The Roadblocks in Reporting Rape-Crimes in India

It was the night of 27th November, 2019, merely 2 days after the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, when women’s rights activists and social media pages worldwide were abuzz with hashtags and campaigns for standing against Rape…

A veterinary doctor’s family in the city of Hyderabad reached out to the police during their frantic search for her after she went missing while returning home from her regular day of work. It was merely hours after her last phone-call to her sister, telling she was scared on being stranded among strangers in a deserted area, that the would find her raped, brutalised and burnt body.

This particularly horrific incident of rape, which hit India at the dawn of this year’s 16 days Gender-Violence campaign, has shocked and enraged the nation into a renewed sense of urgency to change the way the country deals with rape-crimes.  

There have been demands of castration, death penalty and even burning the rapists alive. Sadly, on the touchstone of both humanity and legality, it merely demonstrates a sentiment of wanting to eliminate such criminals from the society, without much exertion in prevention and prosecution in the long term. In a myopic sense eliminating such criminals may seem like the best possible solution, but we cannot ignore the fact that even making punishments more stringent has not had a deterrent effect on sexual predators in the country.

In the shadow of the ‘Hyderabad Horror’, there has been news of multiple other rape incidents from all corners of the country within the same week. On 26th November, a 20-year-old woman was raped and hanged from a tree in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu; on the same day a 25-year-old law student was abducted and raped by 12 men at gunpoint in Ranchi, Jharkhand; on 27th November, besides the Hyderabad Horror, the nation also found an 11-year-old girl who had been kidnapped by an auto-driver, held captive for days and raped repeatedly in Chandigarh; on 28th November, a 32-year-old woman was gangraped by five men on her way home from grocery shopping in Neyveli, Tamil Nadu; on the same day a 14-year-old girl was raped by 2 men in Vadodara, Gujarat; on 29th November, a 17-year-old girl was found to have been kept chained and allegedly raped repeatedly by her father in their home in Jalore, Rajasthan… the list goes on. It does not seem to matter what the punishment prescribed under the laws is.

These circumstances call for urgent scrutiny of the way the laws against rape-crimes in India are implemented. It is in the efficient reporting and stringent prosecution of these offences that the nation stands any chance of being able to make a real difference. The real chasm exists not in the content of the laws, but in their toothless enforcement.

Former police officer and social activist, Kiran Bedi (IPS) has given us a chance to systematically address this issue in her recent framing of the 6 ‘P’ Formula for Women’s Security: People – Politicians – Police – Prosecution – Prison – Press. On the 70th anniversary programme of the United Nations in India organised by the UN Information Centre for India (UNIC) and the Bhutan and Indian Federation of UN Associations with focus on women’s security, Bedi said “Only when we look at it with the 6 ‘P’ formula, we address it in all directions. Unless we address it in all directions, any aspect left unattended in the chain, women’s security will suffer.

At the very heart of this chain lie the aspects of ‘Police’ and ‘Prosecution’ – relating directly to the root problems in the reporting of rape-crimes in the country. At this juncture when there are widespread demands for deterring rapists and sex offenders, it becomes paramount priority to ensure that the reporting mechanism becomes watertight and leaves no room for any offender to get away with their crime. This includes no laxity in filing of the complaints, no ease of release on bail, no fear in the testimony by witnesses, no scope for tampering of evidence, and no biases/influences/compromises in the investigation process. Afterall, what justice can the most rigorous punishment achieve, if the offender manages to escape from weak links in the chain of prosecution at the primal  stages? What process of justice can effectively deter such offenders when it is ridden with holes at its very inception?

When examining the roadblocks in the reporting of rape-crimes in India, an unpredictable and particularly multifaceted monster comes to the fore. Dismantling it reveals several key themes which require simultaneous redressal. Tragically, the same six ‘P’s which constitute the formula for women’s security, also translate into the 6 heads of the monster preying on the reporting process:

PEOPLE   (Prejudices, Character Assassination, Labelling, Social Isolation)  Social stigma is the biggest deterrent in reporting of rape-crimes. The victim is labelled as ‘impure’ and unfit for marriage. The victim and the family get socially ostracized and isolated. The victim’s actions, way of life, habits, relationships etc. are dissected and judged. These prejudices spill onto all spheres of the victim’s life be it family/personal/professional. The victims and their families get further victimized by societal beliefs & practices.  
POLITICIANS   (Bureaucracy, Corrupt Officials, Political Influence, Vested Interests)  Corruption, politics and vested interests impact the reporting of rape-crimes in insidious ways – quashing of complaints, vested interests of bureaucrats preventing law enforcement from taking due cognizance of cases and collecting necessary evidence, political power being used to coerce victims and families to withdraw complaints, political duress over witnesses in providing necessary and timely information/statements to police etc.  
POLICE   (Insensitivity, Prejudices,  Procrastination, Inaccuracies, Harassment, Evidence Tampering)  As highlighted in the sting-operation by Tehelka in the context of Delhi Police we find the police personnel themselves becoming a roadblock in the reporting process. Filing of timely complaints with due diligence and care is extremely rare. The personal prejudices of policemen affect whether a case registered or not, even after the victim/family has come to report. Jurisdiction conflicts and procrastination are commonplace. Careless collection of evidence, and even tampering is not unheard of. Harassment of the victim and the family at the hands of the police is one of the weakest links in the chain of reporting.  
PROSECUTION   (Insensitivity, Harassment, Excessive Delays, Victim-Blame)  Another aspect of discouragement from reporting is the widespread knowledge that the prosecution procedure is extremely insensitive, excessively prolonged and adversarial towards the victim. Many victims don’t report keeping in mind the kind of insensitive, victim-blaming questions and harassment that they would have to face during prosecution.  
PRISON   (Ineffective Rehabilitation, Short Sentences)  Aside from the alarmingly low ratio of conviction in reported rape cases, instances of offenders seeking revenge against the victim are also found. This instils pure fear in the victims even when they think of reporting. Also considering the state of our prison system, there is zero faith among the public in the offender being rehabilitated and so the fear of repeated victimization prevents even primary reporting of cases.  
PRESS   (Violation of Privacy, Labelling, Sensationalisation, Insensitivity, Social Media trial of Victim)  Coupled with the problem of social stigma, the press becomes the major perpetrator of secondary victimization of the victim. Most victims do not report because of fear of their tragedy being publicized, sensationalized and insensitively dealt with at the hands of the Press. Labelling and violation of privacy of the victims and their families have become the norm. What also compounds the problem is that with the advancement of social media, the general public gets a platform to have an informal trial which puts the victim under the spotlight, even sometimes creating a permanent digital record of the criminal act itself.  

These practices and problems at the very first instance unnerve the victim from even filing a formal report of the crime, and in the long term, corrode the faith of the nation in the justice system itself. Why would rape-victims, or even their families, voluntarily wish to subject themselves to further victimization by the society and the system, when the rapist has already violated them in such a brutal way? This hesitation has been the same ever since the 1973 case of Nurse Aruna Shanbaug, where the hospital dean and her fiancé didn’t permit the reporting and prosecution of her rape by sodomisation, just to prevent ‘embarrassment’ due to public disclosure. Her rapist was convicted only for assault and robbery and imprisoned for 7 years while she lay in a vegetative state for 42 years, effectively serving a life sentence.

Even in these dire circumstances we find 100’s and 1000’s reporting on a daily basis, because they are desperate for justice. We should not be celebrating their courage. We should be alarmed that we are living with a system where even reporting of heinous crimes against half the population of the country requires ‘courage’. Reporting needs to be made a seamless process of seeking justice against victimization.. not a matter of waging a war against multiple layers of further victimization!

– by Prarthana Vaidya, Lawyer & Masters Candidate in Criminology & Forensic Psychology, Consultant at MSAAW.

Gender Identity and Sexual Violence

On day 8 of 16 days of activism, the focus is on how sexual/gender identity influences the experience and processing of sexual violence. We received varying responses from the LGBTQ+ community. These stories are presented unedited in their original form. These are anonymous accounts of people’s lived experiences. 

“I guess the real problems here may arise when the balance of power”

I am a 27 y.o., European, openly-gay, single guy and I have never experienced any form of sexual violence. 

If I ever was asked about sexual violence within the LGBT+ community, I could only talk about the gay community, which I consider less prone to suffer this kind of abuse than transsexual individuals for example. It corresponds to a cultural vision of a balance of power, as the relations are established between two men and is fed by a patriarchal heritage. It does not mean gay men are not victims of sexual abuse or are not at risk though.

As an active user of dating apps, there have been times in which I have met guys for the first time at their places for the common goal of having sex. All my experiences went well, no sexual abuse involved, as relations were consented both ways. However, I understand the risks on it. I guess the real problems here may arise when the balance of power I was talking about does not exist anymore. I could think of age gaps relations, in which one is younger and, therefore, less experienced and more insecure about what he wants or not. Hence, the younger man would agree on things he may not be wanting 100%.

I feel like sexual violence in gay relations is still a taboo, as I don’t know any situation in my closer environment that I could explain of. However, if it ever happens to me or someone I know, I am sure I would ask for help first from my family and friends, and later through legal instruments. 

“Sexual violence is sexual violence.”

 I’m 25 years old, gay. Personally, I don’t think that sexual identity/sexuality has any connection on how one perceives sexual violence. Sexual violence is sexual violence. It’s an act of invading one’s most inner privacy and personal space. It’s about the use of force, of not asking for consent. Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether one is attracted to the same or to the opposite gender. Sexual violence is about transforming something that should bring pleasure to both parties into a long-lasting trauma.

“I feel safer with women when I engage in any sexual activity.”

23 years old, Asian bi-sexual woman, My sexual identity plays an important role in how I perceive sexual violence. As a bisexual woman, I have always felt comfortable being in relationships with women, even though I am equally attracted to men romantically, physically and sexually. Also, I feel safer with women when I engage in any sexual activity  because I have less fear of getting even getting impregnated or STD’s STI’s (though taking precautions for such infections are always better). SV for LGBTQI+ is high in many countries if you’re openly out, however, I have not yet come out of closet (especially with my family members), hence, I have never had such experiences of SV at a personal level. 

“I became more careful and wary to any male around me. “

I’m female, 26 years old, from Vietnam. The incident happened when I was 2nd year of univeristy when I joint in a volunteer trip with my faculty. At that moment, I identify myself as straight (now, I know I am bisexual). 

The person was male, around 40 years old, has a family which run a small grocery store in the village near Hanoi that I did volunteer work. The man tried to lead me to the storage room and touch my sensitive part when I asked to use their bathroom (which was very frequently in small village, you have no public rest room). Luckily, I escaped, but felt so scared because no one was there. 

After that, I told my friend and the story just stopped there. I had not called the police or any help from the authorities because at that moment, I was so scare and dont know what to do. I told my mom when I was home and she asked why I did not call the police or why I went there alone to put myself in danger situation. I just feel stupid and scare. I also angry because the man was wrong, not me. 

Until now, I’m ok but somehow I became more careful and wary to any male around me. 

I do not think it differs from non-LGBTQ sexual violence cuz perpetrators use sexual violence to strengthen their power, it’s not only about your sexual orientation or identity, it’s about their lack of power feeling and complexed reasons. 

These views are held by the people recounting their personal stories and are not the views of the MSAAW Foundation. If you would like to retell your own experience, reach out to us at msaaw.in

Marital rape and the socialisation of sex – is there room for consent? 

The article below is the part 2 of a two-part series discussing the legal and social perspective on the rape and specifically marital rape. This article focuses on the social and medical aspect of marital rape.

TW: Rape, abuse.

During a conversation with her granddaughter, Lakshmi* had to answer some inquisitive questions that came up. Her granddaughter wanted to know more about her thatha (grandfather). Little did she know that she would reflect on what she now understands as a painful memory. “Back in the day, we weren’t allowed to even look at our husbands directly.. We were there to serve them and nothing else. I know thatha wanted to speak to me but he would always be bullied by his peers for doing so. We were never allowed to sleep in the same room. I would sleep in the kitchen with the rest of the women of the household and thatha on the porch. The nights he wanted to use me, he’d pick me up from the kitchen and take me to the backyard. It used to be painful but that was what ought to be done. I didn’t know anything more.” She tears as she goes back a little in time. Her granddaughter, a little confused at what she just heard, asks her paati about her thoughts on marital rape. Lakshmi by now knows that what happened to her was not okay. 

Lakshmi’s story is only one of several. Most women, especially older women don’t have the chance to reflect or understand what happened to them. To them, pain was normal. Tolerance made a good wife. It took me a while to understand that marital rape is barely spoken about and operates in disguise through multiple layers of culture and socialisation. As Bell Hooks says, being oppressed means the absence of choice. And that’s the unfortunate reality for many women, added with other layers of structural trauma and violence if that woman is in the margins of the society.  

Marital rape is often hard to comprehend because marriage is perceived to be a contract of permanent consent. Combined with the perception of sex as a source of procreation and not pleasure, it is considered the duty of the woman to procreate and hence adhere to the forces of the husband regardless of how painful it is. While speaking to women about their understanding of marital rape, it was seen that it was understood only in retrospect. Dutiful wives have never had the chance to even think of sex as a form of pleasure, as something that they can have a say on. Sex is normalized as unconsented and painful. It doesn’t help at all when the state doesn’t recognize it to be a problem as well. It is trauma that has been and still is silenced and carried over for generations. 

Vidhya Dinakaran, a mental health professional at International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC) says, “The families, sometimes even the woman herself, feels so guilty for having felt uncomfortable that they don’t even want to recognize it as intrusion let alone rape. So ingrained is the notion of what a woman needs to be.” She further adds, “Marital rape is undermined due to shocking assumptions that in a marital relationship sex is a given and that it falls under the roles and duties of a being. It also reiterates the toxic notion that men are owed the sex they demand, if they are to become the ‘provider’ for the woman after marriage. By attaching no recognition to this, the ideas of ownership experienced by the perpetrator and the misogyny is only bolstered. Let alone laws, humiliation and family honour attached to this instills fear and provides no space for condemning this act. This presents as a disguised evil that strips a woman of her dignity hiding under the misconception that, marriage forever equals consensus and reinforces the socially constructed idea of roles and duties.”

Sexist socialisation that roots from patriarchy have clouded the way we understand sex and pleasure. Part of understanding patriarchy is also that it operates in several layers and multiple intersections. It is upheld by powerful cultural norms and is sustained by education, tradition and other systems. This seeps into how we have taught to understand romantic partnerships and our right to consent and determination.

Women have been conditioned to put love, selflessness and care before anything else. So when it comes to sexual intercourse within a marriage, tolerance is what is taught to young women. It is that pain is inevitable. So, rape within the structure of marriage in many contexts has been unfortunately normalized. It allows no room for dissent and no protection for the pained. I can’t help but wonder, if men were socialized to desire love as much as they were taught to desire sex, the cultural revolution we would witness. 


*Lakshmi is a fictionalised name

The writer of the article, Meera Viswanathan, a mental health professional, is part of the Board of Directors in the MSAAW Foundation.

Generation Equality: #OrangeTheWorld

16 Days of activism

The MSAAW Foundation is back!

And we begin with the United Nation’s campaign for Generation Equality! This year’s theme “Stand Against Rape” comes at the right time, to resuscitate the dwindling discussion the #MeToo movement had generated.

For 16 days from today, you can expect a wide variety of issues to be discussed on this platform. We are committed to raising awarenesses and changing the discourse when it comes to sexual violence.

So keep watching this space or follow us on Instagram and Facebook to find out more on how you can participate in this campaign!