is the only solution that can solve this problem, or it is rather just one from the long list of defects that we need to fix in the bureaucratic justice system of India.

A media student from Kolkata shares a beautiful opinion against the question that we all’ve been asking since 2012. She says that this culture of rape begins when the headmistress of a school lines up the girls to measure the length of their skirts instead of teaching the boys to behave. They believe that shaming a girl in front of the entire institution and calling her out will help maintain a healthy environment in an educational institute. It begins when Bollywood actresses dance on item songs which clearly objectify women at large. It begins when a female co-worker earns a promotion and her teammates talk behind her back saying how frequently she was at the boss’s office. It begins when neighborhood aunties get together to judge a girl’s attire when their own sons are breaking rules at every traffic signals. It happens largely when a police officer questions a women’s character when she goes to file a complaint against assault.

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Yes I agree , the battle should start from the grass roots , and that there is not a single individual to be blamed but as all, as in one way or the other , we are all a contributor to this plight against rape endemic of India.The crime never happens in individuality and it is never the first step. No one is born a rapist and that there is always a process that leads to the making of a criminal. We, as a society, have to play a  bigger role in recognizing and curbing the factors that goes unnoticed yet has  very important role in the growth of rape culture in India.

We need enforcement, accountability, a more sensitive justice system, health care, courts and a whole concerted campaign to deal with this endemic.

Till then, every time my sister goes out, the only thing that crosses my parents mind…"Is our daughter safe..?”

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( Ongoing project )

All pictures and article are under the copyright of the author and representing agencies and are restricted to be used without permission

Research are based on personal interviews and adapted from articles in The Washington post, ZUMA Press , Deutsche Welle , CNN , TIMES and Times of India.

Certain pictures are used for illustration purpose of the essay , subject within are not related in any way to any instances or incident as mentioned in the writings above. Any such similarity to any subject is purely coincidental.