A different perspective on sexual assaults on women in India

After recent much-publicized incidents of molestation and khap panchayat fatwas, there have been a lot of discussions, finger-pointings and public outrages. Obviously accused will be punished, but the everyday incidents, which do not get much publicity, will remain unaffected unless we dispassionately discuss and find solution to the problem of “sexual assaults on women in India”. For that to happen, we have to look at the issue as a social phenomenon, not as a problem of an individual. We have to put away our rage and look at individual manifestation as a symptom of deeper social problems. Demonizing all men as perverts and whole Indian society as patriarchal society having sick rotten value can take us nowhere. So, lets go into the basis of the issue.

Every society has some moral values which are based on the history and the environment of that society. We must be very clear from the onset that no value system or morals are right or wrong. Righteousness of value system depends on the place of that particular society in time and space. Nobody has right to say that his/her moral values are purer than somebody else. I would even go to the extent of saying that even a cannibal is morally correct in his/her position, if he truly believes in those values. Second peculiar thing about value system is that it changes with change in technology, but the process of change in value system is very slow, compared to pace of change in technology. In the mean time there exist two sets of value system in a single society. India is going from one of those changes.

As all of us know, the empowerment and sexual liberation of women is not in tune with the traditional value system. So people holding traditional value system see a modern woman as a delinquent. This view, typically found among people born before 60s, is cause of tacit and even vocal support of larger society to the incidents of sexual assault on a modern woman. Society always finds mechanism to punish delinquents, by enforcing laws, by mob behavior or by social comments. I will emphasis on the point that, in my opinion, there is nothing wrong in their value system and they have every right to protest against the supposed delinquent. Law can not, and at-least society will not punish anybody who seems to uphold the value system of society. So intelligentsia of society, which is not more than 5% of total population should forget that larger society is going to oppose these acts any time soon.

You will hear many say that society which worships Durga/Saraswati treats its women so badly. But these comments are with no theoretical basis, because the society which worships durga doesn’t find modern women fitting in its idea of a proper woman. That is why you will find a minister supporting diktats of khap panchayats in UP, people not coming forward to help a girl who is molested by crowd for drinking alcohol in Asom, or any aunty in your neighborhood telling a girl not to dress provocatively. This view of society may change with the changing time and meanwhile we can not blame people for their attitude, because they are just being good citizen, following their value systems and doing what is right in their opinion. In moral science, intent to do right thing is more important than content of that deed. So the society is going to face this tussle until a value consensus is developed on social issues. Education can play an important role in changing that attitude. But confrontation should be avoided with older lot, if we can, over such issues in our already divided society, because as I already said, nobody is right or wrong, they just have different values. Read an incident based on kissing in public issue here

After the above analysis, mind asks, if social delinquency of modern women is the main cause of sexual assault then why so called traditional women face these problems. In modern indian society men have created an image of perverts for themselves. Touching woman bodies in buses, leering after women in public places, frequent sexual advances in offices and heavy popularity of item songs are some examples of such behavior. If we think about root cause of this problem, then mind wanders to a deeper problem of value-system mismatch in modern indian society.

Before going deeper in sociological analysis of “growing sexual assaults on women in India” I would like to narrate an interaction I had with an auto-rickshaw-wallah in Delhi. I was going from IIT Delhi to Greater Kailash to meet one of my friend 2 years back. This auto-wallah had a picture of Lord Shiva on one side of his speedometer and that of Gandhi on the other side. I have a habit of talking with auto drivers when I find something interesting in their auto. So we have had a discussion about religion and Gandhi and all kinds of moral issue. You know how knowledgable and moral a man on streets of India really is, about worldly affairs.

When we were passing from Saket, there was a group of young girls, wearing short skirts, talking loudly, having fun. They passed in front of auto, when it was standing at a red light. The auto-driver abused them, calling sluts and other related words. When I questioned and requestioned his morals on this issues, he admitted that main problem was that he sees sexually attractive females everyday, but as he was living away from his wife, he has to control his sexual urges. This deprivation leads to frustration against those females unconsciously. I appreciated his honesty. Few weeks later, if my memory didn’t fail me, I saw his name as the accuse of a rape case in newspaper. I support whatever punishment court grants him, but I somehow felt sadness for him at that time.

Let us consider two paradigms here. In traditional indian system, age of marriage was just after attaining the puberty, ie 13-14 years. So the value system dictates that there shall not be any pre-marital sexual relation and prime importance was given to virginity and modest behavior. There was very less spatial mobility, so people lived with their spouses whole life. In modern western system age of marriage is 25-30 years. So the value system allows sexual relations before marriage. But in modern indian society we are seeing hotchpotch of the two systems. The age of marriage is raised due to career orientation and awareness about safe motherhood. But the value system still frowns upon pre-marital sex. This has created an army of sex-deprived individuals among 15-25 age group. They may subscribe to modern value system or they may not; but in order to follow basic instincts, they indulge in heinous acts of sexual assaults at the first possible opportunity.

According to a newspaper report less than 25% urban and less than 15% rural people experience pre-marital sex in India. Like right to food and water, denying a person right to sex, when his/her body demands it (after age of 15), is a gross violation of human rights. On top of that, socially imposed guilt in pornography and masterbation makes life difficult for a large set of people. These are the people who talk about liberation of women but indulge in sexual harassment if given any chance.

Males and females, both experience such deprivation, but stringent social restrictions and physical structure of human body makes rape by a female far less likely. The society should provide for right to sex to every human being above 15 years age to curb problem of sexual assault. Punishing a deprived person for act of stealing or looting that thing reminds me of Amitabh Bachchan movies. Here individual is not at fault but social structure is. Only new social structure, not any law, can take care of this situation. Some genius mind in pre-historical times invented concept of marriage and monogamy to provide sexual gratification to everybody in society. Same kind of innovativeness is needed in new social setup.

After analyzing social and psychological premises of sexual assault, we can go one level deeper, to biological problem of sexual assault. The question why only males are culprit of such malice in every society, has an evolutionary answer.

Thousands of years of hunting-gathering, agriculture and even manufacturing has put women in a disadvantageous position physically. The mothering role confined them to the household and male took charge of physical work. But with the advent of service society, physical attributes and mothering roles are no longer a handicap for women and it has put male-female on equal footings. The respective physical changes corresponding to service society will happen in thousands of years, till then males are going to face an increasingly tough task of controlling their stronger bodies and hormones. They have to adopt and blend into the new rules of the game. Ofcourse transformation is going to be turbulent, but none-the-less necessary. Meanwhile society has to answer one more important question of how to share responsibility of raising our youngs in new social setup where males and females are doing same kind of jobs on equal footings.

If above article in any way seems to suggest that I am supporting sexual offenders, then I must make it clear that I whole-heartedly support most stringent punishment, according to law, in these cases. My point being that although women are obvious victims of this value consensus crises, but men are not having too much positives either. As a social scientist, the responsibility lies on us to create new value system which is good for all members of society and to create such society where an individual is not punished for the wrongs done by social system. Social structures and social values decides to a large extent our acts. The mismatch between official laws and unofficial feelings can give birth to many more Guwahati incidents. If we want a change and want to move away from this situation, then we must create a new value system which is not necessarily western, which takes its cues from everything good that exists in any society. Open discussions without naming individuals can be a positive start. We are living in a turbulent time, lets not loose hope.

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45 thoughts on “A different perspective on sexual assaults on women in India

  1. Really, a bold article .
    But, I don’t understand one point: If nothing is right or wrong, what about the inner voice,which always tells the truth. Which reminds us atleast once, before doing any wrong deeds. View is purely personal, might be wrong.

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  2. nice blog.. another point i might add is different rate of development in society… while one minor but very vocal section has grown rapidly with globalisation, a large part of society remains untouched…Read more ..

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  3. Chakresh. Thanks for the intellectual talks. But I give you a challenge. And trust me I am not mocking you or anything like that. Just a simple challenge. Write another article like this, imagining that you belong to the gender which is being ill-trated (though “ill-treated” would be seriously under-rating the actual situation). Please write another article, if you can, with the same enthusiasm you have written this article. Come up with it, imagining what I have said, and that would give you an insight to what actually is, a bit of it, and if it doesn’t, then you havn’t imagined well. I don’t want any answers from you, I am not arguing with you either, just write the article I am asking for. Thank You.

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  4. My opinion of a morally upright society is one which does not feature exploitation. Yes, every society has its share of exploitation, thus all societies are in a way moving towards betterment or depravity. To say “according to our time and place in history we are correct” is to defeat that purpose. Thus, saying every society and value system is correct in its own is to belittle all the reforms that were done to improve it. Satee would be correct then, as would be untouchability, antisemitism and apartheid.

    Chakresh, I find it shocking that you base your defense of sexual assault on how “denying the right to sex is a gross human right violation”. You claim that in our society masturbation is a taboo and thus people move towards sexual assaults? Really? If in a society sexual assault is a lesser taboo than masturbation then that value system is rotten. Blaming it on “they are not getting any action” is just a way to act as an apologist. What makes you think if society “allows” them to have sex, they will get to see more action? Your assumption is based on the premise that boys and girls are willing but just have fear of the society. I would say in majority of the cases, the rapist and the victim didn’t even know each other.

    How do you explain such contradictions: “Demonizing all men as perverts and whole Indian society as patriarchal society having sick rotten value can take us nowhere” and ” In modern indian society men have created an image of perverts for themselves” and ” Social structures and social values decides to a large extent our acts”. You begin by saying criticizing social values will not take us anywhere and men are not perverts and end by saying just the opposite?

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  5. I find it interesting that people are finding it ‘interesting’. Anyways, the thing is, am I getting any reply from you Chakresh, to what I have asked for?

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  6. Liked the objective approach to the problem with investigating the problem step by step.

    As a solution to the sex-deprivation, co-education seems to be the best solution. Many of us have never (or rarely) met/talked to a girl in almost 25 years of lifetime. The co-education will make males feel that girls are not some alien species and by means of friendship they will get to know the female point of view on moral/modernization/western outfits etc.

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  7. @Rahul Khanna I am not claiming to be unbiased. I am a male and hence my value system is going to affect any analysis or opinion that I put forward. You said that I should write same article assuming I am a woman. Ofcourse, I can’t do that.Read more ..

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  8. Badhiya sirjee. You have raised some pertinent points and have gone into the root of the problem rather than playing the blame game which everyone is fond of playing.

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  9. So basically Ogburn’s ‘cultural lag’ you are pointing out.I agree to a large extent.

    Can you please give your e-mail ID,I have some query regarding preparation.

    Thanks.

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  10. Okay. Here are a few bits from my side

    If you say that in traditional Indian system the age of marriage was 13-14 years, then I would say that what is the starting point of that traditional system. As per my knowledge those were the developments of medieval period. If we go beyond that then we find that the traditional system recommends that a person must enter into Griastha Ashram only after he has attained 25 years of age. Till then he should devote himself in acquiring knowledge and practice celibacy.
    Again in all the marriages happening at the age of 13-14 years, gauna or vidai was not taking place simultaneously and it used to take place after 3-5 years. But, still I think it provided a considerable deterrence to the people entering into a relationship outside marriage.
    You have given a pertinent example by taking the example of the auto-driver, how sexual frustration coupled with provocation leads to the cases like rape. The reason of provocation might be the manner or behaviour of the women or way in which the dress. Since Indians are deprived a lot hence they get provoked easily. But again these things are not something indigenous to India only. For example the slutwalk campaign which originated in Canada after a policeman complained about the attire of the women. It is understood that the people there are not as deprived as here but somewhere the causes of rape and molestation are considered to be the same.

    In the article you have analysed the whole thing only from one issue that is sexuality. What are rape and molestation? They are not an act of sexual activity rather an act of violence. Violence targeted against women mostly. In the contemporary modern era, presence of women is everywhere and they are now sharing the public space which was so far occupied by men only. The thing is that the women also would have to face the same problems which were faced by men only till now. We may have witness such cases where a group of people are beating someone mercilessly, though we might not know whose fault it actually is. How many people come to rescue of such poor man. Earlier such atrocities were limited to men only because they were the one seen in public space but now women are also facing such things. An act of violence against women often takes the form of assault, molestation and rape. People didn’t behave as saints earlier so we cannot expect them to behave as saints now when the person in front of them with whom they have an issue with is woman.

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  11. BTW, sirjee you people have become part of the service so you should keep silence and learn to tell a lie. See how the people who try to put the onus on women as well (in Hyderabad) and make an honest remark are chided by the Govt. and media. The recent case is the transfer of the SSP of Guwahati.

    Genderly Incorrect (please don’t mind): Alka Lamba is one hot woman, I wonder how she got the position in NCW. 😀

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  12. You have wonderfully tried to conceal your narrow views in sociology jargons,but unfortunately they are peeping out. yeah all that tradition value mismatch technological change blah blah is there in every coaching class notes so that didnt impress me.. implicitly or explicitly you have justified sexual crimes. you cannot and should not write an article from a female point of view,its a disgrace. And would you have had the same feelings for the auto walla had it been your girlfrnd or relative who was the victim? if yes, i agree you wrote it as a “social scientist” (whatever the hell it means). What was actually expected, the solution part, you lamely put forward education and slow changes.. and if education does any good, your wonderful background should have made you a better person by now,with a little more considerations towards those who have to suffer because of d different “values” (the animal instincts) . no offence.

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      1. they think they can get away with it. as simple as that. enforce law and order machinary, patrol vehicles frequecy shud increase after evening hours(siren is enough to make ppl feel police exists), give NCW more teeth, spcl tribunals for crime against women and with a time frame for justice (and a short one), involve media and those brought to book must be publicised just as every petty crime is (this would increase faith in system), all the legislations which exist must be widely publicised especially at public places and government institutions in at least two languages and visual if possible…there are hundred more things ki can write but i have others things to do. in short: they are giving “education” since long, its time to give justice. and please..there are better topics to show sophisticated manners coated on the very premises it makes the propoganda to be against. i hav no personal grudges or frustrations if it appears to be so. its an honest review. take it or throw it.

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  13. First its not a sociological analysis,its a construct of your mind…which needs to be cleared.
    Just because you are in a certain age when your body is sexually active and you are deprived and frustated doesn mean you a rape a women and then justify stringent punishment.
    Its particularly this mindset which is the cause of the problem women are not things to be used or objects of desire to please you as you would want and be victims when you are frustrated…
    and on top of that you deny the righ to judge right or wrong.People who do such pevert acts are well aware that what they are doing is wrong and unacceptable so there comes no point in defending them.If a society is at a stage of transition it doesnt mean it has to be in chaos.”Right to sex” – which society of this civilized world has this right…god you live in a world of your own.And yes on your sociological study of god and morality and the link between the auto wala and his practical needs—let me tell you by worshipping god you dont become believers divinity doesnt instill you with morality…
    I am no feminist but what you wrote in unacceptable and pathetic.

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    1. 1. I wish you shouldn’t have called me “deprived and frustated” as you dont know me that well to comment on that. Refute or reject what I wrote, you are most welcome.

      2. I have said it earlier that this article should be read with an open mind, just a different perspective, not my personal perspective or my whole opinion on the issue. I hope you understand the difference. I looked for a long term solution to a long term problem. I do agree with what “doesnt matter” has written earlier, but those are patch work solutions. Obviously we should implement all those things but if we dont try to understand the basic structure and problems of society then problem will keep coming in one way or other.

      3. Where did I defend the criminals? All I said that before making any laws, punishing someone, state must understand the psychology behind the particular crime. I stand by that.

      4. I dont worship any God. I am a declared atheist. Full stop.

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  14. You have presented that the sexual frustration derived from unmet sexual needs among the Indians as a prime reason for a large number of sexual assault cases. You have also argued that a new social structure which can meet these unmet needs can change the situation. I have serious doubts to this conclusion if we consider the rape statistics of USA, UK etc and would like to know how will you factor in these countries in your analysis.

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  15. ‘You’ as I referred was not a personal comment,it was just regarding what you argued and not you as a person . I dont know you so a personal comment would obviously be unwarrented I was criticizing from my point of view.
    Open mind is open to defination,will not say anything.
    again,it was not about your religion rather regarding the example and the general trend you were evaluating.

    and yes I dint question your right to express an opinion,albeit a diffrent one,would still respect your right to say it.

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  16. Impressive article.
    For a project I had conducted a survey regarding crime against women in India. Some people say it is the women’s fault to wear short cloths and sexually attract women. But, don’t us girls have the right to wear whatever we wish? It is not like as if the women who wear traditional cloths or cover themselves in decent cloths do not get molested.
    Every day in the newspaper for the past few days there have been articles related to rape and molestation; a recent case in Mumbai was of a 4 year old girl being raped by an autoriksha driver; the young girl is not at fault, is she?! Why is she being victimized then??
    The women are then criticised by their society for being raped as if it was their fault. It absolutely doesn’t make sense. SOME people have orthodox minds. They do not see the situation rationally and jump to conclusions.
    When everyone starts thinking rationally and analyses the scenario practically, there are chances of the rate of crime against women to go down.
    I would personally say, a woman does not have any safety whatsoever except herself. Even the police denies help at times. (A recent case in Mumbai).

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  17. A chinese curse, “may you live in interesting time”, we are living in a changing society and a very interesting time.

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  18. India is definitely going through its Gilden age and the rapid changes in society have created sharp contrasts between significant sections of our population. Now why it does not apply to sexual or exploitation of women in any manner is because the patriarchal value system where women are subjugated have led to consistent sexual exploitation of women over the ages, through the centuries. It is not that the rapes only take place where India and Bharat collide, rapes also take place in rural Haryana where Khap diktats are law. Sir, it is the mindset of people that women have to be subjugated and shown their place that leads to rapes. Rape is not a crime which is borne out of sexual frustration but rather it is a power crime where the perpetrator has to assert his supremacy. If the state looks into the antecedents of criminals as you suggest based on the contrasts between India and Bharat, what about rapes in rural settings where there is no such collision. We need to understand that the victim is not at fault here because she choose to be educated and live a normal independent life which she deserved as a citizen of India. Please note that the word citizen does not differentiate between rural or urban women, women who wear supposedly skimpy clothes and women who don’t step out of the house.

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  19. I am here far too late yet could not stop myself from penning down. Admire your knowledge and attitude as reflected here but sometimes a single perspective fails to capture the whole and may even defeat the very purpose of appreciating a situation. Yet as a thinking society we can always discuss viewpoints. This article will definitely need a lot of defense and justification to stand that discussion. Keep thinking and keep writing !!

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  20. Hi Chakresh, Sanjeev Here 🙂

    Very original thinking. Though its a very controversial topic but I could not desist from accepting and even realizing what you wrote(just like Osho’s writing).
    You make a great social scientist/original thinker.

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