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Friday, March 15, 2013

Rape, like corruption, is a world phenomenon



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Despite all that happened in the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape last December rapes seem to be continuing in 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 gender violence. What would appear alarming is that while the gang rape of Delhi evoked heartfelt responses from all over the world and induced defining developments involving consideration of measures for protection of women gang rapes continue to occur with disquieting regularity.  

Blaming the influence of Western culture the self-proclaimed protagonists of Hindutva (Hindu way of life) had asserted after the tumult of the Delhi gang rape that rapes happen only in “India” and not in “Bharat”. The thrust of the argument was that rapes were an urban phenomenon because of pervasive influence of supposedly prurient Western culture and adoption of loose Western moral values in the metropolitan towns and cities. Those who lived in “Bharat”, i.e. in rural India, were yet untouched by them, were more traditional and thus were above such aberrant conduct. Unfortunately for the radical Hindutva brigade, their contention exploded in their face as a spate of reports appeared in the media about rapes in rural India. Rapes are probably as prevalent, if not more, in the country’s villages and hamlets as they are in urban settlements. In fact, whether in the deep South or up in the North dalit (former untouchables) women are routinely violated, singly or collectively or even murdered after having been raped, by the members of the higher castes. The suggestion was, therefore, wholly flawed, presupposing that there were no rapes in the country before the advent of Western mores – a typical instance, if there could be one, of cultural oneupmanship.

Of late, there seems to have been a rise in the number cases of rapes of minors of the ages ranging from three years to seventeen years. A man must be 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 even of the rigours of stiff penalties that the commission of it entails. Along with rampant corruption it seems to be another despicable facet of India where violence on the weaker sex is so rampant. Perhaps both are two sides of the same coin. Obviously, the uproar over the Delhi gang rape that was witnessed in most parts of the country did not touch a large section of perverted men. 

Regardless of various steps being taken to prevent sexual assaults on women, including stiff jail terms, rapes seem to be uncontrollable. However, by no means India alone suffers from this evil; it is prevalent even in much better policed and economically advanced countries. 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.

For instance in war-torn Africa rapes are 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 hapless women in large numbers. The country has seen armed militias playing havoc with it for many years. While violence and killings have been rampant the militias have 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 during which they are raped by one and all in the militia. The Congo, too, is called the rape capital of the world. Revolutions and civil wars do strange things to people.

In the wars that involved Zimbabwe, Angola, Uganda, Chad, Namibia and Burundi, millions died but several hundreds of thousands of women were raped. Rape is stated to be defining the ongoing civil war in Syria which is inching toward 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. 

Regardless of all this 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 that are basically cultural have led to this behavioural aberration. Some 56,272 rapes were recorded in 2010-11, an average of 154 a day and more than double of India's rate. A survey in Gauteng province found more than one in three men admitted to have committed rape. Many cases are known to go unreported and it is estimated that only around one in 200 rapists will be convicted. More than 25% of a sample of 1,738 South African men from the KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape Provinces admitted to raping someone, nearly half had raped more than one person. 

In China convictions for rape are higher in number but, arguably, 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 researches feel there is pretty much under-reporting as elsewhere. Campus rapes are what seem to be more problematic with about 25000 women having confessed in a survey of either having been raped or suffered an attempted rape in an academic session, drug-use and alcohol being frequently associated with rapes Other researchers have revealed that about 80000 children are sexually abused every year. It has been estimated that one in six women in America has been either raped or will be up against an attempted rape during her lifetime. 

In Britain sociologists are worried about rise in teen-age gang rapes. The marauding school or college-going teenagers have been known to have abducted girls, kept them in illegal confinement and raped them under threat of violence. In 2007, while 85000 women were reportedly raped only 800 were convicted – a rather sad ratio. In Europe Sweden has the highest incidence of reported rapes. 

Socio-psychologists have, therefore, tried to study why people commit rape and why they collectively rape a single helpless woman. Findings, however, are not very conclusive. Researchers have only theorised that rapists generally can be put in two categories – criminal and psychiatric. The criminal rapists are mostly poorly educated and 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, nonetheless, is that 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 that people 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 American feminist and journalist 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, at some places even more than as in India, nothing need be done. 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, will have a role in helping its dregs to acquire the country’s well-known age-old and now-forgotten values.

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