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Police have killed the four men accused of rape and murder of Priyanka, the Hyderabad doctor, through 'encounter'. Because women are considered to be the embodiment of the culture of in our society, rape is thought of only as a disgrace to society and its culture. Yet, rape is not a cultural blot on society; it is violence perpetrated towards women. And 'encounter' is not the dispensation of justice; it too is violence. If everyone is in support of these forms of brutality, how can only some people be blamed for the violence of rape? How can we call ourselves a civilised society if we consider one form of violence as the solution and celebrate it while condemning another form of violence?

sexual assaultIf murder is considered to be a brutal crime, then whoever commits it, should be deemed guilty. Similarly, if rape is a brutality, no matter whomsoever does it to whoever it should be considered as a cruel act. But we live in a society that does not uphold this principle equal to all. In our bigotry society, the punishment meted out to the accused depends upon who the perpetrator is and who the victim is. Both the support for the victim and punishment the offender depends on their social background. In the case of Priyanka, she hailed from a dominant caste/class, and the accused were ordinary lorry labourers belonging to the lower class/community. This is why the police emboldened to kill them with impunity before the courts could decide on their innocence or guilt. As like in countries ruled by dictators if then and there punishment is the unwritten rule here, why did it not apply to the crimes against Dalit women like Roja and Nandhini who were subjected to rape and murdered by the dominant caste men? Encounters are a form of human sacrifice (of oppressed men) carried out to appease the collective consciousness of citizens of this country who are enraged and infuriated by the horrendous cases of rape and sexual violence that have now become daily occurrences. But as the belief of the collective consciousness of the people of this country, encounters could never control the violence against women.

 Sexual violence is not merely a women's problem, whereas it is a cultural crime. One must understand the fact that any cultural crimes, they couldn't be stopped through punishments alone. Why because cultural crimes are a 'door to door' problem. It is to be found in every level of society very much like 'let he who has not sinned throw a stone first'. A powerless and penny less labour could rape a woman as does a cabinet minister; a father too is able to rape and murder his daughter; a social worker and a judge also could commit the same crime. The educated and uneducated, the poor and the rich, teachers and students, lawyers and judges, farm labourers and the landlords, daily wage earners, fathers, husbands, uncles, fathers-in-laws, sons, friends – the entire male population in this country is ought to be potential rapists. I need not hesitate to say this because we live in a country which has a 'reputation' wherein women have been deemed unfit to live. A study conducted last year (2018) by Thomson Reuters Foundation showed that of the 193 countries they surveyed India came first in the list of countries that are most unsafe for women to live. Unstartlingly women were safer even in war-prone countries like Syria and Afghanistan than in 'democratic and peace-loving' incredible India.

The study exposed the bitter truth that the socio-cultural environment of this country is worse than those ravaged by war. This piece of research also found that sexual violence, cruel cultural practices, sexual slavery and sexual exploitation were rampant in India. When the report was released and created sensations across the world, our government rejected and accused the findings of the report as baseless. It had questioned the intent and the methodology of the poll itself. The defenders of national pride were too hurt that they ransacked the report virtually. The same defenders always support illegal punishments like encounters when rape occurs. If at all the report listed top any Muslim countries blindfoldedly all would blame their religion for the plight of women there. Even though the ethos in India is built on the base of the Hindu religion, nobody will dare to bring it to an argument. The ideology that persists with collective consciousness around gender, sex and sexuality have its roots on both conservative and retrogressive. Thus instead of acknowledging the issue exposed by Thomas Reuters Foundation and addressing it, it accused and rejected the report.

Indians endorses rape and sexual violence for two reasons. They don't consider them as brutalities every time it happens. The first is the irrepressible sexual urge. If a man sees a woman and gets an uncontrollable sexual urge, it is the woman that he holds responsible for his sexual excitement. An extension of such externalisation is that even in the case of rape, the woman is thought to have a collusive part in and therefore share the blame it in one way or other. Why did she look at me? Why did she smile? Why is she beautiful? Why has she dressed attractively? These and other attributes of the woman are blamed for the sexual arousal that the male experiences. Her wishes and feelings are immaterial. If a man rapes a woman out of uncontrollable sexual arousal or desire mandatorily, it becomes consensual sexual intercourse. This is why the village courts (Khap panchayats) in our country equate rape with ordinary intercourse and, in their generosity order the culprit to marry the victim to give her life. Because of this horrendous justice system men raping women who refuse their love or marriage proposal had become a common practice in villages. This 'culture' prevails even now Indian villages. This was also the psychological thinking behind the decision in a rape case where a Chennai High Court judge advised the victim get married to the accused and start a new life whilst releasing the perpetrator on bail. Parents too often decide to get the victim of rape married to the offender as they are of the same caste. As like inter-caste marriages, inter-caste rapes (read oppressed men raping dominant caste women) are forbidden here. Our society acknowledges that it is okay for men to satisfy their sexual urges through rape.

Indian men assume actual rape is similar to the wild sex they see in porn films. They interpret gang rape for group sex. This is evident from jokes and comments they share with friends. They feel that women consider this physical act of violation as manliness and that they enjoy it. This is the mentality of any common man here. The recent comment by the Telugu film director Daniel Shravan sheds light on this mentality. He recommended that the government should legalise non - violent rape and he advised women, not reject men's sexual advances. He further counselled women to carry condoms in their handbags to confront the rapes any time. We could find the similarity of this statement with Nirbhaya case convict's words - "When being raped, she shouldn't fight back. She should just be silent and allow rape. Then they'd have dropped her off after 'doing her', and only hit the boy." Thus, common men's psyche seems to believe that violence pertains only to actions like physical assault and murder, but rape is an enjoyable act for both male, the perpetrator and female, the victim.

The second reason for endorsing rape is, it is used as a weapon to exercise power, control and domination over the oppressed communities. In India, every day, three Dalit women are raped, said a decade-old data from NCRB. As like the rapes unleashed, because of the sexual arousal diminished as consensual intercourse, these very people support the use of rape as a brutal weapon to maintain their caste and gender supremacy. If the woman is from an upper caste, men use rape to reiterating her position in this male chauvinistic society; if she is from an oppressed caste, it serves to remind everyone of the rules of caste hierarchy. Do you want examples? The men who raped and murdered Nirbaya warned women not go out with a man at nights. "A decent girl won't roam around at nine o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy," "Housework and housekeeping are for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good, "People had a right to teach them a lesson" - said Nirbhaya case convicts. The gang-rape of two women, and their brutal massacre in Khairlanji was a message to members of schedule caste to heed to the rule laid down by the upper caste that they (SC) should not aspire for education.

Most Indian men commit rape more out of a need to assert and exercise their power and not because of uncontrolled sexual urges. This arises from a culture of long-established enslavement of women and casteism. Hindu culture considers women to be its custodians of culture. It glorifies them while at the same time, disempowering them. The main reason for the subjugation of women and the violence towards them is the Hindu conspiracy to preserve casteism! In their quest for power domination over women, men are known to have committed the most cruel and horrific crimes like the insertion of batons and iron rods into their vagina. Search for the details how Nirbhaya and the women of Khairlanji who were tortured, raped and killed, you will realise that this is not mere sexual gratification but the height of male domination and misogyny.

The question we have to ask ourselves is this: Can a cultural crime such as this be considered an offence by an individual be remedied by heinous punishments to the perpetrator? Those killed in encounters will spring up again and again for this society produces every male in this mould. Men are brought up in an environment in which dressing in modern clothes, being on their own by themselves, travelling at night, socialising, laughing in public, drinking, working outside the home, loving, being a wife, wearing makeup and inability to stand up to herself and every circumstance of women are seen as opportunities for sexual violence and rape.

There are several false beliefs about rape, and these beliefs serve as good examples of how society has been completely dominated by males. Some of these beliefs are as follows: A woman cannot be raped without her consent; It is within her ability to stop being raped; An independent and free-willed woman can only be controlled through sexual violence; Only rape satisfies women' sexual desires; Most women secretly wish to be raped; During the rape, a woman should fight to the last, if not it means that she wished to be raped; It's natural that men indulge in rape for the sake of sexual gratification; women who have been raped should feel guilty about it; It is not wrong to rape a woman who has had sex with the man, before; When a husband forces himself on his wife it is not wilful rape; When a woman who is being raped says 'no' means only 'yes'; Rape does not happen between strangers and never within the family members; If rape comes to light, it is a shame on the woman and a disgrace to the family.

Thus, we have a social system that justifies rape. If we do not fundamentally reform our caste-ridden Hindu social system stoning the rapist to death, cutting off a leg and a hand, death by encounter will ever eliminate any sexual offences including rape. Research shows that rape by strangers, as in the case of Nirbhaya, are rare. In 93 percent of cases, the rapist is known to the victim. Most commonly, the rapist is a family member, a neighbour, family friend, a boss at the workplace or the ex-husband. Can all these people be shot or punished to death?

When the culprit is one among us, especially if he is of the same caste, our anger quickly fades off. It is when the perpetrator is an outsider and an ordinary man belonging to a lower community, and the victim is an educated woman comes from a particular dominant caste, rape becomes threatening as a heinous crime, and only these sort of crimes get reported in the media as sensational news. Otherwise, the daily occurrence of sexual violence against women does not raise any eyebrows. Rape of a Dalit woman never makes into a national headline. If we are to get rid of violence against women and make women feel safe, we have to smash the deep-rooted ideology of male superiority and entitlement. Punishment is no solution to the crimes against woman ranging from female foetal homicide to rape. But how do we prevent them? Our failure is even the homes of families that advocated independence to their women have not taught gender equality to the men. We have not nurtured a culture in our homes that fosters equality for women. And our efforts at bringing about gender equality has been limited to women. Independent women and fundamental men make a dangerous combination to live with. The pressing need is to reform the male-centred family and male privilege.

The contribution of a common person to this society is to beget the above changes in their families and to raise responsible citizens. Unfortunately, our homes produce males who are budding criminals. Most men in our families are guilty of one or more the following crimes against women: female infanticide, sexual harassment, domestic violence, dowry associated cruelties, wife-beating, infidelity and sexual violence. Families are responsible for producing such men. We always blame society for the crimes. Aren't families, houses and common people living there responsible? Has any parent ever discussed responsibly with their sons about the issue of rape or any violence against women that is so rampant in our society? What we see is parents who always question the morals of the victim or question why the girl should have been out at night or wearing such kind of dress? What we see in families is a victim-blaming culture.

Whenever a rape happens, everyone imagines themselves as the victim. Everyone demands severe punishment for the perpetrator envisaging what if their daughter is victimised in a similar way. Yet they never connect their son being the culprit. If one who had been raped and murdered is our daughter, rapist and the murderer has to be our son, isn't it? We should not forget that socio-cultural crimes are carried out by families. How do children, particularly male children, acquire knowledge of sex, sexuality and gender? This knowledge and the values associated with it are transmitted primarily through the family and their social circle. In addition to the false beliefs mentioned at the beginning of this essay, pornographic films provide a distorted view of sexuality and are source misogyny and sexual violence. Parents who indulge their children with cell phones, laptops, bikes and cars do not bother to provide them with the knowledge that prevents them from becoming sexual offenders or victims of sexual violence.

Twenty years ago, when well-meaning educators proposed sex education should be part of the curriculum in schools, parents made a big hue and cry. A rumour went around that 'they are going to teach how to have sex in schools' they misinterpreted. And it was abandoned. Parents betrayed their own children by impeding sex education in schools. We could confidently say if men like Daniel Shravan had been given the opportunity of understanding the difference between consensual sex and rape, the outcome would have been different. In fact, parents who are concerned about the safety of their children and a non-violent future should have fought for the introduction of sex education in schools. If they have a problem with the word sex, call it life education. In fact, acquiring a basic knowledge of sex, managing sexual urges and cultivating healthy sexual relationships, understanding gender differences are all a part of healthy life skills.

Parents find it difficult to talk - anything related to sex - with their children. Parents have a mental block or are themselves uninformed about sexual matters. Thus, there is no better forum apart from schools that could perform this vital function. It is during these formative years' children become aware of sex, sexuality, managing sexual urges and gender equality. When children learn about sex and healthy sexual relationships, it permeates their homes, families, and eventually the society as a whole. The evidence for this comes from countries that have implemented well researched and planned sex education programmes in schools and found that the outcomes have been favourable. If we are to prevent cultural crimes like sexual assaults, rape and crimes against women that are deep-rooted in our culture, we have to devise far-sighted plans without delay. This should include compulsory sex education in schools. This the only way of bringing in the issue of gender equality, thus far an abandoned subject, into our homes. The cultural change that we desire will happen automatically if we are successful in creating a generation of sexually literate and culturally enlightened of men and women.

(This article is an expanded version of the article published in Hindu Tamil Thisai entitled "Sexual violence cannot be overcome by violence")

Written by Jeyarani

Translated by M.S. Thambirajah

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