Because they can (Why are women in India being sexually harassed with horrifying frequency?)
I’ve been debating whether I should lend my voice to the sea of angry voices swelling up in light of the Bangalore mass molestation (yes, that’s a term now) case. I toyed with the idea of coming up with a nice “hook” to start off with. One of the cornerstones of good writing is getting a potential reader’s attention within the first paragraph. But I’m going against the grain on this one. There’s no way to lighten the mood here, no witty one liners or hard hitting quotes. Just an honest question:
“Why are women in India being sexually harassed with horrifying frequency?”
I wrote about this five years ago when the Guwahati incident shocked the world. At the time, I thought I had a good idea as to why something like that would happen. Turns out I was only partly correct.
There are a bunch of factors that go into making a “sick” society. For the particular brand of illness that manifests itself in India, it’s a heady mix. Religious conservatism, illiteracy, inherent casteism, sexual repression, objectification of women in mainstream entertainment, ridiculous laws etc, etc. But the real reason, the primary cause of this disease, is quite simple:
Absolute lack of accountability.
From a strictly legal standpoint, sexual harassment and rape are crimes. They carry hefty legal penalties. Imprisonment and in certain cases even death. One would think that the threat of execution would be enough to stymie the actions of a pervert. It would, if there were any chance of him being caught. The pervert does what he can, because ultimately, he knows he will get away with it.
Every other reason still has a role to play. After all, notwithstanding genetic anomalies, it still takes certain conditions to create a sexual predator. Let’s go through them (very briefly) in turn. And yes, I realize that the psychology of a criminal of this sort is way more nuanced than a short blog post can do justice to, especially coming from someone who has zero experience in criminal behavior beyond watching crime shows on TV. There’s a reason I’m shelving this as “opinion”.
Sexual repression. It doesn’t take a genius to see the links here. History, literacy, culture seem to have little effect if the very “idea” of sexuality is demonized or otherwise curtailed. It doesn’t matter if the subject is an adolescent boy in downtown Riyadh or a 50 year old bishop in Boston. Repressing sexual desire by any means is a common factor driving deviant sexual behavior. But that alone isn’t enough. Saudi Arabia might just be one of the most repressed countries in the world, but you don’t see gangs of men preying on women out in the open. It is still a hell hole for women (stoning till death is still legal punishment for instance) but the “gang up in public with the world watching” kind of sexual assault is not what happens.
Religious conservatism. No need to waste much time with this one. Suffice it to say that the cause for most sexual repression has its roots in religion. You won’t see many atheists convicted of honor killings.
Literacy is a good marker for how “advanced” a nation is. Though I’d like to substitute “literacy” with “education” here. Basic “literacy” does little to actually educate. Anyone that’s gone through a typical CBSE school will know exactly how much the average student is educated about sex. Good parenting would act as a buffer but in many cases the average teenager in a metro city today knows more about sex than his/her parents do. I wish I was joking about that.
Cultural conditioning. Oh boy, what a quagmire this is. I’m going to club this with “casteism” because regardless of how hard chest-thumping, anthem-singing, flag-waving patriots want to delude themselves, India is still very much divided on the lines of cast. So much so that it is a part of our culture. And it shows in the way we treat the underprivileged. Whether it be the delivery guy, the security guard or the domestic help, we are conditioned to dehumanize them from the get go. What does this have to do with women? Well, the simple fact is that when one is trained to have a “hierarchy” of social status to the point where dehumanizing someone becomes effortless, the net result is always going to be disastrous. Women may not be out right dehumanized but they certainly end up “meaning” less as individuals. Even in the domain of entertainment, Bollywood does a bang up job of straight-up objectifying them (though to be fair, this seems to be a global phenomenon). Oddly enough, even in cases where there’s a violent backlash against violating a woman’s “modesty” (a term which exists purely as a patriarchal construct anyway), it’s got little to do with the rights of the woman herself. Rather, its the affront to the male that effectively “owns” her that initiates the response. This may be dismissed as typical patriarchy but with the context of casteism , the effect is even more pronounced. If you need more evidence, there is always the trusty ol’ matrimonial section in every leading national daily. Often, it is hard to tell if people are looking for brides, or for cattle.
Given all of the above, there is one essential element that can still save a society from cannibalizing itself. Law and order. Respect for the former and implementation of the latter. Both of course, do not exist in India except as a thin veneer over a rotting mass. It’s shocking to see just what sort of effect this has on society. In many ways, it’s a “top-down” trickle. When the law makers are in effect, immune from the very laws they create, it’s hard to give either any sort of respect. When the state Home minister blames the victim, when creatures like Abu Azmi can continue to make statements like he does and not face any real consequences, it’s not just disrespect, but open disdain. I’m not sure what’s more disgusting: the fact that these mammals breathe the same air I do, or the fact that their views guarantee them a career in public office. In any sane society, these sort of views would be tantamount to political suicide. Here, it’s just good politics. It makes the “senselessness” around us make perfect sense. The rampant corruption, the blatant casteism, the sheer religious bigotry, the ridiculous pollution and yes, even the rapes.
One couldn’t come up with a more perfect breeding ground for future rapists. If I were writing a book about a world gone mad, about a nation that serves as an assembly line for potential criminals, I do not need to plumb the depths of imagination or risk staring into the abyss. I need only look out my window.
Forget Gotham city, this is the nightmare I’d create.
Why do perverts get away with harassment? Many reasons. But really?
Because they can.