Challenging India’s rape culture

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:40 pm IST

Published - January 10, 2013 03:08 pm IST

File photo of Ruchira Gupta, president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide and winner of Clinton Global Citizen Award in 2009. Photo:Sushil Kumar Verma

File photo of Ruchira Gupta, president of Apne Aap Women Worldwide and winner of Clinton Global Citizen Award in 2009. Photo:Sushil Kumar Verma

Let us talk about Ram Singh, the chief rapist of the Delhi gang-rape victim, who told his rape-colleagues, as they cleaned the bus, “not to worry, nothing will happen.’

Ram Singh and his five fellow rapists were right. After all, the conviction rate for rape cases in India, between 2001 and 2010, is only 26 per cent. And in Delhi, in the same period, only one in four culprits of reported rape was punished, reveals a survey by Thomson Reuters' Trust Law Women.

In the case of Muslim and Dalit women, the rate of conviction is almost nil. Three Dalit women are raped daily in some part of our country. When Bhanwari Devi was raped in a Rajasthan village, the judge asked, “How can a Dalit woman be raped?” Most women say they wouldn’t even think of telling the police about an attack for fear the cops would ignore them or worse blame them and abuse them.

This culture of impunity certainly emboldened Ram Singh but the more important question is, what motivated him? It is no coincidence that the family names of the rapists are Singh, Sharma, Gupta and Thakur - all upper caste men whose sense of traditional entitlement based on their caste may have been challenged in the big city of Delhi. Were Ram Singh and his rape cohort simply claiming masculinity as promoted by their role models in politics, business and the media?

Certainly, political leaders of all hues, in their personal lives, have commodified women, both inside and outside the home. Outside the home, BJP MLAs are caught watching pornography on their I-pads in the Legislative Assembly, Janata Dal Leaders have paid women to perform ‘item’ numbers in mass functions and Former Prime Minister P. V Narsimha Rao writes in his biography, The Insider , how Congress leaders bought women for sex while attending Congress Working Committee sessions.

Business leaders are seen with paid escorts, hosting rave parties, consuming porn, and saving their sons from the consequences of molesting girls. In the culture of “success” that Ram Singh witnesses on the media everyday, he sees classified advertisement in newspapers selling female escorts, businessmen zipping around in fast cars with girls draped on their arms staring out with vacant eyes and at least one private airline owner using the ‘casting couch’ to hire 60 airhostesses for four planes.

While Ram Singh cannot afford fast cars and the accompanying female escorts, he can certainly buy porn CDs. India has become the third largest user of pornography in the world. Blue movies and CDs are available at any video parlour.

I would be curious to know if Ram Singh was socialized into believing that sex was connected to violence through countless hours of watching porn? I wonder if the police will ask this question during their investigation? Or have they normalized the degradation of women, so much, that they will not explore the root causes of the rape.

In the course of my own work I have seen the steady creeping in of a rape culture into the fabric of India. I work to organize women in prostitution to resist their own and their daughter’s rape. We have been campaigning to change the anti-trafficking law to punish customers and pimps and the biggest challenge I face is the normalization of the rape of poor women in our culture. Their prostitution is considered inevitable and the men who buy them are considered natural. Politicians, senior police officials, heads of foundations and even policy makers, have told me: “Men will be men,” or “Girls from good families will be raped, if prostitutes don’t exist”.

These comments perpetuate a notion of masculinity in which men have unbridled sexual desire, will rape women if they are not obtainable otherwise, and that poor women should be sexually available to protect middle-class women!

This is how rape cultures are created. Those in positions of power who serve as role models for the rest of society do not challenge prevalent norms, attitudes and practices that trivialize, normalize, tolerate, or even condone rape. In fact many actually, perpetuate the inevitability of male female inequality.

Incidents of rape have gone up by 873 per cent since India gained Independence.

Budget allocations to successive Ministries of Women and Child Welfare have been reduced. Someone of Cabinet rank has hardly ever represented the ministry and the weakest, most inarticulate individuals have been appointed as Ministers of State. Debates to ensure equal power sharing between the sexes through the Women’s Reservation Bill have gone nowhere.

People are asking for fast tracks courts for speedy justice, the death penalty, the immediate passage of the Sexual Harassment in the Work Place Bill, and chemical castration of not just the perpetrators but also all rapists. My question is who and how many people will we castrate? And will it reverse the rape culture based on sex inequality in India? Rape is after all not about sex but about domination and violence.

Won’t castration or death penalty let those off the hook who are creating this culture? When can we force the government to increase budget allocations for women and girls, have better leaders representing the Women and Child Welfare Ministry and introduce power sharing for women at all levels of policy making?

An essential part of efforts to create a contemporary and democratic society where full gender equality is the norm is to recognize the right to equal participation of women and men, girls and boys, in all areas of society. Any society that claims to defend principles of legal, political, economic, and social equality for women and girls must reject the idea that women and children, mostly girls, are commodities inside or outside the home, upper or lower class or caste.

We need to make efforts to create a society where women and girls can live lives free of all forms of male violence. In combination with public education, awareness-raising campaigns, and victim support, the law and other legislation needs to establish a zero tolerance policy for sexual exploitation and violence against women. The law needs to recognize that without men’s demand for and use of women and girls for sexual exploitation, the rape culture would not be able flourish and expand. For example, a good response would be to require every registered business, which requires a license to operate, to subject all employees to a sensitization on zero tolerance of sexual violence in and out of the work place. License renewal could be made dependent on the business submitting certificates to show that their employees have undergone Zero Tolerance of Sexual Violence training.

On a structural level, India needs to recognize that, to succeed in the campaign against sexual exploitation, the political, social, and economic conditions under which women and girls live must be ameliorated by introducing development measures for poverty reduction, sustainable development, and social programs focusing specifically on women among others.

The work to end rape requires a broad perspective and a will to act in a wide range of policy areas. It also requires the involvement and collaboration of a broad variety of public and private actors, besides an overhaul of measures to combat all sexual violence within the justice system. More important, measures that concern protection of and assistance to victims need to be developed and implemented and men, addicted to sexual violence and domination of women, need to be rehabilitated.

Ruchira Gupta is founder, Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an organization working to end sex-trafficking

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