Rapes have their roots in cultural and sociological reasons

Even before our collective conscience had composed after the horrific incident of December 16 last year, it was confronted with yet another battering. A five-year-old child had been raped and the assault this time was more severe, more painful, and more sordid. Our conscience yet again surged in anguish.  We came out on streets.

TV channels screamed. Newspapers wrote endlessly. We blamed police inaction. We lamented the system, blasted political class, rued weak laws. As the culprit was arrested we yet again pinned our hopes on the judiciary, which shall make sure he too is booked expeditiously, and justice prevailed. 

However, like last time and several other such incidents later, we once again failed to address a fundamental social question  – who are those who are indulging in this disgraceful crime, and why? Is there something our collective conscience can do to address this why, and in the process perhaps attempt to eradicate the root cause of the problem?

The prime minister came close to pointing at this when he said on Sunday, April 21, “The gruesome assault on a little child reminds us of the need to work collectively to root out this sort of depravity.” But he failed sort of spelling out the how. Leaders, celebrities, columnists and people in general have spoken at length on the need to enhance safety and security of women, yet we have failed to spell out the how. We have failed to explore the deep-rooted sociological and psychological dimensions of this evil, which has persisted for decades.

Classical theorists including feminists sociologists have focused on gender inequality, hypermasculanity, urbanism, economic inequality and unemployment as the reasons that trigger sexual violence. There is also a balance of power theory that categorises rape as an expression of power differentials in society – when men feel they are losing power, they need to overpower women to reestablish a sense of control over the world.

While these factors have been analysed at length, there are some other critical issues that are worth looking at. Most of the discussions on rape have focused largely on law and order, systemic lapses and need to bring in harsher legislations. The cultural and sociological reasons have often been relegated to academic drawing rooms. There may be a compelling need to take a deeper sociological view of the issue and attempt at locating solutions around that.

Sociologists would like us to explore if rape cases are rising due to some social and structural realignments of values and norms. Are there forces which are bringing in a systemic degeneration in our socio-cultural fabric? They would also want to learn if there is something we could collectively do to challenge these forces within our social institutions to effect a larger, more enduring change?

Gender insensitiveness

The very idea of the so-called cheer women leaders in the midst of the IPL fury is representative of the popular culture’s gender insensitiveness. Rather than have women dance in forced delight on every fours and sixes, why can’t we have four and six balloons blowing out of the field every time a masculine shot is made! Or could we have male cheer leaders at women’s world cup?

The soap operas do little to help us get out of this stereotype of masculine hegemony. A string of stories on Indian television depict a culture of conflict within homes and display growing deviance. The statistics of National Crime Records Bureau on rape cases reveal the rising trends over the past few years – from 20737 cases in 2007 to 24206 cases in 2011, a period which surely has seen more forceful and colourful popular culture constructs – more TV sops, films, songs and rise of varied medium of dissemination of these images. Compared to 1971 when NCRB started to record the crime, we have seen a surge of over 800% in cases of rape!

The Government of India has started to contemplate banning of porn sites after a recent Supreme Court response to a petition which said pornography sites were fuelling offences against women and girl children. There are various other social and cultural norms and ideas that need to be challenged in a more holistic manner. Like newspapers have regulated themselves and flourished with elegance while immensely contributing in building a robust society in last 250 years of their existence in India, we need to create a mechanism to modulate the tone and tenor of popular culture.

Other than weighing with ways and means of blocking porn sites on the Internet which cause crime against women as per the SC petition, the government will also need to review its methods of ensuring sanity in popular culture. Cinema, cricket and soap operas will have to play a more responsible catalyst for social change and cohesion, than perpetuating orthodox stereotypes and fuelling deviant behaviour. Cinema, cricket and soap operas will have to learn from the robust history of newspapers. Our collective conscience will have to question the content of the popular culture.

Could we possibly address these more deep-rooted and fundamental sociological questions and collectively resolve to challenge them? Could we take a tortuous, long-drawn yet sureshot way of eradicating a scourge in our society. Could our collective conscience take collective wisdom to a new level? If we don’t now, our efforts would be too smart by half!

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