Here’s a simple answer to why India is so unsafe for women.
The way we define rape is wrong.
1. Rape for many Indians is – ‘sex with the forbidden woman’.
2. Many men (and women) have no understanding of Consent (by women)
3. There is no effort to talk or understand – ‘Violation of a woman’s autonomy and bodily integrity’.
4. Most Indians can’t imagine (or understand or tolerate or permit) women owning their own bodies or their own sexuality.
1. A woman’s consent is seen as given (to her husband) by the society/family once she has been ‘married off’ (which is why marital rape is not a crime)
2. And if a woman is not married, then her Consent is seen as immoral, shameless, deserving of punishment via killing, sexual assault or violence, boycott etc.
Women’s safety for many Indians is ensuring they remain ‘pure’ (sexually inexperienced) till they are married.
And the biggest concern in case of violent sexual assaults for many is – to ensure that the survivor’s identity is not revealed. Why? So they can pretend the crime never happened, which is essential for the survivor (and her siblings and cousins) to be ‘married off’.
So, when we are fighting for women’s safety – what exactly are we fighting for?
‘The recent research by Rukmini S of The Hindu, on rape trials in Delhi, found that some 40% of rape charges were filed by parents of girls who had eloped consensually with a boy, very often from another caste or community.
In these instances, ironically, the girl experienced violence – abduction, confinement, beatings – at the hands of her own family, rather than at the hands of the alleged ‘rapist’.
And the violence may be at the hands of the State too. Policemen routinely abet the family’s violence towards such women. And in one instance studied by Pratiksha Baxi in her recent book Public Secrets of Law: Rape Trials in India, a woman who had eloped to marry by choice, was jailed for abetting her own rape and abduction.’