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 10-year-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 23-year-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.