I drive a long distance late at night quite often as my livelihood demands it.
In one such road encounter, I found myself being overtaken by a woman, speeding past me as if she was in a race against time. She pushed her scooter as fast as it could take her.
It was close to 3 am and she was the only woman on the road that moment, and I, unfortunately, the nearest man.
To add to our woes, my route coincided with hers and I found myself in the awkward place of trailing just behind her. She kept riding rather dangerously, in an attempt to keep well ahead of me.
At one point, I almost had the urge to accelerate, stop in front of her and tell her, I am not here to rape you, and please drive carefully.
Of course, that was just a whimsical thought in my head at that moment. And she probably wouldn't have appreciated it had I actually done that. But from what little I could gather at that moment, I can tell she was riding in a state of fear -- as would be the case of most, if not all, women in the country in her place.
If at that moment, any man had managed to sexually exploit this woman, the first question she would probably face is: “Why were you driving so late at night?...You should know better than to be out alone at that hour!". If she was dressed in something that was shorter than what society finds 'acceptable' then "you were wearing sexually provocative clothing" becomes a 'valid' response.
These responses try to validate the ludicrous idea that somehow the victim is responsible, to some extent, for the crimes of a man – who is actually the only culpable party.
Last year, I had a friend who visited the country for a period of six months to do an internship. Although an Indian citizen by birth, she has lived much of her life abroad. One day, while standing and traveling in a public transport (a Karnataka state transport bus), she found herself being felt up by a man -- not once, not twice, but thrice.
She told him to back off on all three instances, but he only did so on the third occasion. Then he actually moved on to the next target rather quickly -- her friend who was traveling with her. He brushed his genitals against her friend as he stood behind her.
The two girls that day didn’t suffer the fate of the Delhi rape victim, but they surely carry a mental scar for life.
What’s more scary is the thought that this is a common occurrence in public transports across the country for most women.
All my lady friends have horrible tales of their own to share. Tales of being felt up on the road by men who either walk past them or ride past them. Being felt up in crowded spaces, groped, and sexually scanned by men in the streets. I have walked with women and have heard men pass lewd remarks at them.
Women get ogled at, stared at and leered at across the country, and it’s an everyday occurrence.
I presume this, among a variety of other more severe factors, prompted survey groups to conclude that India is the worst country for women in the world. While the survey’s results may seem questionable to some, I suspect for many women in the country the results are not a case of contention.
On television, you find your movies portraying women as sexual objects and eye candy for men in item numbers. Rape is shown in the movies not as a social anomaly but as part of a villain’s intrinsic characteristic. Your B-grade, adult movies are full of the same thing too, sometimes even substituting the word ‘sex’ with ‘rape’ like it is the same thing.
You hear the word "slut" or "slutty" tossed around rather easily around women who are seen as being either promiscuous or clothed differently to what conservative Indians view as modest.
The magazines are full of semi-naked women. Some women even find being sexually objectified rewarding -- Poonam Pandey and Sherlyn Chopra continue to make the news for losing their robes. Page 3 is now no longer an exclusive foreign tabloid phenomenon. It exists here too, albeit without the total nudity.
The men are induced with this ethos everywhere and are subsequently conditioned and sensitized by it, sometimes subtly. Feminists already have a term for such a society -- they call it a 'rape culture'.
There is only a thin-line between "eve-teasers" and rapists. The attitude of both those kinds towards women is the same.
The thin line between them gets crossed sometimes, and when it does, a nation awakes and announces it cares. The Parliament roars and ministers shed tears -- but nothing significant comes out of it.
In 2004, around 40 Manipuri women were reported to have marched naked to mark a protest against paramilitary soldiers who were accused of raping, torturing and murdering a woman in Imphal. If a naked protest didn't awake a nation that day then a candle-light march today would result in nothing new.
In another instance, you have a mainstream Bollywood actor being accused of sexually molesting his maid. All these news stories highlight the fact that no one from any class or divide or educational background is seemingly exempt from being accused of rape. It can happen anywhere in India.
After any such rape incidents occur, a galore of knee-jerk responses follows. Castrations, death penalties are sought. But the frenzy subsequently deceases as the news moves on.
Castration and death penalty aren’t really solutions. They are not even good temporary solutions.
Singapore would claim it has wiped out its old drug problems, mass opium addictions from the days of the British colonial rule, through the strictest implementation of the harshest laws possible post its independence.
Anyone found even with 500 grams of cannabis is certain to face death.
But during my time there, I heard, through the grapevine, about common drugs still being distributed within the party crowd. Drugs are still prevalent among some youth circles which are connected to the island-state’s nightlife.
The existence of drugs in such a 'drug-free' state only stands to vindicate Plato's words: Good people do not need laws to act responsibly and bad people will always find ways around them. Gujarat is another example where complete prohibition of liquor doesn't translate to an alcohol-free state, as it still sees mass deaths due to consumption of illicit liquor. The state even ranks among the top pile in liquor consumption. They have since pushed for a death sentence for those that manufacture illicit liquor, if that works, then we'd know fear works.
Or perhaps in this instance, it is folly to assume that a criminal is always a rational being capable of dissuading himself from committing a crime when presented with the possibility of the heaviest penalty. Besides, research has shown that harsh sentences aren’t really good deterrents to stopping future criminals. So what does work?
Standard laws against rape already exist, but implementation is extremely poor in the country. But even if it was miraculously possible to place law enforcers in every junction to prevent every instance of rape, does the presence of law enforcers ensure the crime is always prevented?
A recent story out of Bangalore suggests otherwise. A Manipur woman was allegedly groped by a mob of men even as the traffic policeman stood apparently indifferent towards the crimes committed by the mob there and proceeded to manhandling the woman.
This question of law enforcement becomes a more pertinent issue when you consider the ramifications of a recent news story that places a cop as the prime accused in the case of sexually exploiting a rape victim.
If he is indeed found guilty, then here’s an instance of a rape victim getting raped on her way to register a case of rape.
Rape in India isn’t merely a law-and-order failure. It is a failure of culture. It is a reflection of the prevailing ethos of people, and until the mindsets change, little else will.
In September 15, 1963, after a dynamite blast set up by unknown anti-black elements killed four young black girls in a Sunday school at a Birmingham church in the United States, Martin Luther King Jr, as quoted in his autobiography, said: "We must be concerned not merely about who murdered these girls, but about the system, the way of life, and the philosophy which produces the murders".
In that same sense, I say, we must, as a nation, be not merely concerned with those who commit rapes, but about the philosophy and culture which produces these rapists.