HOW TO STOP THE RAPE EPIDEMIC IN INDIA
By Partha Banerjee
Brooklyn, New York
January 2, 2013 (Expanded on January 3)
From my blog at http://onefinalblog.wordpress.com . Feedback and share appreciated.
PART 1. — PLEDGE TO MY SISTERS
This is my first article in 2013. I want to write about a pledge.
I wish I could write about something happy and cheerful. But I can’t. Given what is going on in India, where sisters and mothers and daughters are going through a calamitous horror every single day, and given that the horror is going to hurt or kill my own family some day soon, I could not write about anything else.
I am writing about a dark and tragic episode of human civilization.
In India and countries like India, rape and violence on women have now reached an epidemic proportion. Both the number and frequency of rape, beating, torture, acid throwing, female infanticide, bride burning and many other “ordinary” and unspeakable forms of violence have shattered the society and particularly its women. Young women, even little girls, have been raped and abused all across the country, and unless we accept it as a massive epidemic and address it exactly the same way we’ve addressed any other epidemic such as plague, small pox or cholera, it will wipe out countless women and families — thousands of them physically and millions more psychologically.
Unless we cure India of this epidemic now, it will permanently traumatize an entire nation of one billion people, and cripple many more generations to come.
My 2013 pledge is this. I wrote about it on my Facebook page on January 1.
TO MY FIGHTING SISTERS. — I SHALL stop violence on you and I stake my life on it.
I salute you: as I wrote in my post And Then…God Created…Indian Men (link at http://onefinalblog.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/and-then-god-created-indian-men-3/), “for the first time in modern Indian history, the entire country exploded against rampant, all-pervasive violence on women.” Do not let this precious moment slip by. You are making history.
I have asked sisters and brothers who showed their support on the pledge to send us ideas and suggestions. I shall keep putting them together and come up with more, articulated thoughts in the coming days. I want to spend as much time as possible on this one, more urgent issue this year. I need your help and support to stop this epidemic of rape and violence on Indian women.
I have also done some research on this subject and used my years of experience as a science teacher and researcher to think through this subject.
This is not the first time I’m doing this kind of research. My peer-reviewed journal article on bride burning and dowry deaths in India was published in the first issue of Injustice Studies (Volume 1, Number 1, 1997), and then I expanded on that research in my book on the politics of religion and violence in India (link to book synopsis here with library locations at http://www.worldcat.org/title/in-the-belly-of-the-beast/oclc/496228013).
Over the past ten or fifteen years, I have dedicated a lot of my time to work on the subjects of violence and politics of violence — both in the American and Indian contexts. I have worked against post-9/11 hate crimes on immigrants here in the U.S. and spoke and wrote extensively about them. I have written about gun violence and terror in America. I have continued working on the politics of social and religious violence in India and Bangladesh.
I have published numerous articles on the above subjects in various types of media and gave interviews to newspapers, radio, TV and online news outlets.
I did not say it only to support my credentials and expertise on these issues. I wanted to show you how passionate and dedicated I am — to analyze the various aspects of violence on one hand and create mass awareness on the other.
I hope in the coming days, I get your urgent help and support and share to eradicate violence and bloodshed and hurt.
I hope in the coming days, I get your urgent help and support and share to eradicate this new epidemic of rape and violence on women that is destroying the Indian society.
Death penalty is NOT an answer. In fact, it is counter productive to stop and eradicate this crime.
Just think about it: other than India, only a handful of socially backward countries practice capital punishments. These countries include USA, China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Even here in the U.S., states such as Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin have amended their own laws and abolished it.
The entire Western Europe and its most advanced countries, most of Latin America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and much of Africa have abolished death penalty, after serious and careful research and political and social movements on the ground. Here is a link to find out the countries with or without the death penalty (http://www.amnesty.org/en/death-penalty/abolitionist-and-retentionist-countries). The countries that do not have capital punishment have mass murderers and rapists too. In fact, just a year or so ago, an extremist terrorist — a white Norwegian — gunned down more than one hundred young boys and girls at a recreation camp in Norway. The convicted killer was not hanged on put in an electric chair: Norway abolished the death penalty long time ago.
I’ll give you more reasons why hanging a few criminals would not do anything to bring justice — either to the family of the young woman whose gang rape exploded India, or to address the horrible epidemic that is engulfing India.
PART 2. — THE SHAMEFUL SAGA
To understand the enormity of the problem and why we must address it as a plague, small pox or cholera-like epidemic, let us revisit the shameful, horrific situation of rape and violence on women in India.
I am quoting the following numbers from Outlook India magazine, their date of publication January 14, 2013. Their web link is here at http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?283458. (Accent mine). The information below shows how all-pervasive the epidemic has become over the years — encompassing all races, castes, religions, geographical areas, economic classes or ages. Just like any other epidemic, rape and violence on women in India have now impacted them ALL.
20 Horrific, Landmark Cases Up To December 2012
•1973: Aruna Shaunbag: A junior nurse at King Edward Memorial hospital in Mumbai, tied with a dog chain, assaulted and raped by a ward boy. She lost her eyesight and has been in a vegetative state since. Supreme Court turns down mercy killing.
•1978: Geeta and Sanjay Chopra were kidnapped for ransom in Delhi in the infamous “Ranga-Billa” kidnapping case. The culprits raped Geeta before killing them both.
•1982: Tulasa Thapa, a 12-year-old Nepali girl, was repeatedly raped before being sold into prostitution. Ten months later, she was brought to JJ Hospital in Mumbai where she died of brain tuberculosis and three sexually transmitted diseases.
•1990: A 14-year-old school girl was raped at her residence in Calcutta and killed by a security guard. Dhananjoy Chatterjee was executed in August 2004, the country’s first hanging since 1995. [Note: India uses capital punishment sporadically. Now, facing public anger over the Delhi rape case, both the ruling Congress Party and main opposition BJP are trying to amend the constitution so that rapists are also subjected to the death penalty. There is hardly any discussion now about the various aspects of the punishment.]
•1996: A 16-year-old girl was sexually harassed and assaulted continuously for 40 days by 42 men in Kerala. In 2000, a special court sentenced 35 persons to rigorous imprisonment but the Kerala High Court acquitted them in 2005. [Note: Kerala is a southern Indian province where education rate is very high, many people are Christian, and the society is by and large matriarchal — extremely rare in India.]
•1996: 25-year-old law student Priyadarshini Mattoo was found raped and murdered at her house in Delhi. Ten years later, the Delhi High Court found Santosh Kumar Singh guilty. [Note: it shows even in the very few cases where there is an ultimate criminal conviction, the law and justice system drags on forever. On the other hand, in case of foreign nationals' rape cases — now more frequently than ever before — justice is served promptly.]
•1999: The estranged wife of an Indian Forest Service officer, Anjana Mishra’s car was stopped at a desolate place on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. She was gangraped in front of the friend she was traveling with.
•2002: A fourth-year medical student was gangraped at knifepoint on the terrace of the Khooni Darwaza monument situated on the busy Bahadurshah Zafar Marg in Delhi.
•2003: Shari S. Nair, a teenaged girl hailing from Kottayam, Kerala, was sexually abused after being promised roles in TV serials. Shari later died after giving birth to a daughter.
•2004: 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama was tortured and allegedly executed by personnel of the paramilitary force of 17 Assam Rifles stationed in Manipur, after being picked up from her house. (Below is a picture of the historic “Manorama” protest by Indian women in the nude — just to put it in perspective.)
•2005: 28-year-old Imrana was raped by her father-in-law in Uttar Pradesh. The village elders and Sharia courts nullified her marriage saying her husband was now her son.
•2005: A Delhi University student was gangraped by four men inside a car for several hours and dumped in south Delhi, unconscious and without clothes.
•2009: Two young women were raped and murdered in Jammu under mysterious circumstances, allegedly by CRPF (military) personnel. One of them was two months pregnant at the time.
•2010: A 30-year-old tech employee was raped by five men near her home in south Delhi. The woman was pulled into a mini truck, raped repeatedly and thrown out two hours later.
•2011: A nine-year-old mentally disabled girl was raped on a Mumbai train in front of five other passengers. The child could not scream or shout or speak because she was disabled.
•Feb 2012: A 37-year-old woman was gangraped in a car on Calcutta’s Park Street after coming out of a bar. Mamata Banerjee (Bengal’s current chief minister) had said the case was cooked up to embarrass her government.
•Dec 2012: An eighteen-month-old baby, the daughter of pavement dwellers, was found by her mother one morning covered in blood. Doctors said she had been raped and tortured.
•Dec 2012: A two-year-old was raped, allegedly by her maternal uncle, and thrown into a thorny bush in Baroda, Gujarat. She died after being taken to the hospital.
•Dec 26, 2012: A 20-year-old woman was allegedly gangraped by 10 people on the banks of Manimuktha river in Tamil Nadu, according to police.
EVEN AFTER the December 16 Delhi gang rape tragedy that has rocked India, the country has not seen any respite in the number and frequency of rape and violence on women. The following news from India’s NDTV tells the story. Link to news here (http://www.ndtv.com/article/india/three-rapes-in-punjab-sexual-assault-victim-dies-in-hospital-312578).
Amid nationwide furor over the gang-rape and murder of a paramedic student in Delhi, five fresh cases of crime against women were reported on Wednesday in neighboring Punjab, prompting the state police to constitute specialized investigation teams. [Note: this is how the news was reported — focusing on the state of Punjab.]
A six-year-old girl from Singhpura Munnan village in Moga district was raped, Senior SP (Moga) S S Grewal said. The accused Soni Singh took the victim to his place about 20 days back and raped her, Grewal said, adding that Singh had confessed to the crime about which police came to know only on Monday. The accused has been arrested, the SSP said. Medical examination of the girl confirmed rape.
In a separate case, an eight-year-old girl of a migrant labourer was allegedly raped and killed by a 25-year-old youth at Simbli village in Hoshiarpur district. Mehtiana police booked a youth, Sanjay Kumar, of district Purnia (Bihar). The accused is at large.
Both, Kumar and the victim’s family, were living at a farmhouse in Simbli village. On Wednesday, the girl’s body was found in nearby fields.
In the third incident, a 14-year-old girl was allegedly gang-raped by three persons at Talwandi Kalan village on the outskirts of Ludhiana city. Police Commissioner Ishwar Singh said that all the accused, aged between 28 to 30 have been arrested.
In another crime against women, three villagers were on Wednesday booked on the charge of teasing and beating up a woman of the same village. The accused Ladoo, Sonu and Kaka, all residents of Bassi Mustafa village were booked. The girl alleged in her complaint that while she along with her sister was returning home from work, the accused first teased her and then later thrashed her up.
In another case, police on Tuesday booked ten persons in connection with the alleged abduction of two sisters at Jalala village of Hoshiarpur district. The accused went to the victim’s home on the night of December 29 and allegedly kidnapped them, police said.
PART 3. — PROACTIVE AND REACTIVE MEASURES
To stop such an enormous, extreme and all-pervasive epidemic, we must address it in both proactive and reactive ways.
As we all know, proactive means measures taken before the fact — to prevent and to protect; reactive on the other hand means steps taken after the crime — to arrest and punish the criminals and provide medical treatment, health and psychological counseling for the victim and family, and at the same time create an economic safety net for the people who suffered.
We need to understand how to react when an act of terror happens on a woman. Indian middle class has shown that they are angry at how the criminals and their underworld connections have taken away any sense of safety and security from the women, they are furious how the people in power — including politicians and police — have miserably failed to protect the society and bring justice to the victims and their families, and at the same time, protected some of the well-connected, powerful perpetrators, and the vast Indian middle-class people are tired of the crocodile tears the rich and the powerful and the celebrities are shedding now, even when for decades, the same people have supported, promoted and glamorized the status quo where violence on women, police brutality on men, and pathetic corruption and black money and mafia connection have all become a part of the Indian society. Many of these powerful and rich people have exposed connections with corruption, violence, mafia and black money. In fact, before this violent episode broke out, Indian middle class was mobilizing movements against corruption — India's other catastrophic epidemic.
The Intel Education picture below charts the reasons behind a health epidemic and their interconnections. Let’s see if they make any sense to compare with the epidemic or rape and violence on women.
We are going to talk about just a few reasons and leave the rest up to you to draw your conclusions on. Further, there might more reasons that one can think of and include in this diagram to make it more meaningful and conclusive. In this limited space of my blog, I’m only trying to highlight some of the most important areas. Now, the criminals — especially in the Indian context — are often used and sheltered by the powerful people — business magnets, corporations, smugglers, hoarders, politicians, black money brokers, building promoters, police and such individuals and institutions. The criminals know about their protection and thus they unleash their violent acts freely, with little or no consequence to get caught or punished. If and when, by a stroke of bad luck on their part, they are caught and forced by the society to get punishment (as in the case of the Delhi gang rape), the same people who are in power and have protected the criminals — directly or indirectly — cry for the most severe punishment (death penalty in the Indian context) and quickest possible trials, because (1) they want to show (i.e., both the ruling party politicians and the opposition, in a melee of competition — touted by media) to the ordinary people on the street that they are able to provide the strongest delivery of “justice,” and (2) a quick trial and killing off the criminals eliminate any long-term investigation into the reasons behind the crime, connections between the criminals and people in power including police and military, and any scientific exploring of psychology and modus operandi of the criminals with planned use of the criminals to understand the process of criminality — to prevent similar crimes in the future.
Most advanced countries that abolished the death penalty routinely do the above type of research, but in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan or places like them, this discussion especially after such a media-acclaimed act of barbarism would be considered impossible and futile.
Plus, criminals under more fear of a death penalty or other life-threatening, brutal consequences meted out by the angry mob get the news: next time, they will make sure the victims do not survive to identify them. The sinister, powerful connections they have will also make sure the victims do not survive for the fear of getting exposed of their connections with the underworld. They will kill the victims first, and then, the criminals. Violence will recycle on and off the street.
The above are some reasons death penalty is so counterproductive and does not deter crimes. As we’ve documented in Part Two of this note, even after the December 16 gang rape followed by media explosion, there has been no respite in gang rape incidents across India. It is unlikely that hanging these rapists would put fear in the minds of other rapists and violent criminals. If anything, the future criminals will be even more violent as I indicated above.
Both the political power and their cronies are now crying blood for blood. Yet, at the same time, so many thousands of such barbarity — gang rape and other grotesque violence such as bride burning, dowry deaths, police brutality, military brutality, brutal beating of maid servants or child workers, mob lynching of a real or perceived street thief — violence absolutely commonplace in the Indian society — are practically unreported especially outside of the activist circles.
In a country like India, the poorest of the poor victim would be lucky if the people in power, politicians, business tycoons or police even listen to their complaints, let alone do anything about it. Every single day, out of the numerous unreported stories of violence and injustice on the poor and unknown, a few feature the newspaper, radio and TV — these “lucky” stories report how the poor victim banged their heads against the wall of justice, and then, how the big business magnet, political or movie celebrity or police commissioner graciously spoke and took “action.” Common experience in India is that out of a hundred cases of unspeakable injustice, maybe one or two ever get reported in the media or to the police — with a fraction of the one or two percent finding any sense of justice.
PART 4. HOW TO STOP THE RAPE EPIDEMIC IN INDIA: YOUR IDEAS
In this segment, I'm going to include some of the feedback I've received from friends and readers — some of them activists working on the ground both in India and here in the U.S. I'm also including my anecdotal comments side by side to make it a meaningful conversation. I hope I get more ideas and suggestions from you in the coming days.
I'm not including names of the writers here only because I have not asked for their permission to use their thoughts they sent to my Facebook page. I don't think it matters who wrote which comment: all of them are thoughtful. I want to keep writing about an all-inclusive, comprehensive set of proactive and reactive measures to stop this epidemic.
Friend #1 wrote:
Commodification of women has to stop and artists, poets, advertisers, movie makers need to become educators in a way, exerting their power to demonstrate responsibility in the portrayal of women, children, men's bodies as commodities on one hand whereas the right positive education through removing and rectifying stereotyping in text books (we had started some of that work ) from childhood and mindful education to adolescents esp. boys to understand the fragility of women's bodies and the natural difference of creation between men and women – posters, banners,punishment etc can go on – but to bring change our society needs to inculcate care as against violence -there are no shortcuts I'm afraid but the task though large is very much doable.
In fact much of the doings of the women's movement in the years gone by are responsible for creating this generation of young protesters who are not afraid to voice themselves and claim the streets.
Friend #2 wrote:
Partha- I am answering your question above on how to stop violence against women- we need to institutionalize the empowerment of women everywhere. When society as a whole frowns upon it rather than condones it, we will see it diminish.
She wrote again:
Society in India has institutionalized the abuse and marginalization of women there, Partha, and violence against women is no new thing- it has been with us throughout all of written history. We need to change the rules as well as follow the advice that others have given here.
Politically and especially ECONOMICALLY empower women- then you will see things change. Let's start economically empowering women by acknowledging that a woman's very real job of being a mother and running a household is not 'private' work that is worthy of no economic compensation. It is, as Oprah has stated many times, the most important job on earth, and in a world that depends on the monetary system for survival, it is a job that is deserving of dignified pay. We need to start acknowledging that 'women's work' is real work and that it should no longer pay slave wages. Then, maybe the men of the world will stop treating us as slaves.
Friend #1 wrote here:
Let us try to break out of the paradigm of weighing everything through economic value , the woman's role in society can never ever be compensated – let us think of happiness as the paradigm to be achieved as an example. Let women not have to measure upto the man's yardstick but reverse the paradigm – tilt the scales for a while before equalizing.
Friend #3 sent her thoughts:
Making short video clips of the different aspects of disrespect and its implication and reaching them out to the mass through MMS, television, community radio and also through NGO workers who has penetration in remote rural areas can be an option. Also I feel on personal level there should be more dialogue between the have and havenots. Lack of communication creates indifference and carelessness.
Friend #4 sent in his comments:
Start questioning and acting to change the cultural aspects that couches patriarchy at home. Second (if you allow) we need to take up community watch – ensure the beat cops/other cops/bureaucracy works by supporting those who need… this needs a strong community togetherness…
Finally, Friend #5 added in:
Passing and enforcing laws to protect girls and women is an important step. But the fact is education and culture must be addressed, worldwide, regarding the status of children, girls in particular and women to make the deeper and long-term change we all (writing here) desperately want. Politics, law and policy making are more immediate and central to more fundamental change. in my opinion.
In relation to some of the comments above demanding cultural shift in attitude toward women, I quote these lines from an American TV sitcom The Honeymooners. (Alas, U.S. media do not make such blue-collar, real-life shows anymore. Alice is the homemaker in the show. Her husband Ralph is a blue-collar worker.)
Alice: Let me tell you something. There's an old, old saying Ralph. "Man works from sun to sun, but woman's work is never done."
Ralph: (In a snooty voice) Good gosh!
Alice: You men just think you own this planet.
Ralph: Yeah but you women get your revenge. You marry us.
[From: A Woman's Work Is Never Done, The Honeymooners, Season 5, Episode 4.]
PART 5. ACTIONS NOW!!
In Part 3 of this article (please click here to read it — https://onefinalblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/how-to-stop-the-rape-epidemic-in-india-part-3-proactive-and-reactive/), we have a chart to show the reasons behind a biological epidemic and their interconnectedness.
Some of the reasons in that Intel Education chart are:
1. Extreme climatic conditions
2. Lack of timely medical intervention
3. Increase in population
4. Civic amenities
5. Epidemic control program
6. Govt. health policy
7. Increased awareness or interest
8. Absence of doctors
9. Role of NGO
I’d like draw a comparison between the above reasons (and there could be many more — feel free to add them to the list) behind a cholera-like epidemic and those behind the rape and violence on women epidemic. They are not the same; however, they are similar to various degrees.
I’m including some of the reasons off the chart here, replacing them with similar reasons behind the rape epidemic we’re discussing now, and suggesting some action plans to address them. The action plans I am suggesting, based on some ideas I received from friends and readers (see Part 4 — link here), are either proactive or reactive, or both.
Note that I am only suggesting action plans to address some of the problems outlined below. I invite you to suggest your action plans to address any one or all of the issues. I do not want to ever pretend that I have solutions for all of them.
I hope they make sense. Please comment and criticize.
1. Extreme climatic condition — replace it with extreme social climatic condition. — A pervasive culture where the society is extremely patriarchal and the powerful people in the society consider the woman is (1) inferior and never meant to be equal — due to religious and social doctrines plus archaic traditions and distorted history; (2) a dispensable commodity where her body and mind are subject of physical and emotional pressure as well as considered easy for sell and profit — Bollywood and market-mainstream movies and today’s rabidly pro-West corporate culture made it so; (3) too much speaking up for fairness, dignity and justice, which the powerful and deeply-entrenched consider a threat to their power, (4) therefore worth getting a lesson through various means of punishment including violence.
How do we act on the above? Both short-term and long-term actions are needed — proactive and reactive. Proactive actions are ordinary men and women and young peoples’ resistance against and rejection of the people in power — locally and nationally. What is happening now across India — big cities and small towns and no-name villages — must get support from a new kind of social and political force. This force will break down the iron wall of feudalism and patriarchy, and kick out the elite and the powerful. But it’s easier said than done: a section of Indian media is still not completely sold out, and they can be on our side.
2. Lack of timely medical intervention — replace with lack of timely social and political intervention. — As we reported before, thousands of rape and violence cases could either have been averted had there been a caring and efficient administration; timely and honest intervention would promptly apprehend and try the criminals, delivering justice. That would create a sense of security for the others who are vulnerable. Indian administrations have rarely done it; in fact, on countless occasions, a cruel and indifferent police, law enforcement and political leaders have either committed the crime themselves, or sheltered the perpetrators. This has greatly exacerbated the problem.
3. Increase in population — Nobody in the Indian administration talk about the catastrophe of a exploding population as if it’s not an important issue anymore. Other than its unbelievably dangerous health and environmental impacts, even the few and far between honest and sincere government and private organizations are terribly under-resourced, and civic amenities that ensure safety, security and a dignified living for women (and men) are simply absent.
4. Civic amenities — Police, protection for women, easy access for women and their families to government and law enforcement agencies and the legal system. Shelter and support for victims.
5. Epidemic control program — Control begins proactively at the schools, colleges and communities. Control begins at home. Control begins with equal rights and equal justice awareness where women are not treated as inferior or dispensable. Reactive measures include quick arrest, trial and punishment. DISCONNECT THE CRIMINALS FROM THEIR POWERFUL PROTECTORS. Reactive measures include social, political and economic support for the victims and their families so that they are not subjected to shame, ridicule and humiliation — common in the Indian society.
6. Govt. health policy — Replace it with government policy for women and violence. We force the government and other people in power and also media to lay out policies protecting women and keeping them safe from the pervasive attack of this epidemic. Just like health epidemics such as cholera, plague or small pox (or other disasters such as fire or terrorism) need well-designed, practical policies for prevention, this epidemic also deserves it. Force the government to discuss with grassroots organizations and social scientists, now.
7. Increased awareness or interest — Media, schools and colleges as well as religious institutions can play a big part to create awareness about this new epidemic. Media must fulfill their responsibility to work for the benefit of the society, and not just for profit by creating crazy sensation about the tragedy, after the fact. I want to repeat what I said before: Indian education system must create a new, modern curriculum where equality for women is a foreword for any textbook.
8. Absence of doctors — Replace with absence of law enforcement. In case of India, we might say: absence of honest law enforcement, lawyers, political and social leaders. It is time to overhaul the vile, corrupt and violent socioeconomic and political system of India. This is India’s Tahrir Square moment.
9. Role of NGO — Grassroots groups working in India and supportive groups across the world can come to seize the moment and make this new revolution — this new mass uprising against violence on women — a reality. Human rights violation in India should be used to pressure U.S. and European corporations and governments to DIVEST FROM INDIA, and put Indian market on a no-business list. Global economic pressure is one of the most powerful tools today to bring an end to such a horrific, gross violation of human life and dignity. Let us use it.
(To be continued…)