Dear Readers and Friends: August edition out , Aug 17 2018

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London Notes: Rape is Everywhere

Ramnik Shah
Ramnik Shah, born in Mombasa, practiced law in Nairobi and in London where he now lives and writes

 

 


While reverberations of the rape atrocity that occurred in the center of New Delhi last December continue to be felt across the world, it is worth noting that shorn of all emotion what happened was that a young woman was brutally gang-raped and severely injured, as was also her boyfriend who was with her at the time. She died a painful death a few days later.

Rape, even gang-rape, is nothing new.  It has been part of human experience from times immemorial.  It occurs in all societies and in every country.  In times of war and civil conflict rape is very often deployed as a weapon of war and ethnic cleansing.  The catalogue of horrors of rape is endless and it goes on, most recently in the Congo (DRC), Bosnia, Sudan and Tibet.

Why then the heartfelt chain of reaction to the Delhi case?  It is because it caught the imagination and provoked the indignation of the local people in Delhi itself. Their protests spread instantly to the rest of India and struck a chord around the world, reminiscent of the extraordinary sequence of events two years ago, when a Tunisian young man out of frustration for his poverty-stricken plight and those of other young people set himself ablaze and sparked off the Arab Spring.

The wave of Indian anger was caused by the horrific nature of the terror and violence that the young woman and her boyfriend were put through. This occurred within a hidden mass of popular discontent, dissatisfaction and disillusionment with the very nature and foundation of Indian society: the second-class status of women, the sexism and the great gender imbalance, poverty and ignorance breeding machismo like attitudes among men, the inadequacies of the police and the justice system and of other public services, not to speak of corruption and other ills affecting the quality of life of the general populace across in India.

So it did not take much to ignite the spontaneous outpouring of rage. It led to much soul-searching in India, not just among the commentarial but also among ordinary people. One example of this is the anonymous text that has been making the rounds on the blogosphere under the title Why India Rapes. It may be a cliché, but in the age of instant communication and global reach, we are all witnesses to events around the globe, and have an opinion on what goes on elsewhere.

The conventional media have been filled with news and analysis of the Indian tragedy, many of them very condescending and hypocritical as though rape or gang rape could only occur in India.  Fortunately, the internet revolution has made it possible for people who would otherwise have been voiceless to challenge such arrogant and racist views.

We learned for instance that in population terms, the incidence of rape and other sexual crimes is far greater in the USA, Britain and other comparable countries than in India. We learned also of the numerous other cases of child abuse, paedophilia and human trafficking that go on there.

The point I would like to make here is that the uniqueness of the Delhi case may lie in the response it provoked among the Indian people and government, their ready willingness to acknowledge the tragedy, and to to rectify the shortcomings of the law enforcement and justice systems. But it would be naïve to expect that just this one outpouring of mass sentiment will bring about the much needed transformation in social values in India`s overwhelmingly patriarchal and male dominated society.  That will take generations.