Sex­ual vi­o­lence is the new nor­mal in In­dia – and pornog­ra­phy is to blame

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Mari Mar­cel Thekaekara

An­other day, an­other shock­ing head­line about rape in In­dia, from the 30 girls in a Bi­har shel­ter who were al­legedly sex­u­ally abused over many years to the 10year-old child who es­caped from an­other “shel­ter” in Ut­tar Pradesh and ran to a po­lice sta­tion ask­ing for help.

Rapes have be­come the new nor­mal in my coun­try. So much so that In­dia’s supreme court made head­lines it­self on Mon­day, ask­ing: “What is to be done? Girls and women are get­ting raped left, right and cen­tre.” This is un­usual prac­tice for a supreme court any­where, and un­der­lines the grav­ity of the sit­u­a­tion. Jus­tice Madan Lokur of the supreme court pointed out: “The Na­tional Crime Records Bu­reau (NCRB) data ob­serves that a woman is raped ev­ery six hours in In­dia.”

Even the highly re­garded Tata In­sti­tute of So­cial Sciences, in Mum­bai, has re­ported the abuse of mi­nors and women. It un­cov­ered ev­i­dence while con­duct­ing a so­cial au­dit of govern­ment shel­ters ear­lier this year. A med­i­cal re­port con­firmed 34 girls had been sex­u­ally abused.

The 10-year-old in Ut­tar Pradesh begged the po­lice to save her and her friends. Ev­ery evening, she said, red, black, grey cars came and took her friends away. They brought them back in the morn­ing and the girls cried all day. Please help them, she pleaded. Pre­dictably, she cap­tured hearts and head­lines. So it be­came na­tional news.

Like­wise, the al­leged gang rape of a 13-year-old tribal girl, by seven tribal men, five of whom were ju­ve­niles. This was in Jhark­hand state, ad­join­ing Bi­har. The child was graz­ing cat­tle out­side her vil­lage when seven men were said to have pounced on her. One vet­eran so­cial ac­tivist ex­plained to me some decades ago: “Sex be­fore mar­riage was ac­cepted by tribal com­mu­ni­ties, so where was the need for rape?”

The same per­son sadly re­ported that rape is now ram­pant in tribal Jhark­hand. Boys as young as 10 down­load pornog­ra­phy from mo­bile phone shops for as lit­tle as 10 ru­pees (12p). The com­bi­na­tion of end­less, vi­o­lent porn videos and al­co­hol ap­pears to be a lethal trig­ger for many rapes in In­dia – a coun­try where tra­di­tional Hindu, Mus­lim, Chris­tian and Sikh so­ci­ety strictly for­bids not just sex out­side mar­riage but any mix­ing of the sexes in towns and vil­lages. Ar­ranged mar­riages are still the norm across all re­li­gions. For re­pressed men to be fed a con­stant diet of porn on their phones is a recipe for dis­as­ter.

The in­fa­mous gang rape of a 23year-old stu­dent in Delhi in 2012 that led the city to be called the “rape cap­i­tal of the world” was car­ried out by six men who had just been watch­ing vi­o­lent porn while drink­ing al­co­hol, an­other taboo in or­tho­dox In­dian fam­i­lies.

Enakshi Gan­guly Thukral, a child rights ac­tivist for nearly 30 years, told me: “So­ci­ety is be­ing sex­u­alised, there is sex­ual con­tent ev­ery­where, in films and mu­sic. Ram­pant, vi­cious porn is eas­ily avail­able to chil­dren. Mid­dle-class fam­i­lies may mon­i­tor what their kids watch, but un­e­d­u­cated and il­lit­er­ate peo­ple haven’t a clue about what their kids see on their phones. The veg­etable ven­dor near my house sits glued to his mo­bile all day. Two young boys with one wire plugged into an ear each, shar­ing a video. I can as­sure you they are not watch­ing the news.”

Thukral, like me, is de­pressed. “Why should the supreme court pub­licly lament the sit­u­a­tion?” she said. “We look to the supreme court for so­lu­tions, not laments. It needs to see that im­ple­men­ta­tion of laws re­gard­ing women’s safety is strin­gently car­ried out.”

For decades, women’s groups have fought long and hard to put safety mea­sures in place through spe­cial laws. But where is the proper gov­er­nance and mon­i­tor­ing of ju­ve­nile homes and women’s shel­ters? We have spe­cial po­lice now, to check on in­ter­net crime, ha­rass­ment and abuse. How do we pro­tect chil­dren and women from preda­tors and harm­ful porn?

My lib­eral friends have fought for civil lib­er­ties and free­dom of ex­pres­sion over the years. As a jour­nal­ist I sup­port that. But grass­roots ac­tivists like me are in­creas­ingly sick of lib­er­als fight­ing for free­dom to watch vi­o­lent, sadis­tic porn. One tired hu­man rights de­fender said: “It’s hard to stom­ach glib ser­mons on the right to free­dom to use a po­ten­tial ‘driver of rape’ [porn] when faced with a wounded, bleed­ing raped woman or child.”

I have to say I agree with her. It’s time for the courts and the govern­ment to look se­ri­ously at how we can clamp down on porn in In­dia. As we ap­proach In­dia’s 71st In­de­pen­dence Day an­niver­sary, on 15 Au­gust, per­haps we can fo­cus on free­dom from fear for our women and chil­dren.

• Mari Mar­cel Thekaekara is a hu­man rights ac­tivist and writer based in Tamil Nadu

Pho­to­graph: Sa­j­jad Hus­sain/AFP/Getty Im­ages

In­dian ac­tivists protest over the al­leged sex­ual as­sault of girls at a state-run home in eastern In­dia.

Pho­to­graph: Sa­j­jad Hus­sain/AFP/Getty Im­ages

Ac­tivists take to the streets over the 30 girls in a Bi­har shel­ter who were al­legedly abused over many years.

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