The National Crime Records Bureau of India (2015) reports an alarming situation of sexual violence in India stating that on an average 92 women are raped every day. The situation in the capital New Delhi alone, as per Delhi Police, reports that the number of rapes has more than tripled in the last five years. In spite of several social movements led by feminists and public protests across the geography of India over the past few decades, why does the situation not weaken its roots? Instead, it only grows deeper.
It is common knowledge that patriarchy is by no means a recent phenomenon and is embedded in our religious and traditional beliefs as well as practices. However, what is deeply saddening is the increase in sexual violence in the recent past – and by increase, the reference is not just to the numbers but also to the horrific brutality of rape cases that flood our society.
How can we trace the footsteps of this terrible reality of rapes that surrounds us? We may not have to go too far. May be, it is just right here in our daily lives!
An Oppressive Notion of Entertainment
Jo dikhta hai wo bikta hai (What is visble, sells) but it can also be said that Jo bikta hai wo dikhta hai (What sells, is what is visible). With every new release, there is an ecstatic bandwagon screaming ‘We crossed 100 crores! 300 crores!’ and so on. Clearly, a lot of people spend money to watch these films. And what one is buying, is selling more! So what are these movies selling?
It is now common knowledge that Indian cinema banks on the formulaic success of including an ‘item-song’. ‘Item’ refers to an object a.k.a a woman whose bodily and erotic gestures have been used to provide entertainment. The derogatory content of these songs comparing a woman to butter, roasted chicken and what not is available at every nook and corner of urban and rural streets to be accessed by all age groups alike. Including item songs is only one of the ways in which Indian cinema presents the idea to the masses about what women need to look like, speak like, be like and do.
The immense dash of violence is clearly visible in the way behaviours like stalking and aggression are promoted. Anyone remember the scene from the ‘superhit’ Telugu movie Okkadu? Slapping a woman is shown as a way to show your protective love. Mahesh Babu, almost the epitome of Telugu cinema, especially for the youth, has surely done it more than once across his movies.
It’s not even always the hero who gets away with it. In Pulimurugan, the first Malayalam film to earn a whopping Rs 100 crore at the box-office, there is a running “joke” about a character played by Suraj Venjaramoodu trying to see women naked when they are taking a bath. This is supposed to be comedy and the character receives a sympathetic treatment in the film.
Then there are a whole bunch of Bollywood movies where the heroine of a movie falls in love with a kidnapper who begins his relationship by being violent to her in all senses. Hero, Highway, Bang Bang, Tere Naam… the list is endless!
just like the hairstyles, clothes and dance moves get aped by the masses, so does the toxic masculine behaviour.
Besides, stalking a woman to get her love has been a common theme in most 90s movies (who cares if the Khans do it too!), as well as movies like Raanjhanaa. Forcible acts of intimidation, marital rape, wife-beating are just other ways in which romance sparks between the hero and the heroine in Indian cinema.
I am not even getting started with how being a hero full of aggression, beating people, committing robberies, commenting on women’s bodies etc. achieves the most badass image and supposedly it’s a feel-good, do-good and be-good image! Reality check – this is what toxic masculinity is! And just like the hairstyles, clothes and dance moves get aped by the masses, so does the behaviour. And not just copied, but pasted, in our everyday life!
Also Read: Bollywood’s Tryst With Toxic Masculinity
Religion, Tradition and Violence
Everyday religious practices and beliefs ensure that the place of a woman in society is subordinate to that of a man, and that she is treated as an object. One such rituals is when in a Hindu marriage, a father is supposed to perform kanya-daan (kanya – girl, daan –donate) indicating that women is an object to be bartered between the father and the groom. This shows that objectifying women is not just normal but celebrated by men and women alike. Once a woman is the ‘weaker sex’ and is an object, the ground for violence is all set.
This is one of the reasons that lead to honour killings. These are killings in the name of ‘honour’, public thrashings and rape threats, controlling women’s mobility and choices; in effect, taking away the basic freedoms that the Constitution entitles us to.
Women involved in inter-faith and inter-caste relationships are tortured and coerced by not just their families and communities but also right-wing and fascist political parties. This is because the woman is seen not as a human being with her own choices, but as a vessel for the ‘honour’ of the family and the community, and therefore, must behave in strict accordance of family and community values.
Strict curfews, bans on using mobile phones, punishments on talking to men, policing women’s clothing, informing her parents if she is found being friendly with a man – these are just some of the “safety” rules imposed on women in educational institutions and workplaces that help maintain the ecosystem in which “honour” crimes take place.
the woman is seen not as a human being with her own choices, but as a vessel for the ‘honour’ of the family and the community.
Another form of violence against women that religion clearly legitimises is Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C). This comprises of all procedures involving partial or total removal of the female external genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO). In a study of the Dawoodi Bohra community across the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Kerala, it was found that 75% of the girls had undergone FGM/C, with a partial or total removal of the clitoris. One of the most recent instances of FGM mentioned in the study was in May 2017, when a 41-year-old woman was reported to have taken her daughter to the hospital because she was “bleeding so heavily [that] the blood had soaked three bedsheets”.
The justification given for genital mutilation is that it is a necessary rite of passage for womanhood! Firstly, who gets to decide when this ‘transition’ happens – the parents of 7 years olds? Or the community that sees the girls only as good as their reproductive value? Or the age-old beliefs of ‘violate her body and capture her for life’? From ear piercing at a young age to genital mutilation, this control over a woman’s body enables daily violence which is then the norm that nobody gets to question.
Honour killings and FGM/C are only two of the very ends of extreme violence that religion perpetuates. Acid attacks have emerged as a cheap and readily accessible weapon to disfigure and sometimes kill women and girls for reasons as varied as family feuds, inability to meet dowry demands, and rejection of marriage proposals within relatives and the same caste. There are of course a million rituals that violate a women’s physical, mental and social space – these are only a snapshot.
When those who must Protect, Rape!
Vrinda Grover, a prominent human rights activist made a powerful statement after the horrific Delhi gang rape in 2012. “If you’re a woman in distress, the last thing you want to do is go to the police,” she said.
The NCRB data from 2015 says that 95 cases of custodial rape were reported from UP, followed by two cases from Uttarakhand and one each from Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. And with this, UP tops this list with over 90% cases in the past few years. In June 2014, a woman was gang-raped by a police station officer and two constables within the premises of the Sumerpur Police station in Hamirpur district, Uttar Pradesh. In 2011, yet another case of brutal custodial rape occurred at a police station in Murshidabad District in West Bengal. She was also forced to prepare a false statement so that the police could walk free. In 2010, members of the police allegedly raped 4 tribal women by threatening to expose them as Maoists in the Baaluguda village in Vishakapatnam.
“If you’re a woman in distress, the last thing you want to do is go to the police.”
Violence by the army men against women in certain Northeastern states, is not just acceptable, but legal. An entire act – Armed Forced (Special Powers) Acts (AFSPA) provides immunity to the the armed forces from effective prosecution in non-military courts for human rights violations committed against women in the area with utmost brutality. But yes, ‘Seema pe jawan lad raha hai’ (Soldiers are battling at the border) is a layman sympathy stance that everyone around takes. Guess who else is battling at the borders? Women who are raped, whose children are killed, whose families are destroyed. “The Government of India sees sexual assault against women in the Northeast as collateral damage,” says Binalakshmi Nepram, founder, Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network. In the last 18 months Nepram’s organisation has documented 200 cases of violence against women in the region, of which 30% was perpetrated by defence personnel, she claims.
The duty to protect the society is placed in the hands of the police and other protection forces. But when it becomes usual knowledge that police officials, politicians and the army are involved in rape cases and other criminal offences, and yet continue to serve without any consequences, it becomes normal to assume that violence is acceptable and raising a voice against it is futile.
The Angry Young Man
The daily violence of physical or emotional kinds is visible from the way an employer rants at an employee at work, a driver engages in road rage for following or not following laws, a teacher scolds and beats up a student (corporal punishment got banned several years ago, but so what?!).
This everyday aggression is acceptable and is mostly the norm in the name of discipline, rules, rights etc. While these daily acts of violence can most often be attributed to the individual and given a psychological undertone, it is important to also acknowledge how the systems they function in, and how society continuously accepts some kinds of anger but not others.
It is indeed no rocket science to figure out that aggression and violence are the most desirable skills in a man, right from childhood. From ‘boys don’t cry’ to shaming non-violent man with ‘Choodiyan pehen rakhi hain kya’ (Are you wearing bangles?) to ‘Mard ko dard nahi hota’ (Pain is not for men), we have seen it all feeding toxic masculinity bit by bit.
We are a Monocultural society – That Culture is Rape.
Violence occurs in and around our homes on a daily basis. It is backed by culture, tradition, beliefs and religious practices. Further laws (or the lack of them) and agents of surveillance get together to ensure that such violence is legitimate. If it still doesn’t set in your mind, it is glorified through the blockbuster movies, and through the champions of Indian entertainment industry. With all this, if the rise of sexual violence doesn’t seem natural, what will?
Are we building a multicultural society? Probably not. The only culture we seem to be feeding, is rape culture.
Featured Image Source: CNN