“The Unsafe Sex” – A TOI report on sexual harassment in India today

A shocking bit of statistic hit us last week. There has been an 800% increase in rape cases in the last 40 years. Each passing decade should have been safer for women in a country that aspires to be a world leader. But India is today a more dangerous place for the fairer sex than it was ever before.

For Kiran (not her real name), it was almost a daily habit to stroll outside her home in south Delhi and chat with friends on her cellphone. She probably thought she had nothing to fear though the area where she lived had many single men, mostly students like her. Late last year, the girl from the northeast was raped and killed when she refused a neighbour’s advances.

The accused later reportedly told a psychiatrist , “She used to talk on her phone about private matters in front of me. I felt if she’s doing that, then she’s become mine (Woh meri apni ho gayi).”

His response reflects one truth about modern India – the more it tries to change, the more it remains the same for its women. That seems to be the dark message from statistics released recently by the National Crime Records Bureau, which show that rape is India’s fastest growing misdemeanour and has increased by 792% since 1971.

There are no class barriers here, though figures say rapes are more rampant in rural areas. The patriarchal mindset has always been the prime accused and nothing has changed in that respect, whether the criminals are well-shod , PhD students or poor rickshawallas. Today, though, “there are complex multiple forces at play which are causing increasing violence against women” , as Abha Bhaiya, founding member of Jagori, an NGO for women’s empowerment in Delhi, says. “True, there’s more awareness now and more reporting of sexual violence. More mothers are reporting about child abuse. But the fact is that the number of child rapes has increased. There are regressive forces at play. Women have become more assertive and men are not able to accept that and use heinous ways to punish them. Most of the rapes are done by people known to the victims , which says something about our society.”

Activists say the laws have made little difference. “The generation of my parents said women have to suffer in silence. Today women feel they cannot take it anymore, but they are angry that the larger society does not take a stance,” says Bhaiya.

With more women entering the workforce, emerging as professional competitors and exhibiting financial and emotional independence, the ill-feeling towards them has increased, say experts . “Modernity is impinging on closed systems ,” says Dr Rajat Mitra, director of Swanchetan , an NGO that provides emotional support to survivors of violence and abuse. He feels the growing migrant workforce in the country is part of the problem. “These people carry forward their values and mindset, leading to a clash of cultures. Besides,women from small towns don’t take the necessary precautions in big cities, adding to their vulnerability. Men have increased access to porn and other forms of stimulation, and have the feeling that they can get away with it, given the image the police have as those who can be paid off.”

Mitra believes that lax law enforcement – and the low importance given to both rape as a crime and to counselling of victims – is contributing to the rise in sexual violence. “Counselling helps in reporting the case, pursuing it in court and getting the accused convicted.” But, he says, there has been a decline in psychological services, which have been palmed off to local NGOs that don’t have the expertise to deal with complex cases. The abysmal rate of rape convictions in India, about 27% in 2010, adds to the poor image of law enforcers and encourages those inclined towards sexual violence. A former member of the National Commission for Women recalls a case last year in which a rapist was allowed to go free on the basis of a compromise. “It reveals a lack of consistency in court judgments, subjectivity in the interpretation of the law and also adds to the pressure on the victim,” she says. There have been shocking instances where victims have been asked to marry their violators. “If that’s going to be the trend in courts, it’s going to be bad,” says the former NCW member. “Rape victims abroad never worry about who would marry them. But here, for victims from semi-urban families, the worry is ‘Who will marry me’ , and that her family would be ostracized,” says Mitra.

This attitude discourages victims from seeking justice. Flavia Agnes, advocate and director of Majlis , a Mumbai-based NGO, is angry at the way some rape trials are held. “Medical evidence goes missing , very young victims are asked about the incident when they don’t even fully understand what had happened, male defence lawyers make fun of the girls, the public prosecutor asks the victim questions in an uncomfortable manner (See ‘I don’t think I will get justice’) . Even if one player fails to perform his role properly, the case falls apart.”

Mitra agrees, saying rape trials in India can be quite primitive. “Some junior-level police officials discourage women from going ahead with the case, saying their case is not strong.”

But additional DCP and Delhi Police spokesman Rajan Bhagat is inclined to blame social factors more for the rise in sexual violence – such as higher reporting of cases, the culture of anonymity in Delhi, women being raped on the pretext of marriage and the fact that a high percentage of rapists (97%) are known to the victims. “The involvement of strangers is going down,” he says, hinting that the low conviction rate could be a fallout of the same factor.

The future looks both bleak and scary. As the number of girls continues to fall sharply in Indian villages and cities, thanks to generations of discrimination, activists worry that frustration and violence against women will only escalate.

The rape laws

In India, rape is defined as intentional, unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman, without her permission. In Brazil, it’s unconsensual vaginal sex and in China, it’s forcible coitus with women or by other means against their will. But in Sweden, where Julian Assange is facing trial for rape, it even applies to situations when someone wouldn’t be capable of saying “no” . The definition was broadened in 2005 to include having sex with someone who is asleep, or someone who could be considered to be in a “helpless state”

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/special-report/The-unsafe-sex/articleshow/10710889.cms

‘I don’t think I will get justice…’

Simi, 17, and Reena, 24 (names changed), are victims of rape. Both live in Delhi and are going through counselling. Sunday Times spoke to them and found that they have little faith in the system

Who supported you when you needed it? Your family?

Simi: No. They blame me for bringing dishonour to them.
Reena: I did not want to tell my family but they got to know and it was terrible. They became anxious and agitated. They also blamed me for it, saying I was too liberated. I got support from the counsellor and a close friend.

Do you think you will get justice?

Simi: I don’t think so. He (the accused) is powerful and the system is corrupt.
Reena: Have I got justice? No. I do not have faith in the system.

How did the police treat you?

Simi: They were suspicious and insensitive. My story leaked out because of them.
Reena: They were insensitive. They didn’t know how to ask me questions, nor did the doctors doing the MLC report. People stared at me. Everyone knew I had been raped; it was horrible.

What do you look forward to in life?

Simi: I don’t know what I want in life right now.
Reena: I live one day at a time; I have no future. At times, I feel suicidal and call up my counsellor or a helpline.

What do you think of men who don’t respect women?

Simi: It’s disgusting the way they treat women.They only see us as a body, not as someone with feelings.
Reena: I do not have any feelings for men. Earlier, I felt attracted (towards them), now I don’t .

Do you think you are stronger as a person now?

Simi: I feel more vulnerable now.
Reena: I don’t feel strong inside. I feel hollow.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/special-report/I-dont-think-I-will-get-justice/articleshow/10710907.cms

4 Comments

  1. NyKavi
    NyKavi
    November 14, 2011 at 4:35 AM

    It is quite intriguing that rape per capita is much more prevalent in NCR as compared to other metro regions. It may be due to the prevalent rural Jat mentality vis-a-vis treatment of women. Delhi is a one big bad place for women, doesn’t matter which class they belong to. Upper class girls get raped in farm house raves, lower class girls get picked off and raped in speeding vehicles. Maybe something in the water of NCR.

  2. Manish
    Manish
    November 14, 2011 at 7:04 AM

    @Nykavi : its because of placement of delhi …. Delhi is surrounded by Haryana and UP and there is easy access in and out of delhi .. that is one thing which makes it easier .. as the price of land escalated many people got great prices for their land(the rural areas of delhi bordering UP and Haryana) sudden money makes people mad(know a few friends of my friend regarding this point , they were not rapist but unke kaam ulte hi the) ….

    and ofcourse gundagardi .. here everybody knows one goon or other and sometimes some powerful person in ministry and hence no fear kind of attitude ….

    All this combined result in this …..

    I really hate reading such stuff , makes me feel depressed :(

  3. Shalu
    Shalu
    November 14, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    Nykavi, Manish,

    What you say is true and NCR really is the worst place for women to be. I have lived in a lot of places in India and nowhere in the country is it so bad as in NCR. Bengal I found the best when it comes to repect for women.

    Also, as the article rightly says, men have been shaken by the sudeen rise of women empowerment in the last decade and rape is a way of crushing a woman’s spirit.

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