Nirbhaya Convicts Will Hang Soon but When is Rape Going to Stop?

Let this be said—once again—rape is primarily about men and women. No, don’t scream, “not all men”. 

4 min read

“As a teenager, I ran in a crowd that talked incessantly about sex. Since most of us were quite afraid of discovering our own sexual inadequacies, we were quite afraid of women's sexuality. To mask our fear, of which we were quite ashamed, we maintained a posture of bravado, which we were able to sustain through mutual reinforcement when in small groups or packs. Riding from shopping mall to fast food establishment, we would tell each other stories about our sexual exploits, stories we all secretly believed to be pure fiction. We drew strength from the camaraderie we felt during these experiences. Some members of our group would yell obscenities at women on the street as we drove by. Over time, conversation turned more and more to group sex, especially forced sex with women we passed on the road. To give it its proper name, our conversation turned increasingly to rape.”


Why Talk About Rape?

Sounds familiar? The above recollection by Dr Robert Strikwerda of Saint Louis University, Missouri, who studied why men rape, can be easily attributed to one’s colleague—the concerned father of two and a responsible co-worker—or the security guard at one’s middle class apartment complex. Rape conversations have found their way into the Whatsapp groups of middle and senior grade boys studying in elite schools. Same conversations are also captured from slums where semi literate, underemployed men discuss their sexuality, as demonstrated in Rahul Roy’s iconic documentary When Four Friends Meet.

But why talk about rape when Delhi is reeling under one of its worst communal violence moments in the century and CAA-NRC protests are still on across the country?

Because a 12-year-old girl in Assam was gang-raped and murdered on 28 February 2020, since a bunch of teenage boys wanted to celebrate the end of their high school certificate exams. And Nirbhaya convicts are going to hang on 20 March after exhausting all their legal options to avoid being executed.

What is it with men that they can’t seem to stop considering raping women as a celebratory, punitive, recreational, cautionary, or even a sanctioned activity? All the eight perpetrators in the Assam case are juveniles. Beyond that, their socio-economic or religious backgrounds, though known, are not germane to the argument. Any bit of information is certain to derail the argument along communal, class, psychological or systemic lines. Let this be said—once again—rape is primarily about men and women.

Why Do Men Rape (Primarily) Women?

Before someone screams “not all men”, let’s remember a controversial psychological study of rape by evolutionary biologists Randy Thornhill and Nancy Wilmsen Thornhill. They contend that “Because women are more selective about mates and more interested in evaluating them and delaying copulation, men, to get sexual access, must often break through feminine barriers of hesitation, equivocation, and resistance.” The rapist, therefore, overcomes this landmine of negotiation with a simple solution: force. Evolutionary biology would tell that through forced sex, men could “out-reproduce” their complacent competitors to score an evolutionary advantage.

Simply put, men are biologically hard-wired to rape.

However, sociologists have lambasted the Thornhills—foremost among them being Susan Brownmiller—and argued that rape is not about sexual desire or reproduction, but power and domination. This framework of social relations pegs the responsibility of rape squarely on the way men are socialised. Sam Keen, taking this idea a step further, also includes women as sharing at least part responsibility for rape, since women in different roles, or in absentia, have a role to play in how men are socialised. The question here, then, is why have we not seen any decline in incidents of rape despite increased focus on sensitisation aimed at lowering acceptance for rape?


Can Anything Stop Rape?

Policy studies based on audits of various interventions in the US have an unequivocal answer: even the best formulated and implemented institutional and social interventions have little to no impact on incidence of rapes. Stopping Rape: Towards a Comprehensive Policy, a comprehensive study of the research and policies of rape prevention by some of the finest scholars and practitioners in legal, policy, and academic fields states, “While there has been some considerable success in changing attitudes towards rape, including the acceptability of rape myths and rape culture, demonstrating any effect of these changes in attitudes on reducing the extent of rape is so far elusive”.

In the absence of such studies in India, it can be safely assumed that our psycho-educational interventions are far more toothless.

And the NCRB data on rape and sexual violence bears an unsightly testimony. 33356 rape cases were registered in 2018 as against 39068 in 2016, and 32559 in 2017. Before that, 2011 saw 24,206 cases; 2012’s figure was 24,923; 2013 saw 33,707 reported cases; a jump to 36,735 in 2014; and 34,651 in 2015.


Dear Men, This is On You!

Clearly, nothing seems to be working when it comes to saving women from rape. Neither worship nor empowerment. Whether they are well-socialised in a gender sensitised milieu or they belong to a “male-dominated world”; whether old or merely teenagers; whether rich or poor; entitled or marginalised—men are wont to rape. We don’t seem to have any tools or antidotes yet with proven potency.

What is even more unfortunate, however, is that even the news of women, of all ages and backgrounds, getting raped and killed are beginning to lose their punch. We are consuming rape and at best analysing it. Even our empathy is hopelessly tangled with intellectual scrutiny.

Perhaps, we are evolving to accept rape as an elemental part of our existence.

Or we are getting socialised into becoming participants, willing or unwilling. Whatever it is, dear men, this is on you. Never for a moment forget this.

And here is an anecdote recalled by Slavoj Žižek in his 2008 work Violence: “According to a well-known anecdote, a German officer visited Picasso in his Paris studio during the Second World War. There he saw Guernica and, shocked at the modernist “chaos” of the painting, asked Picasso: “Did you do this?” Picasso calmly replied: “No, you did this!””

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