Shame that continues
Even as the nation's conscience lies already ablaze as a result of the Hathras rape incident, a new NCRB report titled 'Crime in India' has confirmed what most of us know and yet avoid thinking about — that crimes against women are more rampant than ever before. The report shows that 4,05,861 cases of crimes against women were registered across the nation in 2019, a 7.3 per cent gain on the figures recorded in 2018. In specific, the report highlights the grim reality that in 2019, 88 cases of rape were reported every single day. The majority of cases of crimes against women was as a result of 'cruelty by husband or his relatives' at 30.9 per cent, Rape accounted for 7.9 per cent of all such cases. Adding to the already monumental shame, the national capital Delhi is number one on the list of Indian metropolitan cities with the highest number of crimes against women. Delhi accounts for a staggering 28 per cent of the total figure followed distantly by Mumbai at 14, 3 per cent. As a truly unfortunate sidenote, Delhi and Mumbai also occupy the first two positions in regards to crimes against children.
The report also highlighted that Mumbai has the second-worst rate in the country in regards to disposing-off cases for crimes against both women and children, trailing behind Chennai.
As bad as these numbers are, they do little more than confirm the reality that we as a nation are no closer to comprehensively protecting our vulnerable sections than we were before. Decades of awareness campaigns and 'me-too' movements have ultimately not yielded the sort of social awareness and responsibility that is required for a society to seriously start addressing the reasons behind such tendencies. Polls by reputable organisations have deemed India as one of the most unsafe countries for women many times before. This, as some commentators have put it, is due to the prevalence of what is known as 'rape culture' in India. In brief, rape culture was a term coined in the 1970s wave of feminism that defined it as a societal setting in which rape is pervasive and normalised due to societal attitudes about gender and sexuality. It is difficult to say with certainty as to what exactly promotes and preserves such a culture in our modern and woke times. Some of it can be attributed towards the general perception of women and notions over ownership over their bodies. Add to this the tendency of shifting blame to the victim and excusing the perpetrators and a truly toxic culture emerges that is willing to loudly talk of reform and express outrage but rarely deigns to have practical conversations on the culture that allows such heinous crimes. Of course, it would be short-sighted to declare a pervasive rape culture as an Indian problem. As the 2015 Brock Allen Turner case in the US showed, making shameless use of the explanation that 'boys will be boys' is not unique to India. Indeed it shows that simply declaring it as a problem of lacking education is a simple generalisation.
What the recent Hathras rape has also confirmed is that intersectionality of vulnerabilities is still not a widely understood concept in India. It is true that rape culture affects all women but depending on the socio-economic conditions of the person in question, such a culture affects some more than others. Indeed, in the anger that frequently follows such incidents, everything but the victim's gender is often sidelined even though NCRB reports have shown that there has been a 25 per cent increase in crimes against the Dalit community in the last decade. As commentators have stated, forgetting the role of such intersectionalities makes us generalise the idea of sexual crimes as only being related to sexual fulfilment or as a crime against a certain gender. Rape is sometimes also a show of power. In a nation where the sanctity of a women's virginity is often equated to the honour of a community, it is also a way of establishing dominance.
Let us not, as a society, fall into cycles of inaction and ignorance followed by mindless rage that goes so far as to excuse 'encounter justice'. A serious conversation on crimes against women is long overdue but not before we get our facts and biases straight.