“As women assert their identity and enter his bastions of power, the traditional Indian male is reacting with violence” states Ratna Kapur in “Rape and the crisis of Indian masculinity” (Op-Ed, December 19, 2012) as a response to the gang-rape of a 23 year old student on a private bus in Delhi. While Kapur acknowledges that reducing rape to a single cause is problematic, she states that what these crimes have in common is that young men commit them. This and other generalisations in her article are questionable.

Kapur begins by lamenting the “alarming regularity of gang rapes” which “must compel us to reflect upon who we are as a society.” Rapes cannot be solved by “more laws and more police on the streets,” she adds. Statistics show that 13,221 of the 24,206 rape cases reported in 2011 had investigation pending; 79,476 were awaiting trial while convictions numbered 4,072: proof that there is a serious lapse of order in society.

The reflection then should be on why due process is painstaking, why the state and the courts are unable to quell these crimes, why the police, whose job is to ensure safety, fail miserably, and why convictions are negligible. We must also reflect upon the attitudes of policemen who blame the victims singularly, seen in the Tehelka sting operation earlier this year.

Rape is no different from Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) hate crimes. But it would be ludicrous to suggest that policing and legal processes to punish hate crimes is a fringe solution.

A change of mindset in policing is indispensable in this regard but it hardly stems from the brand of “insecurity” that Kapur speaks about.

The assumption

She next assumes that rape victims are working women — “independent” and “bold” and rapists are young men insecure of those traits. However, not all victims of rape are working women and nor can we assume that rapists are “insecure” men.

In the Delhi gang-rape case, the victim reportedly bit one of the rapists’ arm when he tried to injure her male friend which provoked him to “teach her a lesson.” This however, is a rare occurrence. More often than not, women, who have not bitten, scratched, touched or even looked at the man, are raped.

Kapur’s hypothesis doesn’t explain the rape of Dalit and adivasi women, child and minor rapes, and most importantly, the oft-neglected rape within families — rape of daughters, granddaughters, wives and sisters who aren’t a threat to the traditional, authoritative, decision making male; 22,500 out of 24,000 odd cases of rape in 2011 were committed by people known to the victim, not “insecure” strangers.

Neither do three cases in seven years mentioned by the author provide a causal link for her hypothesis “young men are the ones committing these crimes.” Forty-three per cent of rape cases in 2011, for instance, were registered against men older than 30. Moreover, young men, brought up in more “gender-equal” backgrounds, on an average, should have an easier time dealing with “successful women” than older men.

Kapur further wonders if the “sense of displacement” which men are threatened by is generated by “smartly dressed female professionals.” Does visibility alone determine empowerment?

There are many working women who aren’t “independent” as they aren’t part of the decision-making process in their families. This empowerment can hardly make a man, still in charge, insecure.

Urban-centered

Moreover, Kapur’s empowerment is urban and workplace-centred. She has simplified rape to mean the assertion of young men (alone) on young, urban, professional women.

In the absence of rigorous analysis and accompanying figures, vast parts of the article read like wilful generalisation.

India, like other nations, has a history and culture of using rape as a tool to beat communities into submission, exemplified by the Kunan-Poshpora rapes, allegedly by the Army, and the Gujarat riots; hence rapes aren’t conducive to urban reductionism nor confined to the urban female.

Young and old women who are not yet a part of the workplace and who are dependent on their male counterparts get raped; non-aggressive women get raped; toddlers and teenagers of all sexes who by no means can pose a threat to the power-wielding traditional male get raped; and women across all ages get raped by husbands, fathers and grandfathers at home.

(Radhika Santhanam and Dhruba Jyoti Purkait are students at the Asian College of Journalism.)

Ratna Kapur responds

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