When you wake up in the morning, ready to go about your day as a 21st century Indian woman, how do you feel? You have your voting rights since 1947, constitutional rights since 1950; things must be good, right? At least until you board a public transport and start fearing for your safety, even in broad daylight.
Earlier in 2018, a survey by Thomson Reuters Foundation declared India the most dangerous country for women. The country scored worst among 193 United Nations in the categories – Sexual violence, human trafficking, culture & religion (based dangers). Naturally, the results sparked off several debates, with people shocked to see countries like Afghanistan and Syria scoring better than us. However, even if the results do not portray a fair image, we know they cannot be very far from the truth.
Sexual violence against women
The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s “Crimes in India 2016” report revealed that the country recorded 106 rapes per day, 4 out of every 10 victims being minors. The report also says that in 94.6% of cases, the victims knew their perpetrator. Take a minute to let that information sink in. While the rape stats remain at an alarming high, the same cannot be said about the conviction rate. Only one in every four rape cases end up in conviction, according to the latest data available. Keep in mind that these figures are excluding the non-reported rape cases, as well as marital rape. Indian Law still considers the latter legal, or not rape at all. If you add cyberstalking, eve-teasing, acid attacks, molestation etc to these stats, the reality becomes too horrific to digest.
The culture of patriarchy & toxic masculinity
In a famous research report, Sarthak Rathod, a doctoral research fellow, interviewed 50 rape offenders. One convict had raped the same girl thrice, at different points of time, and said he would do it again once he got out. His words, as quoted were, “Get me that girl or hang me till death.” In another research by Madhumita Pandey, a 23-year-old rapist had been interviewed. The convict had raped a 5-year-old girl in 2010, saying she was “touching him inappropriately”. He believed, once he was released, he would marry her to set things right.
In cases like these, one falls short of words to say. How do you begin to reason with a mentality as toxic as this? While one believes he has some “property rights” over his victim, the other thinks he would “righteously” marry the girl. The problem is more deeply enrooted than it might appear. India, despite whatever progress we have made, remains a patriarchal country at large. While you give your girls lessons on being polite and forgiving, you are rearing a group of boys who don’t know how to take “no” for an answer. In many of the rape cases, the perpetrator believes it was the girl who led him on, or that she wanted it. That is when we are not even considering marital rape. Marriage, our culture apparently tells us, means lifelong consent.
Section 375 of the Indian Constituion, which defines the offense of rape, states that “Sexual intercourse or sexual acts by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age, is not rape”. In the process, the Constitution takes away a woman’s rights over her own body, giving them to her husband instead. Tell that to anyone who says patriarchy is a thing of the past.
In July 2018, India became the world’s 6th largest economy. We are also the world’s largest democracy, a democracy that grants us our fundamental rights, against exploitation, of equality, of life. And yet, these very rights are taken away by the society, and by men driven by their toxic masculinity. In times like these, how do we boast about the progress we have made as a nation? Women might have been given the right to work alongside men, but not the right to live a fear free life beside them. So, whenever somebody asks me, what is the worst part about being a woman in India?- I retort back with “What isn’t?”
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