And yet again—two teenage girls are raped and murdered in UP. It seems like never ending macabre drama totally oblivious of and unaffected by the routinely expressed outrage in newspapers and electronic media. How does one understand it? Why is it happening with such sickening regularity? Sophisticated analysis involving notions like power, hegemony, patriarchy and rape as an exercise of power etc. are beyond me; and I suspect beyond most of the common public. Therefore, I will try to understand this social disease through some more common sense notions.
I will start with two reasonably well accepted characteristics of human beings, which to my mind are most relevant in understanding rape. One, human beings are understood to recognise other human beings and as having respect for them. Respecting the other necessarily involves respecting his/her wishes, desires and ideas. The second, humans are supposed to be the kind of animals who can defer their desires either in order to optimize their fulfilment or in order to uphold certain values; for example, the value of respect for others. This demands an ability to understand implications of ones actions and self-control. A human being is supposed to restrain himself/herself when his/her actions motivated by fulfilment of desire violate respect due to the other and/or have undesirable consequences for himself/herself. The first is a moral restraint involving a certain measure of selflessness; the second is a pragmatic restraint focused on the selfishness. When a society fails to develop moral rectitude and foresight to see the consequence of ones actions for the others and one’s own self, the moral order breaks down in a measure proportionate to the magnitude of the failure. Together with this failure to develop requisite moral restraint and understanding if the perpetrators also see that the retributive action (punishment) mated out by the society can either be avoided or is too easily bearable then there is neither motivation nor capability for self-restraint. We should note here that the punishment will also work only if the potential rapist has requisite capability for self-restraint; in absence of which he will commit the crime knowingly; simply because he will be unable to control himself.
If the above analysis has some value then, I propose, that the rape is a result of one or more of the following:
• Lack of respect for the other (in this case for women)
• Lack of foresight (intelligence) to understand consequences of ones actions on himself and on others
• Lack of self-restraint to defer desires
• Lack of fear of punishment
Note that the first three are characteristics of being human. And also have a component which is internal to the perpetrator, of course, without denying the social aspect which might be external to him. Here, obviously, I am assuming a certain degree of freewill in humans. Those who deny freewill completely, have no ground to blame the perpetrators or for punishing them. In my view such theories that deny freewill are becoming too rampant in the society and absolve individuals from all blame for their actions.
Rape, then, is a result of fall from humanity and failure of external fear. This failure can be momentary or a more settled disposition of the perpetrator. The questions is: why does it happen with such a sickening regularity?
Let’s think about how societies build the four things listed above. An authoritarian society functions on taboos into which its members are indoctrinated. The taboos may come from social setup, caste or religion. The family being the primary institution which is responsible for instilling those taboos in the minds of the young. Religion in today’s societies has lost all faith; it is perpetuating itself on the basis of political gains it brings to those who pretend to have faith. The moral aspect of religious faith is almost absent. Also religion paints women in a certain light where they are either an object of enjoyment (field of men) or door to the hell (nark ka dwaar). All religion lack in respect for women as human beings of equal worth to men. Therefore, even if the religious faith remains it will not always deter men from oppression, including rape, of women. Our families hardly teach respect for others outside the family itself. Often fail to teach it for even its own members.
Democratic societies depend on the development of the individual in respect of thinking, morals and action. Since our families are hardly democratic they fails to develop such ethos of respect for others in a large number. The other institution on which democratic societies depend is education. We all know the total failure of our education system be that moral or intellectual. In common parlance education is simply an instrument of upward mobility through cut throat competition. Education has abandoned its moral aspect altogether. Fulfilling one’s desires by any means is called success and success is the mantra. Both those who are successful in such education as well as those who fail grow up without the moral fibre. The successfully educated fulfil their desires through more sophisticated means and exploit women in more subtle manner (think of Tahalka). The failed ones go after it more directly. My suspicion is that rape and exploitation by sophisticated means is much more common than the direct violent act in our society.
So what avenues are there to develop world view and moral frameworks in or society? Well, some serious studies are required here. But one avenue that comes to mind is electronic media and films. How are women painted in TV programmes, films and advertisements? One, they are always seeking sexual attention from men. Two, they enjoy this attention but never admit that they do. Three, the bolder a man is in approaching her more successful he is. Four, her denial is just a way of intensifying men’s desire and pretention to meet social expectations. This tells men that women are to be approached and approached forcefully. Their denial is non-serious. Once pursued successfully she will be happy. Of course this is a totally false picture of women; that is what is communicated to boys and men.
Now let’s look at the punishment as a deterrent. First, punishment works only if the perpetrator can think of consequences of his actions. If he fails to see the consequences then it does not work. And most of the perpetrators perhaps do fail at this. Second, even if one sees the consequences, but is convinced that he can avoid them; punishment does not work. Look at our society, how many crimes go unpunished? How long it takes for the punishment to me mated out? What part the power and money plays in avoiding punishment? Is it a wonder that in such a situation the perpetrator sees himself immune to any real consequences to himself?
My guess is that the punishment will not work in the absence of self-restraint either. And self-restraint is breaking down. It seems to me that the society is failing in its project to be humane. It is failing to develop the human characteristics of respect to others, intelligence, and self-restraint in its young; and is failing to instil fear in the minds of those who have managed to grow up without those characteristics. Clamoring for the punishment alone then is not going to work. Punishment is necessary, but not sufficient. It is a larger failure of development of humanity. We have to look at education, family and media for reversing the direction. We have to particularly look at the advertisements which all, without exception, work on the crude and animal instinct in human beings.
Till we analyze these issues more rigorously and start acting with needed firmness on all aspects we are condemned to be living in a society that outrages half the humanity; and feel guilty about it.