Trigger warning: Rape, graphic descriptions, and violence.
Rape is one of the most violent acts known to man. It is a sad and horrific reality that has been perpetrated against women for many centuries. While rape happens all over the world, it is a extremely concerning and growing problem in India.
As a British Indian, I’ve been living a fairly privileged and sheltered life. I was completely unaware of the problems that women faced in India and the violence that they were subjected to. Feminism and women’s rights are matters of which are extremely close to my heart. To find out how disconnected I was with the problems of a country where my very roots stem from really opened my eyes.
It was not until the 2012 Delhi gang rape incident that India’s extreme problem with rape came to light internationally. It was also then that I came to know of this concern and the other many rising cases of rape in India: what people call(ed) a ‘rape epidemic’.
Here are details of the rape of Nirbhaya which sparked international outrage:
A 23 year old physiotherapy intern, Jyoti Singh (dubbed ‘Nirbhaya’ or ‘fearless’ by the Indian public), was travelling home at night with a male companion after having watched a film together. Unbeknown to them, they got onto a private bus which was being driven around illegally by six men because it couldn’t be on the streets due to vehicle violations: and these men had decided to have ‘fun’ with it. The couple caught on that the bus was not a public one or going to the place they needed to get to and brought it up with the driver. This led to an argument and then a physical fight in which Nirbhaya’s male companion was beaten unconscious and hit with an iron rod. Nirbhaya was dragged to the back of the bus, knocked unconscious, raped multiple times by the men while unconscious, beaten with the iron rod and penetrated with it which severely damaged her intestines and genitals.
To say this was a sick, violent, and sadistic act would be an understatement. It was more than that. These are the things you see happen only in the darkest of movies, the kind of violence that is imagined but you do not think any human would ever be capable of. But they are. That is what frightens me the most. You do not know true horror until you’ve seen it and you certainly do not know true horror until you’ve felt it. I cannot imagine what Nirbhaya went through, the amount of pain she was subjected to.
The worst part was the mentality of the men who did this to her and the lawyer defending them. One of the convicts found guilty of the gang rape was interviewed by the BBC, stating that ‘a girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy’, that ‘she should just be silent and allow the rape’ and that ‘boy and girl are not equal’. Not only this but his lawyer stated that if his sister or daughter were to engage in pre-marital activities, he would pour petrol on her and light her on fire.
We must question, then, why these six men decided to commit such an act of violence against a woman and why rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India.
We cannot ignore that Indian culture has played a part in shaping such a mentality. The Mahabharata (a religious scripture) itself deems its women as ‘snakes’, ‘living lies’, and ‘poison’ while Indian mythology has also perpetrated the idea of rape as a non violent act. Having been surrounded by Indian culture and mentality my whole life, I’ve witnessed the treatment of women as the inferior sex and have even been lectured with ideas of what a woman should be according to these cultural standards. Bollywood and it’s portrayal of women, majority of the time, does not help the patriarchal dynamic either.
While culture plays a strong part in the way men have come to treat women in India (and even abroad), we cannot assume that this is the mentality that the whole of India has adopted. The BBC, in this interview during their documentary on the incident, have clearly, as Rathod argues, managed ‘to show criminals as victims of the Indian mentality’. We must not forget that these criminals are just that, criminals. They are violent beings with horrible intentions. Not victims.
Maybe it’s the fact that former chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav thinks ‘Boys are boys, they make mistakes’ and that they are ‘poor fellows’. Hobbes highlights in Leviathan that humans are born with the same abilities, making them so equal that they become violent, ‘From this equality of ability ariseth equality of hope in attaining of our ends. And therefore if any two men desire the same thing, which nevertheless they cannot both enjoy, they become enemies; and in the way to end … their endeavour to destroy or subdue one another’.
Could this explain why the men felt the need to assert their dominance over Nirbhaya? Because she showed that she was as equal as them in her ability and could use violence to fight back for her life when she bit them and struggled against them? This would certainly explain one of the convict’s mentality about her staying ‘silent’ and allowing the rape. If she just allowed it, didn’t question their inequality with equality, she would still be alive according to him.
One thing that patriarchy upholds itself with is power. This power is the very inequality that creates women the inferior sex. If women were to begin questioning that inequality and take away this power, it is natural then that men become violent against this idea. We were too equal and found a way to undo that through gender.
For these six men, questioning the inequality set up by culture and religion saw no other conclusion but to rape, to act so violently, to end Nirbhaya’s life in the disgusting way they did and all to maintain their power.
These men continue to act as complete victims of the Indian mentality. This patriarchy is further enforced by the Indian government and its refusal to take action, instead blaming violent TV shows and movies. If the Indian government continues to think that these ‘poor boys’ are the victims they pretend to be, playing into their hands, then violence against women may never stop. It’s time for the Indian government to wake up and stop putting their sovereign power before the welfare of its women.
It’s no surprise, as Khan draws attention to, that Nirbhaya’s father ‘claims that the promises of reform were unmet, and that justice in India has failed his daughter and women like her’.