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‘Rape Culture’: IT’S A WICKED WORLD, By Proloy Bagchi, 14 March, 2013 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 14 March 2013

‘Rape Culture’


By Proloy Bagchi


India is not alone in struggling for the perfect safe world for its women and the girl child. Nations across the globe too are equally concerned over the incidence of rape afflicting their society. Like corruption, as Indira Gandhi once described it, rapes, too, are a world phenomenon. They happen everywhere, in every country; in some countries the incidence is low, in some others it is high. None should, therefore, get away with the impression that the perversity is endemic only in this country. However, it should be no solace either.


While the Delhi gang rape last December evoked heartfelt responses from all over the world and induced defining developments involving consideration of measures for protection of women, what is alarming is that gang rapes continue to occur with disquieting regularity. Women continue to be violated in a relentless manner. Every morning one comes across at least half a dozen reports of rapes in the newspapers. These are apart from cases of molestations and other instances of violence against women.


Rapes of minors – of the ages ranging from three to 17 years –seem to have registered a rise. (There are also reports of minors raping minors.) A man must be much less than human to consciously commit rape on a mere infant. Looks like people have become so sex-starved that they are unable to pause and think of the heinous nature of their crime or of even of the rigours of stiff penalties that its commission entails. Along with pervasive corruption, rapes seem to be another despicable facet of our society where violence on the weaker sex is so rampant. Perhaps both are two sides of the same coin.


Regardless of a harsher anti-rape law which shall come into place in India to prevent sexual assaults on women, including stiff jail terms, rapes seem to be uncontrollable, by no means in India alone but even in much better policed and economically advanced countries. However, the developing world and war-torn nations reel out horrific stories and incidents, which should manke many a head hang in shame.  


For instance, in war-torn Africa rapes are very common. In the ongoing strife in the Democratic Republic of Congo women have had the worst. Yes, there have been violence, killings and deaths but there have also been rapes of women in large numbers. Armed militias have had a free run in the country for many years, playing havoc with it. Indulging in violence and killings, the militias have also been raping the women they came across. The usual practice seems to be to take the women into the bush and keep them in captivity for months for satisfying their lust. The Congo, too, is called the rape capital of the world.


In the wars that involved Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda, Chad, Namibia and Burundi, millions died but several hundreds of thousands of women were raped as well. And, in Kenya women are now suing the government for inaction on violence against them post-election. More than 3000 cases of rapes were reported after the 2007 elections.


But, for rapes in Africa, South Africa walks away with the cake. The country has the highest reported incidence of rape in the world. South African Police estimates that a woman is raped every 36 seconds. It also has some of the highest incidences of child and baby rape in the world. Numerous reasons – basically cultural – have led to this behavioural aberration. Some 56,272 rapes were recorded in 2010-11, an average of 154 a day – more than double of India's rate. A survey in Gauteng province found more than one in three men admitted committing rape. With widespread under-reporting only around one in 200 rapists are estimated to face conviction. More than 25% of a sample of 1,738 South African men from the KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape Provinces admitted to raping someone somewhere sometime, nearly half had raped more than one person.


Rape is stated to be defining in the ongoing civil war in Syria which is inching towards replacing the Congo as the world’s rape capital. Women and girls are routinely kidnapped, raped and tortured by the military. At military checkpoints, they have become soldiers’ targets.


China, despite its acute prejudices against women, has stricter laws and has higher number of convictions for rape. Yet, only one in ten cases are reported which would amount to a quarter of a million rapes in a year. This figure is also associated with rapes in the US, though researchers feel there is massive under-reporting. Campus rapes are what seem to be more problematic with about 25,000 women having confessed in a survey of either having been raped or suffered attempted rape in an academic session. Drug-use and alcohol are frequently associated with rapes. Other researchers have revealed that about 80,000 children are sexually abused every year. It has been estimated that one in six women in America has either been raped or will be up against an attempted rape during her lifetime.


In Britain sociologists are worried about rise in teenage gang rapes. The marauding school or college-going teenagers abduct girls, keep them in illegal confinement and rape them under threat of violence. In 2007, while 85,000 women were reportedly raped only 800 were convicted – a rather sad ratio. Sweden, where nudity is no big-deal, has the highest incidence of rapes in Europe.


Socio-psychologists have, therefore, tried to study why people commit rape and why they collectively rape a helpless woman. They have, however, only been able to theorise that rapists generally can be put in two categories – criminal and psychiatric. The criminal rapists are mostly poorly educated and they come from lower socio-economic strata, mostly with a criminal background whereas the psychiatric rapist was found to be well-educated and from a higher income bracket. A more widely accepted theory, however, is that most rapists come from a subculture of violence whose values may be different from those of the dominant culture.


As for gang rapes, sociologists feel that rapists think it would be easier to get away un- noticed if the crime is committed in a group. Others, however, think that gang rape is explained more by men’s “need” to perform gender for other men than it is by any kind of “irresistible” sexual desire. By author Gloria Steinem’s “cult of masculinity”, gang rape is aided by numbers,  underlying aggression, anger, machismo and misogyny and by a culture that does too little to hold perpetrators accountable.


All this is not to say that since rapes are prevalent all over the world nothing need be done to check the menace in this country. The prescription seems to be clear, at least for the present. The State will need to be proactive by enacting stricter laws with heavy penalties and ensure effective policing for protection of women. Acknowledging the existence of “rape culture” that harbours machismo and misogyny, it will have to combat them with resolve inculcating, particularly in rural areas and in dehumanising shanty-towns of urban India, respect for women. The civil society, too, also will have a role in helping its dregs to acquire the country’s well-known age-old now-forgotten values.--- INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

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