When the Boys grew Up

Written by  //  December 20, 2012  //  Economic & Social Policy  //  10 Comments

[Suharsh Sinha on the Delhi rape]

Once, a bunch of young boys aged 5-7 were playing in their backyard when a young pup appeared. At first the boys were fascinated with it. They played with it, fed it and even cuddled it. Soon some older boys who the kids idolised came along and taunted the kids for being too soft and effeminate to be playing with a cute little pup. The boys with a confused and distorted view of fun and manliness began to treat the pup differently. They tied its hind legs together, through stones at it, dragged it behind their cycles and in the end sodomised it with a stick. When they got bored of it they dumped it on the streets for rats and vultures to feed on.

The boys turned older and became feral hyenas but the pup was replaced with a woman in a big white bus on Delhi’s glittering boulevards. What happened then was an atrocity that is a shameful indictment of your country, its culture and its times. That a country which has become numb to daily reports of gang rapes was forced to sit up, feel violated and outraged is testimony to how gruesome and brutal this particular incident was. The problem with our country is that either the young boys never grew up or continued to remain confused about their masculinity and how to express it.

It is tempting to blame the police and the establishment for what happened. But we would be barking up the wrong tree. Rape is not merely a function  of number of cops on the ground and number of rapists out there. Unfortunately, rape is not a bivariable equation capable of being regressed statistically to determine the number of cops you need to prevent rape. It is a multi-variable problem with indeterminate variables incapable of an overnight solution.

The problem our society faces is how to bring up our sons and mould their perception of themselves and women. We truly live in turbulent times. Old barriers of class and caste are being chipped away. Mass migration is happening from poorer parts of the country to the metros. The joint family with its traditional mores and notions of security (and oppression) is breaking down. Economic liberalization has causes mobility along caste, class and gender matrices. But the most important change I believe has been improvement in economic condition of women. Sure, women are still massively marginalized in the work place – both in the organized and unorganized sector. But never before in the short history of India have so many young women entered the urban work force as in the past 2 decades. With economic power comes liberty and the power to lead their lives with independence and dignity and their own terms. They work in BPOs, shopping malls, housekeeping, hotels and restaurants, in the government, banks and law firms. Essentially everywhere. There are more ‘visible’ now.

This visibility confuses the indian male. I can speak for the bad lands of the Delhi, Noida, Faridabad and Ghaziabad and Gurgaon – also called the NCR. Migrants from the hinterland are used to women not playing an important part in the house let alone in public spaces. As they work as bus conductors, taxi drivers and in other blue collar jobs they see themselves servicing young independent women whereas back in the outback they have never seen their mothers and sisters go out alone or talk to strangers. Suddenly they are not getting the respect they got merely for being men. They are professionals at an arms length relationship with  men and women who owe them nothing except for the bus fare. Back home, women were to be protected and shielded from outsiders, where in the big city women can go wherever they want whenever they want with just a cell phone and possibly a pepper spray at their bodyguards. It is unacceptable. How dare she ! Isnt she supposed to be at home and cook for the kids ? and she is out after dark watching movies, drinking and going to night clubs ! She should be taught a lesson ! And there you go…

But to blame migrants for rape is falling prey to xenophobic Thackerayism, especially in a place like Delhi where practically everyone is a migrant. Reports claim that majority of rapes happen within the home by people who are known to the victim. Games of power and subjugation begin at home and mostly go unreported. Marital rape is not even considered rape. Victims from all classes of society keep mum about incidents of sexual exploitation at home fearing loss of family honour. Even with a libertarian constitution which grants primacy to individual rights, the individual is subservient to the clan.

It is no different for white collar sexual offenders. The sanitised corporate office till now the monopoly of men has been ambushed by successful and motivated women. The engineering schools, B-schools, design schools and law schools have produced thousands of women staking a claim in the top echelons of the new economy. Sexual harassment at work place and sexism in more subtle ways are rampant.

The sad conclusion is that men from villages and big cities, poor and rich all have a reason to rape. Rape is a panacea to deep rooted insecurity. It reasserts power and authority. What they have lost in the market economy, what they have lost by displacement, what they have lost in opportunity and self worth can be reclaimed in the most primitive and visceral way. Hold her down, hit her, violate her and then throw her on the street for rats and vultures to feed on. It is a disgusting and contemptible mentality unbecoming of any civilization.

That the police should be more vigilant and increase patrolling and other measures goes without saying. If by these steps we can prevent even  one woman from being violated it is a victory. Because unlike other crimes, rape is more than a statistic. It is a trauma and personal grief that can only be imagined by us. I strongly advocate death punishment for rapists. Even more vital is the post trauma legal treatment. Police and court sensitisation towards the victims state of mind and her privacy are urgently needed. But unfortunately there is only so much the law can do. It’s up to us, how we bring up our sons and what values we instil in them. But till then don’t lock up your daughters because there are rapists out there. Teach them how to shoot the hyenas.

10 Comments on "When the Boys grew Up"

  1. Yasser Rizwan December 20, 2012 at 6:49 pm ·

    Great points eloquently made.

  2. deboleena mukherjee December 21, 2012 at 4:39 am ·

    Well written piece!!

  3. Vish December 21, 2012 at 5:19 am ·

    It’s a very well expressed piece…!

  4. Anees Backer December 21, 2012 at 5:22 am ·

    I’m sure the article is well-intentioned, but I can’t help be disturbed by some of the observations. Although you criticise the xenophobic blaming of rape on rural migrants, you begin with just that kind of account, and in great detail. We are led through a vivid picture of the village as a place were women are invariably confined and told to mind their place, as if gender role attribution were any less prevalent in urban areas. By placing the migrant as the foremost villain in incidents of rape, the afterthought offered regarding the pervasiveness of rape in varied kinds of situations and among affiliated people loses its voice. You admit that the majority of rapes are perpetrated by persons familiar to the victim, and yet your first point of analysis is an imagined foray into the migrant psyche. Further, this notion of displacement of men on account of rising entry of women into the workplace as a cause of rape is just some bogus pop sociology. We must be alert to the consequences that this kind of talk has on social reactions to rape – because it identifies women’s empowerment as a cause of, rather than an antidote to rape. I agree that this burst of collective outrage everywhere in the media is laudable, but I feel it’s also making us smug about our entrenched class prejudice, and completely drowning out the debate on capital punishment.

  5. reenu serene December 21, 2012 at 7:52 am ·

    All i have been hearing & reading is about the way our government sucks and the way our police force fail to protect our women….but all this while i had been thinking …they all are missing the basic point.

    This article made so much sense.
    Instead of the society blaming others , our family should look at the way boys are brought up.

    Beautiful article…..

  6. ujjwal sen December 21, 2012 at 9:10 am ·

    Thank you for writing this and getting it out there. I’ve been trying to say the same thing for ages but to no avail. People will talk about what to do with the perpetrator but never the victim.


  7. Anindita Mukherjee December 21, 2012 at 9:56 am ·

    Bingo Anees! Further, phrases like “ambushed by” all go to reinforce the existing notion that public spaces belong to men and women intrude, in their effort to be included.
    If I am not mistaken, rape existed even when female presence in public spaces was not as great. My apologies if this seems harsh, but this reads like yet another warped mechanism of dumping the blame on the woman; if nothing else, just more dangerous for being relatively more subtle than “she is a woman of loose moral character”.

    You might also want to justify your advocacy of death penalty for rapists.

  8. Amrita December 22, 2012 at 6:45 pm ·

    Women in rural India do not only cook and look after children. They also contribute in agriculture and allied activities. That this often goes unrecognized is another issue.

  9. suharsh sinha December 23, 2012 at 10:48 am ·

    First of all I must confess this piece was written in a highly charged emotional state. So though I stand by my basic arguments I agree that the nuance has at times been lost unintentionally as I got carried away and at other times deliberately to underscore a point. Having said that I will try and address some of the comments:

    Anees –
    1. When I start with the migration point it is only because in this particular incident the rapists (and the victim) happened to be migrants. I felt there was a clear class angle and in a place like Delhi urban poor overwhelmingly tend to be migrants. If this particular rape case had taken place in the domestic space I may have given that primacy. But if my piece appears to single out migrants as more culpable it is totally unintentional.
    2. “…because it identifies women’s empowerment as a cause of, rather than an antidote to rape”. I completely agree with the point that empowerment is the solution to rape. But I never advocated that women should not be empowered. My point is that the pace of women’s urban work place participation has been rapid especially post economic liberalization. In my perception the urban male worker is threatened/confused by this visibility and resorts to violence to reinforce old power structures. So the cause is not women’s empowerment, it is men’s inability to deal with it. And the solution is undoubtedly more empowerment not less.

    Anindita –

    1. No doubt rapes were always committed. But popular media seems to suggest that the incidents of rape are increasing at an alarming rate. If that is indeed the case I was trying to pin point what the underlying causes are – especially in big cities like Delhi.
    2. And again I am not blaming the woman for finding a job in historically male dominated industries. I am blaming the man for treating the work place as his exclusive preserve and not being able to deal with the increased presence of the opposite sex in an economic structure that now values gender neutral traits like labour productivity and efficiency. I am not placing the moral culpability for rape on the victim for ‘being out there’. Quite the opposite.
    3. On capital punishment – though I stand by it, it was not the focal point of the piece. It is a different debate altogether, let’s leave it for another day.

    Amrita –
    Agreed that women contribute hugely to the rural economy. My idea was not to belittle it. I just employed a writing style where I put myself in the shoes of the perpetrators and tried to offer their thought process in committing rape. For cooking, child rearing and agricultural labour women are either not paid or paid less compared to men due to several age old biases. This makes men believe that women’s labour is inferior and unworthy and is nothing more than petty domestic chores. Not a point of view that I agree with, but I was just trying to show a glimpse of prevailing popular mentality.

  10. Kiran December 28, 2012 at 8:15 am ·

    We pay a lot of money to watch Indian movies with item numbers and double-meaning dialogues and we’re thrilled to bits. Its the trickle down effect from there into the loins of these desperate young men who idolize these ‘actors’. Who is to blame then? Until then we’re all just hypocrites.

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