India’s Daughters Don’t Just Need a Cultural Change

Facebook has been aflame with the documentary “India’s Daughters” where the filmmaker got unprecedented access to a convicted rapist who laid out exactly the way many Indian men view women. (The documentary has been banned in India, but, as is the case with most forbidden things, has immediately become the most sought-after piece of film on the internet. Follow this link if you still have not seen it.)

Celebrities like Javed Akhtar, Kirron Kher and Jaya Bachchan have taken to the air to express their outrage. I have not seen any of their speeches, nor do I have to. While I was in India recently, the lament was universal – cultural change must happen. The mindsets of people must change, whereby they learn to respect women and value their daughters.

The sad truth is that this call for attitudinal change has been going on for a long, long time. And there is no denying that much needs to be done in this regard. According to Wikipedia

In April 2013, Additional Sessions Judge Virender Bhat noted that the legal principle of reliance on the sole testimony of the victim had become “an easy weapon” to implicate anyone in a case of rape. Justice Kailash Ghambhir of the Delhi High Court stated that penal provisions for rape are often being misused by women as a “weapon for vengeance and vendetta” to harass and blackmail their male friends by filing false cases to extort money and to force them get married.

If our judges can believe this, boy, we have a long way to go.

And therein lies the problem. We do need the activism that has led to the expansion of definition of rape and the enactment of tougher laws, the activism that still continues to fight for marital rape to be added to the list. We do need to educate our society on the value of women. But while we are waiting for society to catch up, women will still be gang-raped and murdered.

Societal change is a generational, sometimes multi-generational, process. In the meantime what are our women and girls to do?

Let’s look at the statistics. The conviction rates for rape cases in India were 44.3 percent in 1973, 37.7 percent in 1983, 26.9 percent in 2009, 26.6 percent in 2010 and 26.4 percent in 2011.(Courtesy First Post). Not only was the conviction rate low to begin with, it has steadily worsened over the last few decades.

What’s the point of having better laws if they are not going to be enforced? Enlightenment begins at the courthouse.

Enlightenment also begins at the police station. The estimate of unreported rapes varies between 50% and 90% in India. Rapists are often people in power, at least relative to the victim. Rape is an exercise of that power, of strong over weak, of powerful over powerless. And the fastest way to do something about that is to transfer that power.

First, make separate cells in police stations, run by female officers trained in administering rape kits, supported by prosecutors trained in rape laws, that provide assistance and support to victims. These cells can even provide a level of anonymity till a case can be made against the perpetrator and should be able to provide safe houses for the victims once a case goes to trial.

Second, fast-track rape cases and cases of violence against women though the morass that is the Indian judicial system. If the initial processing has been handled well, these cases should be relatively simple to prosecute. Create a separate judicial panel that is well-versed in crimes against women in each state to adjudicate these cases.

Third, put stiff fines on eve-teasing, groping, and any other actions that are precursors to violence. Today’s eve-teaser gets emboldened when his actions go unpunished and he might well escalate to more aggressive behavior. The local thulla should have the authority to slap that fine and, if he is corrupt (a high likelihood) then he should be reported to the rape cell in the local police station.

A zero-tolerance policy and stiff and swift punishment has to be the first response to this crisis. Nothing signals our attitude towards these crimes better than how we treat the people responsible for committing them. And if it means, Justice Bhat and Justice Ghambhir, that some innocent men are going to be swept up into the system unfairly, well, at least they are going to get their day in court, instead of getting thrashed by a mob.





2 thoughts on “India’s Daughters Don’t Just Need a Cultural Change

  1. Mona Shaik

    I had too much anger and swore I wouldn’t comment directly about the documentary, because nothing said or written in anger ever is expressed intelligently. I’ve had time to digest it enough so I can at least articulate a semi-intelligent reaction.

    Of course, it was like eating at a deserted roadside meal on wheels, with a cook whose fingers were the dirtiest ever seen – you know you’re going to get sick, but there’s no other food in sight and so you eat it. Of course it didn’t digest. The emotions took on an anger all on their own, even while I was otherwise occupied, and caught a hateful virus of emotional diarreha.

    IN REGARDS to the actual video–
    What is highly alarming, more so (and how could can anything else be) than the cruel act is the bulls-eye (for them) perception that essentially the “male” advocate team’s holds and perpetuates. Those who took up the duty to defend the vial acts of cruelty, give freedom and approval for other male minds to join forces and support these actions.

    From a total 360, men like this, their caveman perception, drags (with feet-kicking), 50 years backward into time. Hell, it’s like whiplashing back to when men hunted in the wild jungle for food and the women kept their off-spring warm in that dingy cave.

    It’s been said that criminal attorneys have no soul, or rather, lost it, because of the nature of their profession. Bound by client/ lawyer privilege, they are gagged and forced by law to keep all tainted truths to themselves. Perhaps THAT concept is THE only plausible reason that those assumed mature and knowledgable, who competed for rank in law school against female colleagues, genuinely perceive the manner in which they believe women should be NOT SEEN OR HEARD in society.

    Wow. How many other men respectively concur with this caveman perception? On one hand, okay, after dealing with criminal attorneys myself, I can say — yes, ok, a criminal attorney’s duty is to defend to the max, at any cost, without any conscious, reflex or acceptance that a crime has been committed by their client. But attempting to sell themselves as a psychologist or a philosopher is beyond any natural mankind comprehension. The flower in the temple Vs the gutter association felt like my intestines were forcefully digesting bits of glass.

    It’s starts young, my friends. At a young age. Mothers and fathers, all influential people that surround young minds. Someone made it ok for ALL OF THESE MALES, including any advocate in support or justification, to think like this and to literally believe and act on those values. And that’s where the root of the problem is. What really should have been on trial is their perception.

    Hanging. Lethal injection. Beheading. None of it means anything if the punishment can’t/couldn’t change the perception that initially made these men to do what they did, and for their advocates to support and promote their ill perception.


  2. Roshni

    It’s just sad that a grave social issue like this is constantly being airily dismissed. What was the difference between the rapist’s statements and what so many Indian politicians and khap leaders have said over and over again?!!



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