The insidious landscape of rape: it’s rise, possible causes, and probable solutions

English: Statue “The Rape of Persephone” in Ve...

Violence against women is a common theme in mythology. Statue “The Rape of Persephone” in Vechelde, Lower Saxony, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am an ostrich when it comes to news on rape. I prefer to bury my head in the sand and not read or hear about it. But even for this ostrich, it’s become next to impossible to do so. After the shocking gang rape in broad daylight in Mumbai – because Mumbai is supposed to have been one of the safe cities for women, dammit – I heard about the brutal rape and murder of a nine-year old child in Gurgaon.

This makes me sick. Disgusted. Afraid. And I’m forced to take a closer look at the issue to try to make sense of the moral depravity that seems to have gripped this country.

But surely, India isn’t the only place where rape is a common occurrence. It happens across the world – in both developed and developing economies.

There’s the Stubenville High School rape case in the US; the brutal gang rape and murder of Anene Booyson in South Africa, where gender violence is “systemic” nationwide; rapes in conflict zones; in Brazil, where an American tourist’s boyfriend was forced to watch as his girlfriend was gang raped

And that makes me think – why?

What gives men the license to exploit a woman’s body? To subjugate her. Dominate her. Violate her against her will? Subjugation and domination are two aspects of it. But why? Do women terrify men that much? Is rape the only way men feel manly? What makes it OK? Is there something condoning it in the stories we grow up with?

The two most popular mythological stories that most Indian children grow up with are the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. And both vilify women. Consider the story of Srupanakha. An independent woman, roaming the forests alone, who was bold and confident enough to make a pass at Ram. What happens to her? She’s mutilated. Her nose and ears cut off. Take Sita. We are told that Sita was abducted by Ravana because she dared to cross the Laxmanrekha. When Ram fought for her release, though, did he take her back? No. He discarded her. But we aren’t told about Sita’s strength. About her refusal to go through the agnipariksha. To defy her husband and say if you want to put me to the test in front of your entire kingdom, to reject me for no fault of mine, I want nothing to do with you. She went into the forest and brought her children up alone. No one talks about that.


draupadi_vastraharan (Photo credit: ck^2)

Look at the Mahabharata – Draupadi’s vastraharan (disrobing). Her husbands put her up as a prize in a game of dice – shocking – and when they lost, they sat back and watched as Duryodhan proceeded to strip her. Boys aren’t taught that this incident was wrong on so many levels. That a woman isn’t a prize to be won or lost in a game of dice. That raping her is absolutely and completely wrong. But what about Draupadi? After that episode, she didn’t go back to her husbands and cower in a corner. She was enraged. She swore to leave her hair loose until her honor was avenged. And so the stage was set for the battle of Mahabharata. But these stories of women’s bravery aren’t extolled. The barbarianism of these men isn’t called into question. Instead we uphold Ram as the ideal man and say Sita was abducted because she dared to cross the Laxmanrekha.

And I’m sure there are similar stories across cultures and countries, where men treated women like objects and continue to be glorified for it.

So what can we do?

Does the answer lie in an eye for an eye? More laws? Chemical castration?

Yes and no.

Strong laws can work as a deterrent. But for that, the law needs to be equal for everyone. One factor that the media pointed out in both the Mumbai case and the Nirbhaya case in Delhi is that both were cases of lower class men raping middle class women, which is why they were caught so promptly and which is why there was so much outrage against these rapes. Look at Asaram Bapu. He has been accused of rape, yet he refuses to co-operate with the cops. Politicians are supporting him. There are no protests on the streets asking for justice for the girl involved in this case. This attitude needs to change.

Another factor that needs to be considered is the prevalent mindset of the police. When they believe that the woman asked for it; that it’s all about money; that women have made it a business; that it’s consensual most of the time, how will a woman get justice? What’s needed here is awareness at the grassroot level and increased gender sensitivity. Cops need to understand that rape is not OK, no matter what the woman was wearing or what time she was out of the house.

English: Ravana approaches Sita during her cap...

English: Ravana approaches Sita during her captivity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Which is why tougher laws alone cannot solve the problem. A lot more needs to be done before we can lower rape statistics.

There is an urgent need to look at our mythologies a little differently, to call out acts of violence against women, to speak more about women’s courage and fortitude. It is imperative on each and every one of us, irrespective of class or status, to teach our boys about gender sensitivity; to teach our women that there is nothing “wrong” with them if they are raped, to get them the counseling that is needed following such a traumatic event.

And even after all of this, there is no guarantee that violence against women will cease to exist. But maybe, the woman will no longer have to live in disgrace, ostracized from her family, rejected, forced to commit suicide.

There are no easy answers here.

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  1. You’re quite right that attacking it from one side will not help. For me, I’m convinced that it has to do with how we bring up our sons. Right now, we concentrate on our girls and how they must be brought up in the ‘right’ way while giving our boys a free pass as long as they get a job at the end of the day! A lot of parents completely neglect their boys’ mental and emotional education!

    • I so agree with that Roshni! What worries me more, though, is Bharat (rural/lower income India). Most of them condone rape, think it’s something women must have “deserved”. Plus the rape of Dalit women by upper caste men. And the fact that perpetrators think they can get away with it. All these things seem so ingrained in society that it makes me shiver to even think about their mindset.

  2. This current trend is incredibly disturbing and you definitely hit on a lot of the major points…. I think it is an uphill battle to change the mindsets of entire cultures, but something we absolutely need to do!

    • Yes, that is an uphill battle. But the sad fact of the matter is even that doesn’t seem to be enough. This is an act that cuts across boundaries and religions, that happens in both developed and developing countries, among liberal and traditional cultures.

  3. I read through all the links in your posts, and they’re horrific. In the last few months, an Israeli Facebook group called One Out of One is bringing this topic to the headlines. They upload, almost on a daily basis, true testimonies from women who have been raped, sexually abused or sexually harassed. And there’s also the amazing Project Unbreakable – I salute these women.

    • Thanks for sharing the link to the Tumblr page – I will be sure to check it out. It’s horrifying to even imagine what these women have been through. For them to share their experiences takes a different kind of courage.

  4. It is such a complex issue, it must be attacked from several sides: legally and culturally being two of the most important. That latter one is soooo difficult to change. Family’s educating their sons on this could help enormously. I too never fail to feel deep shock and horror when I hear stories like these.

    • Yes, I think that’s key: for families to bring up their sons to be gender sensitive. But when people blame the woman for being raped, that’s a problem. And that mindset requires a lot of work before it can be changed.

  5. First of all I want to congratulate on your highlighting our Hindu mythology. I hold exactly the same viewpoints and have had several arguments(heated one at that) for condemning the ‘Gods’. Sita’s refusal to not go through Agni pariksha speaks volumes of her character. In today’s age every woman should take learning from that and say NO to injustice.

    Yes, legally and culturally a lot has to be done. But at least there is somewhere we can create a difference… Start from our home and give the right education to both young men and women.

    I also feel that India is rising against these heinous crimes against women. There is still a glimmer of hope. And here’s why…it is not that rape was not common a decade back, it’s just that it was not spoken. Women were ashamed. Today at least the cases are being reported. Women from all spectrum are voicing their opinions. We have a long long way to go but at least the fight has begun. Hope this fire keeps burning!

  6. 30 years ago one of my college friends was raped while passed out at a party in her hometown in western Wisconsin. A group of boys watched and cheered. No one helped her. She pressed charges, but the boy got off with a year of community service work after other boys testified that she was “easy.”
    I work with a guy from this town. Around the time of the Steubenville rape case this co-worker made a joke about how it is easier for my husband to take advantage of me when I am tired from work. Seriously. I was speechless.
    I think our male sensitivity training has a long way to go.
    FYI, my former college friend is now a lawyer and lives in California.

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