Rape Culture – How the UK and India Mirror One Another.

by RITU MAHENDRU, 08.03.2013 | London

 

delhi rape (1)

(Illustration by Pankaj Bhambri)

Nearly three months ago a horrific rape case in New Delhi gave momentum to widespread protests. People especially women from across the world such as Congo, Kenya, South Africa, Canada and the UK expressed their anger and made recommendations to the Justice Verma Committee on Reforms on Sexual Assault in India.

In the UK, a protest was organised by Southall Black Sisters outside the Indian High Commission, London on 7 January 2013. Over a thousand people, mostly Asian and mostly women turned up to express solidarity for feminist and women organisations in India as well as to draw attention to the prevalence of misogynist values and sexual violence in India.

According to the Human Development Report (HDI) 2011, India ranks 129 out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index, below Bangladesh and Pakistan, which are ranked at 112 and 115; only Afghanistan was reported to be ranked below India in the South Asian region. Among the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) nations, India continued to fare badly in HDI with the highest inequalities.

“Many cases of police rape have also come to light in the UK. Police are the main obstacle to rape survivors getting justice. Only 6.5% of rapes in the UK end in conviction. We see daily cases dropped, as police have not gathered the evidence properly or the Crown Prosecution Service has decided it is not good enough to take to court. This is especially true for children, women of colour, women with disabilities and working class women generally.”

India as a country does have the capacity to project superpower. The image had to fall short due to the growing corruption and inequalities towards the Muslims, Dalits, tribal and rural populations, women, transgenders, men who have sex with men, people living with HIV and migrants.

As the story of 23 years old paramedic student in Delhi touched a nerve of millions and change started to begin in India, the movement opened global debates around women’s safety and their social status. The young woman’s story became emblematic of a wider problem not only in India but in the other parts of South Asia as well as in the West. India status of superpower became a concern and the country was declared as a ‘rape culture’ nightmare; many of us began unpacking what the ‘rape culture’ actually means.

There is no international agreed definition of rape or ‘rape culture’. At a minimum level the ‘rape culture’ translates into the acceptance of rape in a society, the culture that invariably persists both in the UK and India.

It is true that India has cultural aspects of rape whereby sexual violence is common in private and public places, and the fact that the victim blaming and sexual objectification are embedded in its culture. There are hundreds of articles floating around the web that would argue and confirm this. Some of us are quite familiar with these trends in the UK too, yet ignorance and silence on this subject abounds in British public discourses.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office released its first ever joint Official Statistics bulletin on sexual violence, entitled An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales.

It reported that:

  • Approximately 85,000 women are raped on average in England and Wales every year
  • Over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year
  • 1 in 5 women (aged 16 – 59) has experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16.

The two countries, the UK and India, are at the crossroads and to some extent the gender problems, intertwined with other social inequalities, are mirror images of each other.

Additionally, the evidence collated by Black Women’s Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape reports that “Many cases of police rape have also come to light in the UK. Police are the main obstacle to rape survivors getting justice. Only 6.5% of rapes in the UK end in conviction. We see daily cases dropped, as police have not gathered the evidence properly or the Crown Prosecution Service has decided it is not good enough to take to court. This is especially true for children, women of colour, women with disabilities and working class women generally.”

Severity of rape crimes in the UK could also be measured by the extent to which BBC covered rape and sexual abuse crimes carried out by Jimmy Savile, a well revered DJ, television presenter, media personality and charity fundraiser, without being prosecuted for decades. Despite survivors several attempts, the British police refused to lodge a complaint. Many of the Savile’s 214 known offences were on BBC premises. However, no one protested outside the BBC for the rights of nearly three hundred children and women who have been waiting for some sort of closure for years.

India ranks 129 out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index, below Bangladesh and Pakistan, which are ranked at 112 and 115; only Afghanistan was reported to be ranked below India in the South Asian region […] India ranks 129 out of 146 countries on the Gender Inequality Index, below Bangladesh and Pakistan, which are ranked at 112 and 115; only Afghanistan was reported to be ranked below India in the South Asian region.

After the rape case in New Delhi on 16 December, assumptions and stereotypes flared up with precipitated opinions without any revision, validition, and shedding a rational and comprehensive light on the issue of rape that affects girls and women across the world undermining their lived experiences and rights.

The utility of the above analysis provides some clarifications that rape crimes and sexual offences is no problem of the third world. The two countries, the UK and India, are at the crossroads and to some extent the gender problems, intertwined with other social inequalities, are mirror images of each other. It is more generally, culture and gender patriarchy with an intersection of class, caste, nationality, race, age, history etc. that objectifies women.

There are rapes in every country but the degree of it varies with higher cases in some countries than the other. Simplifying the ‘rape culture’ and the urge to highlight rape as the problem of the ‘other’ is quite seductive, which is potentially harmful. It is high time that the issue of violence against women is stripped of cultural and racial biases.

As cliché as it may sound International Women’s Day is a day of reassessment and focus – rape happens in India, it happens in the UK. It is time to stride towards in the same direction in ‘homogeneity’ by recognising the diversity and differences amongst ‘women’ and focusing on the intersectionality of relationships between us and them.

Ritu tweets as @ritumahendru

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