In what has become a distressingly familiar routine, there was fresh outrage in India last month after a young student was gang-raped by five men who had also raped her three years ago.
The 21-year-old victim had been pursuing a court against the five men when the assault took place in the northern state of Haryana on July 13.
The woman said she was forced inside a car in the town of Rohtak and the men tried to strangle her.
She was seriously injured and left for dead in the bushes. A passerby saw her and took her to the hospital.
It’s the latest outrage against a woman in India – outrages that have continued unabated despite the widespread revulsion caused by the brutal 2012 gang-rape of a student on a Delhi bus and the strengthening of laws against rape which followed that attack.
It’s a subject that Kishwar Desai – Lady Desai – is all too familiar with and has written extensively on it.
I caught up with Lady Desai to find out more.
You say that the number of ” mass rape ” has increased in India over the past 40 years, according to several statistical studies. In terms of rapes, it’s difficult to get some reliable figures. How can we be sure of this increase of that kind of violence ? Can’t we explain it by the fact that the media make their headlines on it or that women dare to complain more than before ?
The problem is not about rape and registration . I am speaking specially about ‘gang rape’ which involves a peculiar cruelty , in which men share the humiliation of the woman, her terror and her pain, and get sexual pleasure out of it. In most cases , they not only rape her , they try to kill her at the end, so that she cannot speak out. They burn her so that no traces of DNA are left. In my last book ‘The Sea Of Innocence’ the opening chapter describes a video of gang rape about to happen. I was writing fiction, I thought. But just yesterday, we learnt that these gang rape videos are being sold across the counter in certain parts of the country for as little as Rs 30 (30p). Once this becomes part of popular culture, and is accepted not as extreme cruelty deserving of harsh punishment, but as an ‘entertainment’, there is little hope. Please refer to the recent gang rape in UP (when a woman and her 14-year-old daughter were gang-raped and were subsequently ostracized by their own community), and the disregard of the woman and her daughter. Do you honestly believe that women are going to come forward and report gang rape when they are mocked and the police refuse to accept their complaint ?
What are the typical forms of violence we can see in India today that are different from the past?
The open assault on women, literally cocking a snook at the authorities: despite the tough rape laws they can gang rape children as young as four and get away with it. This is different from the assaults of the past.
According to you, “Behind India’s shocking gang rapes lies a deep crisis among young men”. Could you explain why?
A whole generation of ill educated and badly employed young men has grown up in the last ten years — most of that decade was under the Congress rule at the centre. This is partly due to a lack of social monitoring by the government, and partly due to a poor education policy. These young men have seen nothing but an increasing violence as a way of life. Not only are they then misused by political parties, to settle scores, they are also allowed by the police to get away with petty crime. The latter more so if they are affiliated with a political party. Thus the crowds that turn up at rallies are organised by them , the vote banks are controlled by them. There have been terrible murders in Kerala and West Bengal in the name of politics, and open threats and attacks on opponents in Maharashtra, Bihar and UP. When these men get used to violence —it gets normalised. Women are trophies to be aggrandised when rewards are handed out. And so they will routinely prey on women confident that they will not be reported. The police are sometimes active participants in this violence. So I believe that these recent rapes are just part of the ’normalisation’ of violence among young men that is becoming common in India. We need to look after them, educate them better and give them jobs. Some of that has been recognised by the present administration and an effort to skill these men and women who were part of a badly run education system is now ongoing. But it will take time.
You stress that the problem is not simply a new problem that has come up today. That it has been encouraged over the years. Can you just specify in what way, what specific projects for instance, have political parties started in which the youth has become violent, or violent against women?
I am referring to the fact that for most of the previous government’s rule, there was jobless growth. There was a decline in educational standards. There was an increase in violence in society in general — and in the cadres of various political parties. Violence , once unleashed, is difficult to control. No one political party is responsible for this—you can just go through various newspapers to see the rise in violence. Violence is a hydra headed monster that will target anyone and everyone—and particularly the vulnerable, and women are among that group. Young men are more susceptible to violent acts, as we have already seen in the rise of terrorist activity around the world. Let us not forget the violence in Syria, for instance.
Is there any other new reasons which can explain those “gang rapes”? The difficulty for some men to get married as the number of women is less for instance..
It is no longer just about the declining sex ratio in certain states. It is also happening in areas where there are better sex ratio numbers , but yes, the problem of patriarchy adds to the cruelty meted out to women. Some of the problem is also being caused by excessive media reporting and insensitivity towards the victims. This also adds to the ‘normalisation’ of the rape culture when lack of guidance and mentoring at every level makes the perpetrator believe that there is a special pleasure in ‘sharing the spoils’ with their fellow rapists . The media must be sensitised not to resort to sensationalism whenever a victim speaks out.
The Western media focus a lot on those tragedies in India although US or European countries would have more cases than India if you compare the figures and put them in relation with the size of their population. How can we explain this unfair treatment about India?
India is still fair game because the media here is extremely intrusive, especially in the lives of the poor. And some of the foreign media has learnt to exploit that situation thoroughly. In fact, those Indians who come from a lower income group are particularly easy to exploit—and have no recourse to the legal or judicial system. Abroad it is difficult to invade people’s privacy , or even walk into police stations or jails as has happened here. Thus the situation at times seems to be completely sensationalised by the Western press.
The toughening of the law against rapes has not really deterred the perpetrators of these crimes it seems. Do they not go far enough?
As we said the rape crisis centres are rarely functioning , anywhere in the country. A security system needs to be in place and quick punishment needs to be meted out. As we have noted this is a social problem of disaffected, marginalised youth — who are addicted to violent behaviour. Occasionally political parties make it worse by using and exploiting them — and this leads to a whole of host of even more violent incidents. We need to give a lot of psychological counselling to a lot of young men, they need to be weaned away from this violent path. But we can only hope that they might repent and find other things to do.