‘Why Men Rape’ review: The difficulty in understanding the word ‘no’

Deciphering rape and its basis in how Indian men are brought up on false notions of masculinity and a deep sense of entitlement

October 10, 2020 04:22 pm | Updated October 11, 2020 08:34 am IST



For her book Why Men Rape, Tara Kaushal spent a week each with nine men who have allegedly raped but haven’t been convicted for various reasons. She visited them in their homes, spoke to them, their families and friends, and tried to understand their history and milieu in order to decipher the underlying motives of rape.

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Her enterprise and courage must be lauded. She created a different persona, took along a male colleague, gained the men’s confidence, and made them respond to the same set of 250 questions each. What she culled from the interviews does not add any startling new perspective to our understanding of rape, but it is still a commendable project.

The loyalty test

All sorts of men from all backgrounds rape, but what is common is the broad rubric of patriarchy. Boys are brought up with notions of masculinity that demand from them a violent and competitive sexual and social presence. They also grow up with a deep sense of entitlement. As Kaushal notes, Indian boys grow into manhood never having heard the word ‘no’. Equally important, it is ingrained in Indian men that their first loyalty is to the natal family. This explains the constant endorsement of the ma-behen concept — because outside of this framework, men are unable to respect women.


The men Kaushal spoke to have had no sex education. They are ignorant not just of the sexual act but also of women’s bodies and minds. In many cases, they don’t know what ‘rape’ is. Forcing oneself upon resisting women is not understood as rape but as normal sex because they grow up internalising that women will always resist due to modesty but this need not be taken seriously. Worse, aggressive possessiveness and violent acts of possessing are equated with deep love — a notion fondly peddled by film directors like Sandeep Vanga. The proprietorial control of women also then becomes the basis of honour rape and war rape — when a woman is violated to punish her ‘owner’, the man.

Social network

Kaushal reiterates two other important aspects. One is societal rage born of extreme social disempowerment — many of these men are poor, oppressed and brutalised themselves. Second is the unlimited pornography available on mobile phones. As one subject tells Kaushal in a fit of self-disgust, “Jio se free internet band karo .” (Stop free internet from Jio.) Violent pornography mixed with zero sexual awareness makes for a toxic cocktail.

Case studies are always interesting and one wanted to see each history systematically traced from beginning to end. Unfortunately, the book keeps jumping between case studies, research and comment, making one lose track and patience.

The book can’t decide if it wants to be social treatise, WhatsApp chat or Netflix movie script, jerking from academic prose to street slang to dialogue and homily. An informal style is fine but to litter the text with chat acronyms and accompany each WTF with a footnote is a bit precious. It is baffling that the acronym SO should be used at all with ‘significant other’ as a painstaking footnote. Also, the frequent digressions to state opinions or make interjections — “Whoa, dude, chill out; why so serious…” — get banal.

Or, perhaps, all these points that I see as drawbacks make the book a perfect millennial read.

Why Men Rape ; Tara Kaushal, HarperCollins, ₹399.

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