Comment

Cauldron of sexual misconduct

So often do Indians encounter the horrific act in their consciousness that it has escaped their conscience

As India boldly leaps into space and proudly increases its tiger population, feats all deserving praise, foreign investors leave this increasingly disturbing landscape of cultural hegemony and faux-nationalistic fervour. I am increasingly drawn to understanding the connection, if it exists, between the current economic and sociopolitical landscape in India and the violence against women. Naysayers will argue that the sharp rise in statistics of violence against women and children in India is on account of better reporting and accounting of crimes, as well as more legislation. Indeed, the recent introduction of the POCSO Amendment Bill, 2019, in the Rajya Sabha, creating 123 fast-track courts for women, is a step in the right direction. But this is palliative care in a system where the emergency room is filling up at a faster rate than the system can address.

Unique circumstances

Why is this happening? The bare branches of a skewed sex ratio, poverty, unemployment, confusing sociocultural signals, social media and connectivity are all incendiary matchsticks to an already marginalised, frustrated and pathologically vulnerable brain. We attribute this to sociopathy and, with that labelling, neatly cocoon such men into a space separate from ‘us’. But even so, why has there been an increase in this ‘sociopathy’? Outside of genetic and biological factors, which are also slaves to epigenetical influences, India offers up uniquely subjective and inordinately challenging circumstances for this cauldron of sexual misconduct to foment.

First, there is the narrative that this is the clash of ‘traditional culture’ with modern values. But this behoves further examination: Secretary of the All India Progressive Women's Association, Kavita Krishnan, in the International Journal of Human Rights, argues that it is a misplaced narrative. She claims it is the insidious caste, capitalistic and political environment, one that pivots itself on the narratives of India’s ancient texts and scriptures to excoriate women, that brings about their subjugation, for selfish gain.

Cycle of violence

There is violence even before birth of a girl child. India has one of the highest incidences of female foeticide. Then, as a young child, a girl is part of an incontrovertible landscape where there has been a 336% rise in sexual crimes against children in the last decade. As a young woman, she is in the most unsafe country in the world, according to a recent Thomson Reuters Foundation survey, which recorded around 40,000 rapes a year. She is subject to the routine threats of honour killing and trafficking. As a widow or single mother, she is ostracised in a patriarchal society. Indian women do the most unpaid domestic work of any country globally, next to Kazakhstan. The insensitivity, reluctance, and hostility of the police, legal and medical fraternity, coupled with the fact that most assaulters are known to the victim, makes an increasingly intimidating environment in which to move forward with justice. Courts in the country are severely back-logged.

The worst narrative is perhaps what psychologists refer to as a kind of ‘emotional contagion’ for the rapist, where he sees others committing the crime and has become inured to it, thus, taking the leap towards crime. Similarly, we as a nation, have perhaps become inured by contagion, to sexual crimes against women. So often do we encounter the horrific act in our consciousness that it has escaped our conscience. Imparting healthy sex education in schools, providing means by which socially and emotionally marginalised men are given the opportunity to be identified and rehabilitate themselves, is paramount, before it leads to further tragedy.

(Madhurika Sankar is a writer based in Chennai)

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Printable version | May 25, 2020 11:07:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/cauldron-of-sexual-misconduct/article28775461.ece

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