Written by Krishnan Sivaramakrishnan on 17 December 2019
What’s going wrong with us as a society? Event after event during the past decade drive home one point: our public spaces, and in many cases, even our workplaces and our homes, are not safe any more for our women.
Numbers from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) tell us a sordid story. There were 359,849 crimes against women reported from across our country in 2017. More than 32,500 cases of rape were reported during that year. That’s one rape every 20 minutes. Over 30,000 of those rapes were done by persons known to the victims: family friends, neighbours, separated partners, employers, online friends and others. Harm lurks where you would least expect it. Wolves, in sheep’s clothing, thrive.
Social activists say that sexual aggression on the domestic front typically takes a number of forms before it expresses itself as rape: indecent touching, abusive language, physical blocking of the victim’s path... There is a typical pattern of progression. And all the while the aggressor seems to be testing the waters of how the abused responds before shifting to the next level in that progression. The next level gets even worse if the aggressor senses he does not expect the victim to stand up and defend herself or even speak up to alert someone close.
Why can’t we thwart the wolves? One activist has an explanation for that too. She says that in our society girls are conditioned to be nice, to not offend, to "bear with it" when the aggressor is someone with whom they will cross their paths regularly. "Most girls and women don’t even think they have the right to say no without feeling guilty,” she explains. And this can happen independent of the social and economic status of the victim, no matter how empowered we think that person may be.
If sexual aggression on the domestic front is a breach of trust of the worst kind, it is sexual aggression in the outside world that is truly horrific.
Let’s look at the other 2,196 cases of rape in 2017. Statistically, that’s a minor proportion. But statistics is blind. It does not reflect how more and more gruesome instances of rape are becoming. And the most gruesome instances have been cases of gang rape.
Gang rapes are not crimes of lust alone. The disturbing aspect is that they are occurring with an explicit – even premeditated – intent of inflicting severe injury and pain that can maim the victim for life. The intent seems to be that the victim should wish for – even crave – death. Gang rapists seem intent to shout out a message of fear to the world with their barbaric deeds. Even the most fearsome animals, in treating their own kind, seem more humane.
Why do gang rapes occur? Rachel Jewkes, the lead technical adviser for the UN Multi-country Study on Men and Violence in Asia and the Pacific, explains that gang rape is associated more with poverty. He cites research to point out that men come together in gangs to get involved in a whole range of violence as a way to “assert their masculinity” and “make themselves feel like strong and powerful men”.
“The conditions of poverty that they live in prevent them from having access to more traditional manifestations of manhood, such as being a provider. Their energies get directed rather into demonstrating sexual success with women, demonstrating dominance and control over women, and fighting with other men,” he says.
Clearly, there seems to be no immediate way to bring a change in this situation. There is no lesson that can be learnt and applied from what has worked effectively against rape for other countries – because no country has successfully wiped out rape.
The most widespread response to instances of rape – that leap at us with alarming regularity from the news media – is to demand the most stringent punishment for the aggressors. It’s a call that is becoming more and more passionate and intense from across the country.
But our law and order system finds itself unable to deliver justice, hamstrung by cases that are not investigated thoroughly, by cases that are not argued or even presented convincingly at court, or by cases that are not taken up at all in courts due to a shortage of judges. Delayed justice is causing people to feel disillusioned with the legal system.
So, as individuals and as a society, what do we do? What can be our most sensitive, most sensible, most effective response?
Where there is no legal recourse, set up social recourse, suggests one activist. The situation women face today is no different from our freedom struggle. We need a social movement of a similar monumental scale with an active part played by every participant of society: men and women, boys and girls, police and law, policymakers and government. We need a movement that creates the conditions in our society to empower every single individual to speak up and express her free will and to live up to her or his life’s fullest potential.
Music is that tool for social recourse, feels Deepa Sridhar, Trustee, Shankar Mahadevan Academy.
Shaken deeply by the Hyderabad rape case, Deepa declared to her colleagues that she wants the Academy to respond in a sensitive and responsible way.
“The number of rapes happening in our country is a very serious concern to all of us. In the Shankar Mahadevan Academy, we talk about using music as a tool for social causes. Let us create an anthem against rape. Let’s have people from across the country write to us lines of lyrics, and we can produce the anthem. We want to message strongly against rape and see how music can be a positive tool towards it.”
Wanting to know more, I sent a couple of questions to Deepa, which she answered promptly:
What is the outcome you hope for?
We want to give voice in a positive way to people's angst and fear, through their words, and finally through one powerful song.
How do we see this song for a cause create the conditions for that outcome?
We would like to see this song taken everywhere through our schools and centers and social media – and see what else we can do to reach out to more and more people.
Vande Mataram set up such momentum for our freedom struggle. Can we try to do something similar? Where through words and song people come together as a community to bring (a conversation on) these topics which have been so silently suffered by many.
Sexual assault and rape are not easy subjects to talk about. But never before has it been so urgent to talk about these subjects to people at large. And talk in a way that gets our millions of people to participate in that conversation and raise a collective voice against sexual violence and rape. A song has the unique ability to connect to the head and the heart at once and stir people to stand up for their values.
Our freedom struggle was a battle against oppression we as a nation faced from a foreign power. It’s fundamentally the same battle against oppression our women face on their rights as human beings and their free will as individuals.
As Deepa pointed out, an anthem gave vital momentum to our nation’s struggle for freedom. We need an anthem no less powerful to unify us to put an end to oppression against women.
Oppression rises as humanity crumbles; it recedes as humanity endures. The Shankar Mahadevan Academy wants to revive and restore humanity through your words and raise one collective voice. And we will keep doing that until we bring change. Real change.
So pen a few lines of your thoughts on how we can touch the human in each and every one of us. Take care that your lyrics have one line that says “Hum Sab Milkar".
Write lyrics for the Anthem Against Rape.
Post your lyrics on your Facebook timeline. Add these tags to your post: @shankarmahadevanacademy, #humsabmilkar and #wetogether.
The winning lyrics will be sung by students and teachers of the Shankar Mahadevan Academy and Shankar Mahadevan in a music video. Contest closes 06 January 2020.