So, she is in hospital in a critical condition. There are injuries mainly on her face and stomach. The men who attacked her were armed with iron rods. And we are talking about the need for closed circuit TV cameras.
We are not asking what part of hitting a woman on her face is about sexual desire? What part of a woman’s body deserves to be damaged, ever? And we are not asking, because we are not allowed to talk about sex or desire. We are especially not allowed to talk as children and teenagers, when our values are being formed.
We are, however, allowed to talk about how much the victim of the assault is to blame. We are even allowed to shout at the police: Why can they not prevent rape? Even a court makes unthinking remarks like, “We are at a loss to understand as to how the bus could evade surveillance for 40 minutes.”
Why is this so difficult to understand? If you saw a bus move on the roads for 40 minutes, would you be surprised? Why would the police suspect a moving bus? What about cars? There have been cases of women being dragged into moving cars. There have been cases of men kidnapping women, locking them up in homes and repeatedly raping them. Should the police barge into every house, looking for rape victims?
And how many places can we afford to do this? It is easy to focus our outrage on Delhi, because it does have one of the highest number of reported rapes, or Haryana, where the report card for gender violence is abysmal too. But Jabalpur has a higher number of rapes as a percentage of the population. What does that tell us?
There are four major parts to the problem. One, women do not feel safe reporting the crime because they are not sure if the police will treat them with respect. Two, most rapists do not go to jail and they don’t stay there long enough. The National Crime Records Bureau records that rape convictions are down to 36 per cent. A murderer is much more likely to get convicted than a rapist.
It is true that very few rapes are investigated properly and even fewer are reported. It is also true that police personnel often treat thefts – or even public protests – with a greater sense of urgency than sexual violence. It is also true that the police is grossly understaffed and that many rapists are men who are acquainted with the victim. Therefore it becomes impossible for the police to ‘prevent’ a situation where rape might occur.
The only thing the police can ensure is that if a rape has occurred, the victim doesn’t hesitate to rush to the nearest police station or hospital.
The third part of the problem is that we discriminate between the kinds of women who get raped or molested, as if their clothes, or sexual habits, or the time of day was the criminal, instead of the men who attack them.
The fourth and most significant aspect of the rape crisis is that our male population is trained to think of sex as an experience that is divorced from the body and mind of another human being.
We direct our outrage at the police, or the government, because we like to shift the blame. We do not like to acknowledge the fact that a large part of our population is potentially criminal in their thinking about sex.
The first two problems are fixable to the extent that we can introduce a new module in police training, with some basic counselling built in, so every cop – including constables – is taught to deal with rape correctly. We can insist that hospitals be located near police stations, and every hospital, including PHCs (primary health centres) have an emergency rape kit. We can get our home ministry to approve these measures.
But none of these changes will prevent rape unless we fix ourselves as a society. It is idiotic to expect that policemen, or lawyers, or judges can prevent rape if we cannot prevent people from thinking that any kind of sexual violence is justified or forgivable.
Can we fix people’s thinking? I believe we can. There are communities in this world where rape is almost unheard of. How do they manage it? They manage by ensuring gender justice as far as possible. Men and women both work and have equal access to property or natural resources. They have sex when they want it. They marry when they can afford to. They have children. They walk away (or run away) from a relationship if it is making them unhappy.
No man claims a right to a woman’s body indefinitely just because a ceremony has been conducted. No woman is so poor or so afraid of many men inflicting violence upon her body that she tolerates violence from one man. Nobody is ostracised or penalized for wanting to have sex.
Can we hope to build such a society? I want to believe that we can. The alternative is too brutal to believe.