The students are correct in stating that there are many types of rape, mediated by caste, sexual preference, ethnicity, and religion. And there must no doubt be a multi-pronged response to gender violence. But citing familiar statistics or repeating the clamour for due process does not address the deeper questions posed by me: how do we confront an endemic societal problem, where rape has become a normalised part of our daily lives? And how are we implicated in the production of the perpetrators as well as the processes of normalisation?
One response lies nestled in the students’ article. They rightly indicate that the rapist is invariably known to the victim, an empirical fact that draws attention to the most glaring gap in the rape law: the failure to criminalise marital rape. Why do men continue to enjoy impunity in this most intimate of relationships and why is there an extreme reluctance on the part of the legislature to alter this situation? If there is no respect for women’s consent in the marital relationship, then how is it possible to generate respect for women in the public space?
Second, sexualised violence is partly an expression of loyalty to a certain way of being male in society. This statement should not be reduced to a simplistic and nonsensical claim that all men rape. It is to draw attention to a specific form of dangerous masculinity that relies on not being a woman or gay or less than a (macho) man. Rape is partly a defence of a toxic masculinity, which takes a particularly violent toll on religious, sexual, and ethnic minorities and other marginalised groups. It is a destructive masculinity that we need to consciously alter in our families, educational curriculum, social and cultural networks.
We need a discussion that is part of a reflective and thoughtful action rather than a knee-jerk response triggered understandingly by the horror of this recent event.
(Ratna Kapur is Global Professor of Law, Jindal Global Law School.)