Opinion » Comment

Updated: January 13, 2013 02:13 IST

Challenging India’s rape culture

Ruchira Gupta
Comment (39)   ·   print   ·   T  T  
File photo of Ruchira Gupta, president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide and winner of Clinton Global Citizen Award in 2009. Photo:Sushil Kumar Verma
The Hindu
File photo of Ruchira Gupta, president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide and winner of Clinton Global Citizen Award in 2009. Photo:Sushil Kumar Verma

Let us talk about Ram Singh, the chief rapist of the Delhi gang-rape victim, who told his rape-colleagues, as they cleaned the bus, “not to worry, nothing will happen.’

Ram Singh and his five fellow rapists were right. After all, the conviction rate for rape cases in India, between 2001 and 2010, is only 26 per cent. And in Delhi, in the same period, only one in four culprits of reported rape was punished, reveals a survey by Thomson Reuters' Trust Law Women.

In the case of Muslim and Dalit women, the rate of conviction is almost nil. Three Dalit women are raped daily in some part of our country. When Bhanwari Devi was raped in a Rajasthan village, the judge asked, “How can a Dalit woman be raped?” Most women say they wouldn’t even think of telling the police about an attack for fear the cops would ignore them or worse blame them and abuse them.

This culture of impunity certainly emboldened Ram Singh but the more important question is, what motivated him? It is no coincidence that the family names of the rapists are Singh, Sharma, Gupta and Thakur - all upper caste men whose sense of traditional entitlement based on their caste may have been challenged in the big city of Delhi. Were Ram Singh and his rape cohort simply claiming masculinity as promoted by their role models in politics, business and the media?

Certainly, political leaders of all hues, in their personal lives, have commodified women, both inside and outside the home. Outside the home, BJP MLAs are caught watching pornography on their I-pads in the Legislative Assembly, Janata Dal Leaders have paid women to perform ‘item’ numbers in mass functions and Former Prime Minister P. V Narsimha Rao writes in his biography, The Insider, how Congress leaders bought women for sex while attending Congress Working Committee sessions.

Business leaders are seen with paid escorts, hosting rave parties, consuming porn, and saving their sons from the consequences of molesting girls. In the culture of “success” that Ram Singh witnesses on the media everyday, he sees classified advertisement in newspapers selling female escorts, businessmen zipping around in fast cars with girls draped on their arms staring out with vacant eyes and at least one private airline owner using the ‘casting couch’ to hire 60 airhostesses for four planes.

While Ram Singh cannot afford fast cars and the accompanying female escorts, he can certainly buy porn CDs. India has become the third largest user of pornography in the world. Blue movies and CDs are available at any video parlour.

I would be curious to know if Ram Singh was socialized into believing that sex was connected to violence through countless hours of watching porn? I wonder if the police will ask this question during their investigation? Or have they normalized the degradation of women, so much, that they will not explore the root causes of the rape.

In the course of my own work I have seen the steady creeping in of a rape culture into the fabric of India. I work to organize women in prostitution to resist their own and their daughter’s rape. We have been campaigning to change the anti-trafficking law to punish customers and pimps and the biggest challenge I face is the normalization of the rape of poor women in our culture. Their prostitution is considered inevitable and the men who buy them are considered natural. Politicians, senior police officials, heads of foundations and even policy makers, have told me: “Men will be men,” or “Girls from good families will be raped, if prostitutes don’t exist”.

These comments perpetuate a notion of masculinity in which men have unbridled sexual desire, will rape women if they are not obtainable otherwise, and that poor women should be sexually available to protect middle-class women!

This is how rape cultures are created. Those in positions of power who serve as role models for the rest of society do not challenge prevalent norms, attitudes and practices that trivialize, normalize, tolerate, or even condone rape. In fact many actually, perpetuate the inevitability of male female inequality.

Incidents of rape have gone up by 873 per cent since India gained Independence.

Budget allocations to successive Ministries of Women and Child Welfare have been reduced. Someone of Cabinet rank has hardly ever represented the ministry and the weakest, most inarticulate individuals have been appointed as Ministers of State. Debates to ensure equal power sharing between the sexes through the Women’s Reservation Bill have gone nowhere.

People are asking for fast tracks courts for speedy justice, the death penalty, the immediate passage of the Sexual Harassment in the Work Place Bill, and chemical castration of not just the perpetrators but also all rapists. My question is who and how many people will we castrate? And will it reverse the rape culture based on sex inequality in India? Rape is after all not about sex but about domination and violence.

Won’t castration or death penalty let those off the hook who are creating this culture? When can we force the government to increase budget allocations for women and girls, have better leaders representing the Women and Child Welfare Ministry and introduce power sharing for women at all levels of policy making?

An essential part of efforts to create a contemporary and democratic society where full gender equality is the norm is to recognize the right to equal participation of women and men, girls and boys, in all areas of society. Any society that claims to defend principles of legal, political, economic, and social equality for women and girls must reject the idea that women and children, mostly girls, are commodities inside or outside the home, upper or lower class or caste.

We need to make efforts to create a society where women and girls can live lives free of all forms of male violence. In combination with public education, awareness-raising campaigns, and victim support, the law and other legislation needs to establish a zero tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and violence against women. The law needs to recognize that without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the rape culture would not be able flourish and expand. For example, a good response would be to require every registered business, which requires a license to operate, to subject all employees to a sensitization on zero tolerance of sexual violence in and out of the work place. License renewal could be made dependent on the business submitting certificates to show that their employees have undergone Zero Tolerance of Sexual Violence training.

On a structural level, India needs to recognize that, to succeed in the campaign against sexual exploitation, the political, social, and economic conditions under which women and girls live must be ameliorated by introducing development measures for poverty reduction, sustainable development, and social programs focusing specifically on women among others.

The work to end rape requires a broad perspective and a will to act in a wide range of policy areas. It also requires the involvement and collaboration of a broad variety of public and private actors, besides an overhaul of measures to combat all sexual violence within the justice system. More important, measures that concern protection of and assistance to victims need to be developed and implemented and men, addicted to sexual violence and domination of women, need to be rehabilitated.

Ruchira Gupta is founder, Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an organization working to end sex-trafficking

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It is a sad and pathetic display of another NGO head making this Upper
caste vs. Lower caste issue. It is immaturity and selfishness of our
civic society NGOs who won't let the country go past the
caste/communal wars. On one hand, they claim they want to erase this
communal division. On the other hand, they leverage it to gain
popularity and benefits from the Govt., Corporates and even tax
payers. They are no different from Owaisis and Thackreys. This is the
tragedy of India. The politicians, civic society, media, communal
leaders and every one associated with making huge amounts of money
tries to drive the wedge and increase the schism for fame and money.
The name Singh does not necessarily translate to Upper caste. Jats,
Gujjars and even Yadav all use Singh.
Beyond all the rhetoric about porn, sleazy business men, we need to
look into how Governance collapsed and how every institution is
destroyed beyond repair. Lets find a way to fix the mess by not making
this a communal war.

from:  Manok
Posted on: Jan 12, 2013 at 00:42 IST

I endorse the author in highlighting the role of the rapists's
caste which do play a big role in such heinous crimes against
humanity.Rapes may be happening there in America and western
countries.But how can we compare them with the rapes in our country. In
which aspect we can compare? magnitude, conviction rate, response or
attention they draw, evil effects or scar these rapes impart on the
helpless victims? Some of the respondents suggest us to deviate somehow
from the core issue. We cannot have the both ie, caste and equality

from:  mathi
Posted on: Jan 11, 2013 at 14:51 IST

Thank you for the article. I'd add that rape and molestation are results of the biggest problem; population. We have many unemployed youth and the politician want this so they remain on top while we all struggle and fight amongst ourselves. The poor are too poor to protest, else they will go hungry. So near elections, the majority of people will vote for a meal, money or whatever will relieve them of their troubles for just a day. Population issues cannot be solved in a flash. Law and order must be brought first, instead of new laws(which politicians will be ready to break). Then educate people and stop ads and media which show women as objects. Those who argue that the US is safer, it is because of law and order, but they do not respect women the way previous generations of India did(and most of presentIndia does in my opinion). Proof that the US has less respect for women; they never had a woman leaders or thinkers. We have many women CM's and Ms.Gupta is one of many women thinkers.

from:  Sudhanshu Vyas
Posted on: Jan 11, 2013 at 12:09 IST

Thanks to Ruchir Gupta, it cannot be more comprehensive than this to
prevent crime against women.we have responsibility to make our men
especially,the coming generation to inculcate progressive mindset
without any gender gender bias. It is possible if all stake holders do
concerted efforts in this direction

from:  BSajjan
Posted on: Jan 11, 2013 at 11:43 IST

Although I do agree that the gradual decrease in importance of the
caste system has made those belonging to upper castes more inclined to
rape lower caste women, I do not agree at all with the assumption the
writer makes that prostitution and pornography are to blame for rape
culture. It has been understood by many that those who commit rape are
not doing so for sexual gratification but for the feeling of power it
gives them. It is the rush that these predators feel from having "put
a woman in her place" that drives them to commit rape. In fact, if
prostitution and pornography were not demonized as they are by the
more conservative elements of society, repressed sexual urges of men
would not need a release valve in the form of molestation et al. By
making these incorrect assumptions, the writer is actually doing a
disservice to her cause, and may lead to her other valid points to be
rejected by people.

from:  Shayak
Posted on: Jan 11, 2013 at 11:10 IST

A timely piece, though it jumps to conclusions about the motivations of sexual crime, whether in India or universally. The low conviction rate is the main uniquely Indian problem, it must be fixed. Let us learn from other countries; Singapore and many Islamic nations apply flogging (caning) to convicted rapists and molestors apart from jail term. It is a proven deterrant. Police ineptitude and apathy are other problems to be fixed. The objectification and commercialization of the female body is led by our Bollywood culture which must progress. The 'most heinous' of the rapists reportedly being the so-called juvenile is worrying. Society's role in producing one such juvenile must also be understood. But this is not a crime against the woman-as-Dalit either (her name published by UK's Daily Mirror belies such a suggestion). If all you have is a hammer, the problem looks like a nail, but it is a many-sided problem that can be tackled if there is real will.

from:  Kumar
Posted on: Jan 11, 2013 at 09:48 IST

Casteism runs through our society. Even in an educated middle class Christian family in which I grew up I heard casteist references all too frequently. The situation could not have been different in any typical Indian middle class family, who traditionally contributes to the Indian bureaucracy. Not surprisingly, our governmental/judicial machinery remains casteist. This cycle has to break and we need to frontally attack casteistm - a bit like the way Uefa's stance against racism.
As for our attitudes towards sex, aside from getting rid of our casteist mindset, we should be tolerant to prostitution - but we should guard against sexual trafficking. Legalizing prostitution ensures, to some extent, that women are not exploited by middle men or by the police. Secondly, we should be tolerant to young people choosing their partners before marriage. These could be some small, but nevertheless important steps, towards a more open, (less frustrated) tolerant India.

from:  Joe
Posted on: Jan 11, 2013 at 09:05 IST

Most of the readers didn't even know/care what caste the rapists belonged to. Not
until the author projects that angle. Criminals will always find motivation in one
form or another - caste, creed, role models, up bringing, society, mental imbalance.
What you need is have a no-compromise, no-loop-hole law and equally responsible
law enforcers. Without these two, no matter how many op-eds are written, crimes
against women will continue. Criminals don't get influenced by op-eds and write
ups. The only thing that will deter their pervert moves is fear of the law getting to
them and the certainty of prosecution. Rapes happen in US and other modern
worlds too where there are no caste systems, no social stratas.

from:  Anirban
Posted on: Jan 11, 2013 at 08:50 IST

Excellent article. Ms Gupta's suggestion of renewal of business licece linked to Zero Tolerance of Sexual Violence training is a step in right direction. At the village level, the woman need to be given training in some form of self-defence to protect themselves from predators.
Law-enforcement officials should be the first to attend such training.
When a complaint is amde and not registred by the concerned police officer he/she should be summarily dismissed for dereliction of duty.

The Education Minstry has to think of ways of imparting gender-equality education in all schools in the country. This may reduce the incident of eve-teasing and may stop harassments like the Gauhati girl suffered.
Above all, the Union and State Governments has to realise that 50% of the voters can turn aginst the incumbents for inaction or apathy.

from:  mani sandilya
Posted on: Jan 11, 2013 at 05:37 IST

The writer is right in pointing out the cultural reasons of rape. But, prostitution and pornography has very little to do with it. Rape cases are almost unheard of in countries where prostitution is legal (like The Netherlands). In fact because it is legal, they have all the protections of labour law including retirement benefits if they are working for someone else. Most rent a room and run their own business and are covered by health insurance. Many of them go to college during the daytime even. Without expanding further, making prostitution illegal makes it very easy for violent sexual predators to prey upon the women as they don't have they protection of the law.
As for pornography, women in India have been commoditised and raped long before porn came along. In fact I believe allowing item numbers and strict implementation of rape law get the message across that no matter how I dance or dress, No means NO!

from:  A. Mondal
Posted on: Jan 11, 2013 at 02:55 IST

"Rape culture" has become the new no-evidence-required catchphrase, a
black box that no seems to understand, no one feels obligated to
explain or test, but which can be used to attack anything someone
finds distasteful.
Dear rape culturalists: No, you do not, in fact, have any more intellectual standing than the idiots who claim that westernization causes rape. Standing comes from either a rigorously thought out idea, or good empirical evidence. You have neither. Your friends haven't called you out on it because they're so busy being annoyed with the misogynists. But if they were as concerned with Discovering
The Truth as they were with improving the condition Indian women
(both worthy goals) you'd be exposed in a minute.
Different prejudices might make you a better human being, but they do
not make you a smarter human being.

from:  Navin Kumar
Posted on: Jan 11, 2013 at 01:18 IST

Good, articulate, thoughtful piece. We hope many will read it.

from:  hullabol
Posted on: Jan 11, 2013 at 00:58 IST

So much of effort to remove the gender sensitivity by any law can yield very little response BUT co-education of children in schools till collage will make the next generations more sober because of association of both sexes feeling normal to each other and mutual attraction at young age will be more normal and healthy attitude to the other sex will have developed by the time they are grownup. It is like people living in joint family system who respected each other without gender bias. Personally I have seen people growing together are less dissatisfied and being better able to interact socially.

from:  ramesh
Posted on: Jan 11, 2013 at 00:52 IST

The most sensible article on this issue. Just in sync with my thoughts.

from:  Anjana
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 23:55 IST

This article is 'kichdi' of facts spiced with opinion.
First I am AGAINST rape. It is heinous crime and a civilized society should engage all resources at its disposal to eliminate it.
Having said that, I like to point out that not every 'upper class male' thinks that it is their birth right to rape a lower class woman. The statistics simply do not support the assertion. To be scientific about it, a hypothesis testing of upper class rapists versus lower class rapists need to be made taking in to account the proportions of each population in to account, if data were available.
Secondly,paid-for sex is consensual at some level even if the payee is victimised or helpless. It is a mistake to lump rapists with jacks who pay for sex. Violence against prostitutes is a different issue.
Pornography and promiscuity-encouraging elements exist in every society and not new for contemporary society alone. Permissiveness may have increased but side-by-side good values also exist.

from:  raghu
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 23:44 IST

When we talk about culture, we point at something that usually passes
through generation to generation, and from places to places. When it
comes to branding of rape as a culture or as almost a culture or as a
subculture, then there is something dangerous in the society or in
the country to look into. There has to be a re-investigation into the
elements that are spreading this diseased behavioral pattern among
the sections of people.

from:  Saidur Rahman
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 23:35 IST

I think you put it very succinctly with " men will rape women if they
are not obtainable otherwise...middle-class women!"
With Delhi 16 as the immediate case, no other recourse will work but
what you just suggested "men addicted to sexual violence... need to be
You have indeed made a very valid point"Budget allocations to
successive Ministries of ....appointed as Ministers of State"
There is a write up by Laxmi Narayan published in Deccan Chronicle
(dt24.12.12 page 10). She has suggested caning for offenders in a
specific way as followed in Singapore.In my opinion to avert a tragedy
(as brutal and unthinkable as this Delhi incident), there is no harm
in legalising (with caveats )Caning in India .

from:  A Sanyal
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 22:39 IST

Very insightful indeed! We all know about the characters of our politicians and certainly can't expect them to be change leaders!! When the rot starts at the top, it's difficult to change the system!! May be the Aam Aadmi Party can provide some answers because their top leadership has better integrity than the regular Indian political leaders/career politicians.

from:  Mittal
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 19:12 IST

Everyone agrees that rape is a challenging crime. But the term 'India's
rape culture' is a highly objectionable.

from:  M.A.SASTRY
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 19:02 IST

"Rape" is not a Culture. It is as good as saying "corruption" is a culture.
Sexual violence is a violation of human right may it be girl or a boy. They know its wrong and they do it willfully with no remorse or fear. It will be too biased if we brand it as upper class culture as such violence do happen without such reasons. It is not an addiction for the violator to be re-rehabilitated. It is necessary to educate people about Sex and orientation and self defense to make them RESPECT others. In a country like India, where crowd is a common phenomenon, there should be measures to curb mob mentality. There should be a rule in India, not to crowd in public places where accidents or other untoward things happen. It should be so, that the concerned authorities should have enough room, to serve people. All forms of Media, should make it mandatory to frequently advertise on Moral and sex education no matter what the channel is. If they can advertise on smoking ban they they can do this too.

from:  senthil
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 18:02 IST

Sounds like a barbaric primitive culture.

from:  Yogajitsu
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 17:39 IST

I agree to most of the comments and conclusion but what I see is that
where even female seat is available for election, a former MLA/MP
utilizes his wife or another female of his family, and that female just
acts as a rubber stamp of the male person. Is this what Woman Quota is
all about?

from:  Davinder Pal Singh
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 17:06 IST

It would greatly help if popular cricket heroes, film stars, "God men"
and other such individuals with mass following were to come out with
strong messages condemning rape and violence against women.

Aamir Khan appeared in an excellent commercial for Incredible India,
exhorting vendors not to cheat tourists. I believe that something on
those lines would make a difference to change the feudal mindset of the

from:  G Arvind
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 17:04 IST

rightly said.

from:  susana
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 17:02 IST

Very incisive.

from:  S Vishwajeet
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 16:56 IST

Look at the US and Western Europe. They have equal or higher levels of availability (and usage) porn. Newspapers in Europe have full nudity and TV programs show porn late night. Many movies have high levels of violence and sex. Many popular on-line games are full of violence, and on-line porno is freely available and accessed. Advertisements are full of nudity. Casting couch originated from Hollywood. Many more ...
How is it then that they don't have a "rape culture"?
How then can we name these issues as reasons for India's rape culture?
There must be that something different in India that results in the rape culture. Unless this is named, faced, and addressed we will go after these red herrings (as far as rape is concerned - I am not addressing whether these themselves are right or wrong) which create more heat and noise. I think the author only hints at it when she says "Three Dalit women are raped daily ..." and "the judge asked, “How can a Dalit woman be raped?”"

from:  CDawson
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 16:25 IST

An incisive analysis of the domination-rape-violence culture. Given ground realities, few suggestions made to improve the lot of women would be implemented. What we need is continuous efforts to create and enhance awareness. We just can't let go. This is our struggle for survival with dignity.

from:  choodala
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 16:16 IST

I have been searching for sensible articles on the current rape
situation in our country. None have so far managed to give sensible
suggestions except for this one. This is spot-on! Thank you

from:  Nikhil
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 16:15 IST

I too have similar thoughts as these appreciate the article. I think, respect for women has to start at home. Children need to see their father respecting their mother, rather than abusing her verbally and physically. What kind of respect for women will the child have, growing up when they see their own mother treated like an object? Gender equality is indeed the key according to me to improve the situation to some extent. It's quite upsetting to see such a high incidence of rape. Even more so, when the objects of this abhorable crime are small children. What kind of demented state of mind, the people commiting these crimes are in?

from:  Elvis V
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 16:13 IST

The author seems to imply that there is a link between pornography and rape.
Being Canadian, I cannot comment on the content of pornography in India; however, in North America, violence and rape themed pornography is definitely a very small minority. Perhaps there is more violence and rape in porn in India. If so, it is indicative of a deeper cultural issue here. Given the shockingly low conviction rate for rape crimes, I am guessing there is definitely a deep cultural issue here.
Pornography is a reflection of the culture. the attitude towards rape crimes is also a reflection of the culture. it is the culture that has to be changed.

from:  Kai
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 16:11 IST

The Scandinavian countries have legalized prostitution and porn. They have the least crimes against women. Islamic and Hindu cultures moralise the most and are the worst offenders against women. I think we need to take a critical look at our laws and legalise prostitution and porn to help sick, perverted minds to easily assuage their desires.
Any views?

from:  YVR Vijay
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 16:05 IST

As given in my comment, I think Ms Ruchira Gupta wrote an excellent
essay and showed the obnoxious attitude all around, especially in
India (Bharat, et all). I sincerely which this is read by both sexes
who find themselves even remotely entwined in the text. I salute you

Over the last few days, I have read, with some concern, even
subscribed to some 'Jagran' circulated in the social network. However,
the message that needs to go across is what this lady is saying. True,
some fast oourts, extra vigil, talks of vicious punishments, etc are
doing the rounds but how many will pick the sting out of the wound?

Please be honest to yourselves and lets stop sham talk - like that so
called swami or many akin to him have uttered, if something rational
has to emerge.

Jai Hind.

from:  ajay puri
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 16:05 IST

You have really nailed this one. Its all about dominance and masculinity
from the male class. They take women as an object and not a human being.
There is lot more to be done (apart from the law) to cleanse our society
so that people understand the value of a human being and do not
discriminate on gender or caste etc. I don't know how that is going to
be achieved, but it is the call of the hour.

Brilliant article!

from:  Abhishek Dwivedi
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 16:05 IST

It cudnt have been put in a better way! Agree to every single point put foth here.

from:  Mohit
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 16:04 IST

The recent comments of incidences of Rapes in India by many politician and no action on them by the political parties expose the mindset people in the power corridors have for women. How can effective laws and policies for the improvement of conditions of women and preventing atrocities against them, be implemented by people having such a mindset which blame women more for the rape?Everyone can give suggestion but who gonna implement them.

from:  Manish
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 15:46 IST

Ruchira, I agree with each and every word of this article, our society needs rehabilitation, not just men but women also. It is dug deep into the brains of many women that they are lesser and cannot equal men. I wish to join you in your work, is there a way I can do this?

from:  Dhwani
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 15:44 IST

She has a good point

from:  Ilira
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 15:40 IST

Excellent article. I think you have come to electronic media and give
your views. It can be heard by more people easily. Once again a
brilliant article.

from:  keshavan
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 15:36 IST

I salute and bow my head before your Most Sacred Devotion. Umpteen Devotional prayers and satsangh etc that Religious Gurus doing can not even match 1% of what you do , My respected Sister. Long Live Ruchira Gupta.

from:  Raghunath Acharya
Posted on: Jan 10, 2013 at 15:31 IST
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