SEX, SEX, SEX; this three letter word, designed to be a beautiful and sacred bond, has warped our society and turned it into a festering cesspool of iniquity and lust.
As a South African woman and student of Disaster Management and International Relations, I have been familiarised with the muffled echoes of women’s voices calling for help amidst their scorn and shame. Women, who have been victim to sexual violence. Women, who have been shunned by society because they are no longer deemed pure. Women, forced to go into exile because of a self-indulging man ‘exercising his rights.’
This is not a feminist’s perspective on a women’s rights violation; this is a human perspective on a twisted and debaucherous culture of placing sex as a prize, under ‘win at all costs’ circumstances and positioning victims as culprits.
So, I pose the rhetorical question: in what paradigm is it normal for a victim of violence and atrocity to be blamed as the catalyst for action being thrust upon them, forcing them to live under a shroud of guilt?
India’s Rape Epidemic
As the sun buries herself into the dark covers of the Indian horizon each evening, ashamed of what her radiance has shed light upon, numbers tick over on the country’s rape counter. “93 women raped in India each day”; a headline that does not do the atrocity justice. Multitudes of cases go unreported by victims for fear of being made to exist under oppression which can only be likened to Hawthorn’s Scarlet Letter.
Between 1971 and 2012, rape incidents, within India, increased by an approximated 1000%. This has continued to rise annually, with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) reporting 2014 having the highest ever rape statistics in India at 33 707 cases. The shameful fact is that researchers and the NCRB believe that this statistic is only scratching the surface of India’s true rape epidemic and that 2014 is likely to have exceeded 37 000 cases.
December 2012 saw the horrific gang rape of a 23 year old student; the women and her male companion were brutally beaten on a bus, before six individuals proceeded to rape the young paramedical student and, furthermore, penetrate her with sharp rods, causing severe internal injury which ultimately lead to her death in a Singapore hospital
This savagery sparked a nationwide outcry as questions surfaced about India’s state-level response to sexual violence and the incapacity of Indian laws relating to sexual violence.
It is evident that rape within India is rife, and has been for decades, so why is it that the cries of pain and anguish have only recently begun to be heard? Could it be the fact that rape in India has been a long-standing taboo and has seen victims endeavouring to hide these atrocities?
I Could See Her Ankles, She Was Asking To Be Raped
The shameful reality of India’s rape culture is that it seems to have been enforced by cultural norms and socially accepted perspectives.
There is a stigma attached to Indian women in that they are expected to remain as pure, untouched vessels until the day that they wed; although I personally ascribe to the notion of abstinence, I believe that this belief has added to the burden carried by rape victims. This stigma is attached to a long list of un-written regulations which seem to govern the behaviour and life-style of Indian women, ultimately placing them under a magnifying glass from the moment they open their eyes.
How is this affecting rape victims, you ask? To simplify the conundrum of answers which could be churned out, the laymen’s response is that women are coerced into believing that rape is their fault and that if they do not remain silent they will never be fit for marriage or to continue life with a sense of self-worth or honour. The belief that women should not be outside after dark or should not attend social parties, but should rather engage in domestic tasks, has been the catalyst for controversy.
This notion can be understood by examining the interview conducted with one of the men held responsible for the rape and murder of the paramedical student. When questioned, the man stated that the young women was to blame for her rape and that she should not have been out at night; furthermore, he claimed that “a girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.” If this isn’t enough to make your blood boil, the rapist went on to explain that her death was merely accidental and that had she been submissive, they would have let her go, alive.
One may see this as an extremist perspective, however, this is a view which is said to be shared amongst a large percentage of the Indian population, further illustrated through the statement presented by the defence attorney;
If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.
India’s rape perspective is demoralising and oppressive for sexual violence victims; women fear speaking out because they know that they will be socially scorned and shunned by relatives for bringing shame upon the family name. Additionally, rape victims often fail to report rape cases because they fear the investigation process. Women must undergo invasive testing and re-live the trauma when reporting the scenario to various legal and governmental entities, in addition to failing to receive a fair trial as more than 90 percent of criminal judges, within the state, are male.
Although every rape is different and the means for engagement differs with each case, a plausible perspective is that men continue to rape because they are protected by the cultural shroud of guilt which is thrown over a women once raped; she will keep her mouth shut because it was, of course, her own doing and she has brought shame upon herself, her family and her culture.
If The Prime Minister Is Against It, Why Aren’t You?
Research has indicated that India is caught in the ultimate Catch 22, when it comes to negotiating the rape epidemic tarnishing the nation’s reputation. Whilst the preservation of cultural integrity is important, human rights violations should never be tolerated or ignored by state incumbents; these are the spectrums which India needs to navigate in establishing a culture of prosperity, protection and arbitration for rape victims.
In 2014, India’s newly elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, used the Indian Independence day speech as a platform to address rape culture; he openly expressed his disgust at the statistics which loom over India like a guillotine. Modi spoke of the need for families to stop educating daughters that rape is their fault and that they must not tempt men, but rather look at educating their sons not to rape and hold them accountable for their daily actions. He urged the Indian population to realise that rape is an atrocity which will never be acceptable but to also understand that rape victims are not where the blame lies.
The address highlighted the fact that India’s perception of rape is a culturally embedded belief, unlikely to be changed overnight; women are
expected to remain sexually pure until marriage and the general consensus is that once a man has touched a woman intimately, she is categorised as damaged property. This belief fails to acknowledge the emotional aspects of sexual intercourse and dilutes it to a simple physical activity; whilst the physical aspects cannot be ignored, there is a much deeper and intimate aspect of sex which cannot be associated with rape.
When a couple decides to engage in sex, it is a mutual understanding of respect and a promising of oneself to another; rape does not abide by these laws of attraction, as it is a violent and pleasureless act forced upon another, leaving deep emotional and physical scaring. If sex were to be looked at in its entirety, cultural groups would be able to see that rape is not equal to sex and that women are not impure because they have been exposed to sexual violence.
Because of the cultural beliefs within the state, women fail to cry out for help, leading to a perpetuated cycle of human rights violations and increased violence; this calls for a need in mental reform by the larger Indian population. An idealistic situation would see India encouraging woman to speak out against the violence inflicted on them, praising them for their strength to confess and providing protection and support for women exposed to sexual violence.
Although carefully constructed legal reforms are needed to get a firm grip on the rape epidemic, bringing it to a grinding halt, the basal need is cultural reform through education, ensuring that human rights are protected and preservation of life and dignity are promoted.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Negotiating cultural beliefs and human rights is a treacherous playing field when nations have been abiding by the same traditions for thousands of years; yes, ancient traditions are great, but when they start to adversely impact security and quality of life, change needs to occur. When we consider this in relation to India, it is evident that a cultural shift is paramount. If India wishes to combat their rape crisis, they first need to actively combat the rape stigma and separate sexual impurity from rape violence.
Being raped doesn’t make you damaged. Being raped doesn’t make you dirty. Being raped doesn’t make you weak. Being raped, but deciding not to concede to guilt and shame makes you a strong, brave and powerful woman.
If this article has struck a nerve with you, I urge you to sign the petition on Force For Change, in order to let your voice be heard and encourage you to engage in conversation below.
Rape survivors are not damaged property, they are victims to the selfish whims of greedy individuals and, for this, should be vindicated of cultural shame.