The gruesome rape and killing in Delhi in December last year had rightly set the nation on fire. The nation tried in vain to atone for the crime by show of unprecedented frenzy. But in its boiling anger the national mind did lose its balance and capacity for self-analysis. It flagellated itself; shamed its soul. The stentorian chorus led the mission to shame India, imaging the Indian people as misogynists on the whole. With the frenzy subsiding, is it not time to stop self-flagellating and start thinking? The world is asking whether India is a nation of rapists and killers of women. Only facts, not words, can answer this question.
With enthusiastic support from the Indian media, intellectuals and writers, the Western media almost made out India as a semi-barbaric society. An example. Libby Purves wrote in The Times UK that the Delhi bus rape should “shatter our Bollywood fantasies” of heady spirituality, adding that upright Europeans have ignored the Indian culture of “murderous, hyena-like male contempt”. What a certificate for a rising India that the National Intelligence Council of the US in its report released four days before the Delhi rape had predicted India to become one of the three world powers by 2030! An India crying in guilt had almost endorsed Purves. Fortunately for India, a Western woman writer, Emer O’Toole (The Guardian, January 1, 2013) intervened and tore apart Purves and her likes. Emer wrote that Purves and others pontificate, with a sense of cultural superiority, as if rape is something that only happens “over there”—read India— and something the ‘civilised’ West “have somehow put behind”. Emer pointed out that while the BBC reports, as if shocking, the statistics that a woman is raped in Delhi every 14 hours, which equates to 625 a year, in England and Wales which has a population 3.5 times that of Delhi, the proportion is four time larger: 9,509 against Delhi’s 625. Pointing out that The Wall Street Journal decries India for convicting just over a quarter of the alleged rapists, Emer says that, in the US, only 24 per cent of the alleged rapes even result in arrest, never mind conviction. How strange then is the report on India, she wonders.
Ten days later, even Emer’s data was found to be a gross underestimation of rapes in the UK. In an article in The Independent (January 10, 2013) titled “100,000 assaults, 1,000 rapists sentenced. Shockingly low conviction rates revealed”, Nigel Morris wrote: “Fewer than one rape victim in 30 expect to see her or his attacker brought to justice, shocking new statistics reveal.” ‘His’ attackers? Yes. In the West, women also rape men; a tenth of the rapists are women—something still rare in India. Nigel writes: Only 1,070 rapists are convicted every year out of 95,000 offenders according to the Office of National Statistics UK. As 90 per cent of the attackers were, like in India, known to victims, only 15 per cent victims complained—saying it was “too embarrassing”, “too trivial” or “a private/family matter”. While in the UK, a country which has less than 1/20th of India’s population, the total rapes top 95,000, the rapes in India in 2008, according to the report of the Central Statistics Office, Government of India, were far fewer—20,771. The US is similar to the UK. The reported rapes in the US in 2006 were 212,000. If unreported rapes are added, only 5 per cent of rapists ever spend a day in jail in the US (National Center for Policy Analysis US Report No. 229). One of six US women has experienced attempted or completed rape (Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault: Statistics). More than a quarter of college-age women reported having experienced a rape or rape attempt since age 14 (Kolivas, Elizabeth; Gross, Alan, 2007). This is not to say that, on the scales of the ‘civilised’ UK, India can tolerate 1.6 million rapes, or on US scale (including unreported rapes) it can accept 3.4 million rapes. This is to point out that even if the UK is ‘less civilised’ like India, its total rapes should not exceed 1,000. And even if the US is as ‘backward’ as India, rapes should not exceed 5,200 there. But in the UK, it is 100 times India’s; and, in the US, it is 65 times India’s. In Norway, the first ranking country in global Human Development Index (HDI), one in 10 women is raped (The New York Times, April 17, 2012). According to the BBC, rape per 100,000 population is the second highest in Sweden which is ranked 10th on the HDI scale and yet as the world’s best place for women! United Nations data shows that in Sweden the rape rate is 63.5 per 100,000. In the US, it is 27.5; but as more than four-fifths of forcible rapes in the US are not reported at all (National Crime Victims Research and Treatment Center Report July 2007), the effective rapes in the US will be more than 137.5 per 100,000! And what is the figure for India? Just 1.8! (See www.unodc.org documents on sexual violence). But, that rapes are far less in India is no matter of pride. It is a national shame even if a single woman is raped. For Indians have traditionally worshipped not only women gods, but women and girls in physical form as well, as gods. The contrast with the West is not to claim any cultural superiority, but only to point out how the Indian and Western writers who have written off India as misogynic have been blind to facts. And turn to the infamous case of four serial gang-rapes in two months in Sydney in 2000. It shook the world, but never made the Australians rapists in the eyes of the world.
More. Even gang-rape does not make news in the ‘developed’ West at times. Emer compares the gang-rape in Delhi with the gang-rape in Steubenville in Ohio in the US, where, in August 2012, a 16-year-old girl was dragged, drunk and unresponsive, from party to party where she was raped allegedly by members of a high school basketball team. Contrasting the brutal Delhi rape and death which spurred Indian civil society to its feet, causing protest and unrest, bringing women and men into streets, with the army and the states of Punjab and Haryana cancelling new year celebrations, Emer says that in Steubenville, sports-crazy townsfolk blamed the victim. But for a blogger Alexandria Goddard, now being sued, exposing it, followed by The New York Times four months after the crime, the US might not have noticed the incident at all.
Still more. The demeaning picture of India is an extension of the long-held view that Indian traditions had made women inferior, and even led to decimating its girl children. Is this true? Look at the facts. The gender ratio in mid-colonial India (1901) was 972 per 1,000; colonialism brought it down to 946 in 1951; modern India did it to a low of 927 in 2001. In 2011, it has improved to 940. And in the most traditional, therefore “backward”, Bihar, the gender ratio in 1901 was 1,061, that is 61 women more than men; as late as in 1961 it was 1,005. And now? 921! Urban India is lower at 924 to rural India’s 947; the ratios of the most modern Mumbai (822) and Delhi (823) are even less. The answer is obvious. The more modern India is, the fewer girls it chooses to have. Who then is to blame for declining sex ratio? Modernity or tradition? Will those who demean India introspect? Will they study the facts before commenting? Are they listening?
The rape record of ‘civilised and developed’ countries
44% of victims are under age 18.
80% are under age 30.
Every 2 minutes, someone in the US is sexually assaulted.
There is an average of 207,754 victims (age 12 or older) of
sexual assault each year.
54% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
Approximately 2/3 of assaults are committed by someone known to the victim.
38% of rapists are a friend or acquaintance.
Less than one rape victim in 30 can expect to see her or his attacker brought to justice.
About 1,000 rapists are convicted every year.
90 per cent of rape victims said they knew the identity of their attacker.
15 per cent went to the police.
Between 60,000 and 95,000 people are estimated to be raped each year.
About one woman in 200 has been a victim in the last one year.
1 in 38 major sex crime leads to a conviction for the offence.
2 years is the average time taken for a court verdict when the accused contests the allegations.
On January 24, 2011, a Toronto policeman, Constable Michael Sanguinetti, was speaking on crime prevention at a York University safety forum in Toronto, Canada. He said: “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this: however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.”
That misogynous comment sparked a protest that grew into a global movement. On April 3, 2011, over 3,000 women protesters walked to Toronto Police Headquarters. Although women were asked to dress in everyday, ordinary wear, many came dressed as ‘sluts’. The organisers, Sonya Barnett and Heather Jarvis, said: “We are tired of being oppressed by slut-shaming; of being judged by our sexuality and feeling unsafe as a result. Being in charge of our sexual lives should not mean that we are opening ourselves to an expectation of violence, regardless if we participate in sex for pleasure or work. No one should equate enjoying sex with attracting sexual assault.”
In India, the first ‘Slutwalk Arthaat Besharmi Morcha’ was in Bhopal on July 17, 2011; 50 attended. The next ones were: Delhi on July 31, 2011, and Lucknow on August 21, 2011.
The Common Misunderstandings
“If women really want to, they can always say no”
Many women do indeed say no, but rapists do not listen. Some resist physically and do manage to prevent further assault, others suffer greater injury.
"Real’ rapes are committed by strangers in isolated places”
Most rapes are committed by known men, and in a familiar or private space such as the woman or man’s home, a hotel room, at work.
“Rapists are sick or perverts or sexually frustrated”
There are very few rapists who, when convicted, are diagnosed as having a mental health problem. It is not sexual frustration that underlies their assault, but wanting power and control.
“Only certain types of women get raped”
It used to be thought that only certain ‘types’ of women got raped: women who were sexually active, ‘provocative’, or ‘victims’. In fact, women of all ages and ‘types’ are raped, including children and grandmothers.
“Most complaints of sexual assault are false reports”
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that there are more false complaints of rape than other crimes. And logic suggests that the proportion is probably less than say for theft, often used to support a fraudulent insurance claim.
“Women ask for it by the way they dress or their behaviour”
This argument suggests that women are responsible for sexually arousing men through their dress or ‘flirting’. Implicit within this view is the idea that men cannot control their sexual desires, and also that women should know this and adapt their behaviour accordingly.