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Needed: Male finishing school

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India’s infamous “rape culture” will change when Indian men change

My first reaction each time I hear of one more toddler, one more commuter, student, tourist raped and killed is rage. As women, we harbour a deep, primeval fury that wants to burn every rapist, raze down these social structures and build something new and just and bright from the ashes.

This anger is legitimate, but it cannot justify the extra-judicial killing of the four Hyderabad rapists. That would simply mean endorsing the violence of the prevailing patriarchy.

The ‘encounter’ cop is no hero. He is simply a slave of his political masters of the day. If the rapists had not been low-class, low-caste, unimportant truck-drivers, but MLAs or MPs instead, do you think there would have been an encounter killing? The episode was meant to shut the public up and it did.

When the law took its course after the Nirbhaya case and convicted the rapist-murderers, did it stop rape? It did not. Now that instant justice has been meted out, will it stop rape? It will not. After each rape, we clamour for “more stringent” laws. But we already have some of the most robust laws worldwide. And, as hard as it is to believe, the conviction rate for rape cases is higher than that for other violent crimes. The law, in itself, is not enough.

Rape will inevitably be widespread in a society that teaches its men that women are meant for their use. After the Hyderabad rape, some social media comments opened a window into the heads of potential rapists and rape apologists, revealing how deep the rot runs. The comments show the importance given by a patriarchal society to male arousal, which is seen as so supreme that it can grant legitimacy to any act. Acts for which men are never responsible.

Instead, since women’s bodies arouse desire, it is women who are held responsible. By putting their bodies in public spaces — travelling in a bus, sitting in a park, acting in a movie — women are seen as having already acquiesced to being desired and, thus, acquiesced to sex.

Consent is impossible for the average Indian man to understand because for them the woman’s very act of being in the public space is consent to sex — at any time, with any man. One of the Nirbhaya rapists expressed this chillingly: ‘Why was she out at night?,’ he asked.

In films like Arjun Reddy, when the hero walks into a classroom and picks out a woman, like selecting a heifer at a cattle fair, women are asked to read it as an honour. When criticised about the hero slapping his girlfriend, the film’s director notoriously responded that it was a sign of great love. Millions of viewers cheered.

When we use the intensity of male desire as a justification for violence, we cannot be surprised by rape. In such a male reading of desire, the woman is simply a receptacle. And a receptacle that shows no gratitude for the enormous love being poured into it is an ungrateful vessel that must expect to be punished.

Gender violence excites the public imagination only when it is rape or murder. But violence against women is an everyday, continuing affair. It is a million small acts calculated to keep women down. It is the Arjun Reddy director’s surprise at being called a misogynist; it is brothers dictating what sisters should wear; husbands assuming their jobs are always more important than their wife’s; offices picking women for trivial jobs and men for leadership roles; policemen refusing to file rape FIRs.

When the hero slaps a woman, audiences applaud. When actors and directors publicly abuse women, political parties recruit them. Rape videos are secretly sold for ₹20 to ₹200 a piece. Do you think such a society is really shocked by rape? No. This society actively facilitates rape.

The Ugly Indian Male is a well-documented beast. Unlimited social sanctions give him an extraordinary sense of entitlement. An abnormal degree of ‘mother-love’ fondly condones all his crimes. Now, his inadequacy in the face of growing female assertion is making him increasingly violent.

Neither new laws nor jungle justice can tackle this beast. Instead, society has to forcibly seed ideas of equality and consent in fathers and sons, in policemen, magistrates and lower court judges, politicians and film directors. The only answer is substantive social transformation, and there is no easy shortcut to this.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2020 2:11:50 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/columns/on-indias-infamous-rape-culture/article30276068.ece

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