In the western part of the Pacific, there is a poor country of six million people called Papua New Guinea (PNG). It’s an anthropologists’ paradise because of the diversity of tribes, cultures and languages.
But the country’s claim to fame is rape and savage forms of violence against women. For the members of the “raskol gangs” in the country’s capital Port Moresby, raping a women is a rite of passage. If they kill the woman afterwards, it’s even better. Not just gang members, other men also indulge in rape at will.
The accounts of rape from Port Morseby may sound bizarre and exaggerated, but are true. One young man, for instance, had raped more than 30 women. For a woman, walking alone in certain parts of the country is a sure invitation for rape. Women can get raped even in buses.
Sounds similar, doesn’t it?
Yes, women get raped in buses exactly the way it happened in Delhi on Sunday night, when a gang of six men raped and grievously hurt a young woman, and threw her out of the bus naked along with her male friend. Doctors at Delhi’s Safdarjang Hospital, who are trying to save her life, haven’t seen such a savage assault and rape before.
The super swank Delhi, where the country’s political, intellectual and feudal elite converge, is shocking in its rape records. It has the highest incidence of rape among the cities in the country and the numbers are rising by the year.
On an average, two women get raped every weekday. The city’s rapists, ranging from lumpen bus drivers to spoilt brats, don’t spare anybody: diplomats, tourists, school girls, migrant labourers and even infants.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau figures, which document only cases registered with the police, the national capital had 453 cases of rape in 2011. Mumbai, the city with the next highest incidence, had only half this number.
If one takes into account the rapes that go unreported - at homes, workplaces and everywhere else - the numbers could be shamefully staggering. It is a known fact, not just in India or PNG, but across the world, that rape is the most under-reported crime.
It’s not surprising that even with all the resources of a capital city, Delhi hasn’t been able to do anything, at least partially, to wash off its rape-taint. Instead, the numbers are increasing and the rapists are getting bolder.
Because, as in the case of PNG, where millions of donor dollars had failed to reduce its endemicity to violence against women, and rapes, it is a man thing. And it is a cultural thing too. It doesn’t go away easily by the outrage and shocks of our women’s commissions, NGO-seminars or loud primetime TV discussions. Nor by video cameras in buses.
The people who rape women are men. Unless men stop raping women, it won’t stop.
Therefore, if at all things have to change, they have to be with men. It may sound staid if one says that the only lasting solution will start emerging, when men begin to stop thinking that they have the power to dominate women, let alone get close to them without their permission.
Our laws do tell them, but they don’t work. Beating them up or sending them to jail don’t work either because more than the desire or testosterone, it is the cultural ideas or social norms that they they have grown up with, which drive them. Our culture should ask them to stop. Or we have to change our culture.
In PNG, the government itself has admitted that there is this notion of ‘Big Man’ leadership in the country’s culture, which denotes power and control associated with masculinity and physical strength. The leaders are expected to be men. No wonder, women are treated like witches, sexual objects and objects for oppression and assault.
Till recently in PNG’s parliament, 108, out of the total 109 members, were men. India is in a similar boat - only eight percent of its parliament members are women.
WHO notes that “ideologies of male sexual entitlement” and “the unequal position of women relative to men and the normative use of violence to resolve conflict” are associated with violence against women. In layman terms, it means men have this irrational notion of power over women.
India also has this culture of masculine-control. Our dismal data on women shows it too: it has a poor sex ratio (more men than women and a son-bias), very poor gender inequality index and shameful indices for women’s economic opportunity, literacy and income. A study by TrustLaw, run by Thomson Reuters Foundation, in 2011, found India to be the fourth most unsafe place in the world for women. The lack of safety begins in the womb itself.
Where do we start?
We have to start with our men - in politics, in popular culture, in community and at home. There is an increasing acknowledgement of the role of men and boys in reducing violence against men. Studies show that boys who grow up watching gender-based violence, whether at home or in society, tend to be violent against women.
The men who exercise dominance over women, whether in parliament, khap panchayats, public places or in movies, set the norms for other men to exercise power in a similar way. Kids who grow up watching this tend to be like them.
These role-models have a pathological problem, whether they are our politicians or film-stars.
It has to change.
Next time, when you cheer an unruly group of lumpen men led by the macho hero collectively leching an item-girl on screen, don’t forget that you are encouraging a culture of sexual objectification and domination over women. Next time, when India’s criminal-politicians block the move to reserve 30 per seats in Parliament for women, don’t forget they are indirectly fostering violence against women.
It’s not cool to be macho in a country where women are raped.
The Prime Minister of PNG, a man, has admitted that his country has a problem. It’s time Manmohan Singh and our bulked up popular heroes stood up and admitted it as well.