Praise for My Books

"Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is a gifted writer of great promise. I have a gut feeling we have a new star rising in Punjab's literary horizon. She has an excellent command of English and a sly sense of humour."
- Khushwant Singh on The Long Walk Home

"An enjoyable tale of a sassy girl's headlong race up the corporate ladder."
- India Today on Earning the Laundry Stripes

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Indian Rape Epidemic

You would be forgiven for thinking there is a rape epidemic raging in India , with daily reports of rapes in the country, of women, girls, minors even - horrific and gruesome. Today’s papers headline a case of bestiality, which could double up as an attempt to offend religious sensibility, for a cow was raped, then stabbed - and cow is sacred in India. Rape cases have emerged in the National Capital Region, Delhi , with such frequency that the acronym is being dubiously dubbed as the National Capital of Rape.

Has rape suddenly become excessively prevalent? Or does it make sensational copy that helps sell newspapers and attract eyeballs, until the next big story comes along? The horrific gangrape of a 23-year-old woman in Delhi last December shook up people, initiated soul-searching and put rape on the news radar. 

And yet, there hasn’t been a let up in rapes. People are protesting, perplexed that the brouhaha of last December hasn’t wrought lasting change in police and judiciary. We want action and we want it now. As a popular cola advertisement says, we want change, oh yes abhi haan bus abhi, oh yes now and make it pronto! 

Good advertising is built on insight and this popular advertisement leverages the zeitgeist of an India in a furious rush towards unadulterated prosperity. Aboard the inspiration bandwagon, we are hurtling our way towards the flimflam of the First world. The ad features Indian celebrities and other youngsters in frenzied pursuit of their dream as they rock a stage, dance on a cricket pitch, weave through traffic, get a bare back tattooed.

Rape apologists like to hold up such women - who feature in the ad and also form the target audience - as the reason for the epidemic of recent sexual assaults: they have boyfriends, wear western clothes, frequent pubs. These apologists range from policemen to politicians to spiritual leaders to aam junta, ordinary folk, who rail against the un-Indianness of such attitudes.

Some voices have been raised at the gross unfairness of the accusation but it is also true that most Indians who gulp that fizzy cola and demand change Now!, are equally unwilling to question the culture that systemically devalues women.

Indian society, 80% Hindu, is predicated on a fundamentally flawed precept that places men, Brahmanical, upper-caste, at the top of the pyramid and lumps women with Shudras, untouchables, at the bottom. Bhagavad Gita, one of Hinduism’s defining texts, is explicit on this, citing it unambiguously in chapter 9, verse 32. 

mam hi partha vyapasritya
ye ’pi syuh papa-yonayah
striyo vaishyas tatha shudras
te ’pi yanti param gatim 

For those who take refuge in Me, O Partha,
though they are lowly born, 
women, vaisyas as well as sudras, 
they also attain the highest goal 

- translation by S.Radhadkrishnan

And before the apologists of rape come up with their usual apocryphal arguments, let me pre-empt them:

1. One popular defense is the context and social conditions prevalent at the time of the writing of the text

One can go into myriad interpretative calisthenics but the original verse is there for all to read and one thing cannot be denied: the text places women, the entire gender, in a category which is inferior to the superior male. The sheer hubris behind such an act of arrogation is of course divine, and thereby not to be questioned.

2. S Radhakrishnan's interpretation is flawed

R-ight. This for a man generally regarded as one of India's most influential scholars of comparative religion and philosophy.

3. The text doesn't discriminate against women alone

Yes, it lumps them with several other unfortunate males. To what extent the text is discriminatory and disparaging of women can be debated endlessly but what cannot be denied is that whatever the original intent of the text, the manner in which it is popularly understood and practiced is prejudicial to women.

The sooner we open our eyes, the better for our society. No nation can progress if it insists on suppressing 50% of its population. Traditional texts have to be reworked, reinterpreted and challenged until they portray women as equal to men - a concept that is surely not alien to any living being in today's world.

That an entire gender can be consigned to the lowermost rung of the Indian caste hierarchy is an instance of astonishing historical audacity. And yet, it finds contemporary resonance in daily Indian life.

As an individual an Indian woman has little value - her worth comes from her male linkages, as daughter, sister, wife, mother of sons. Which is why the wife of the man accused of raping a minor is attesting to his innocence despite being a thousand kilometers away when the crime was committed. This is because she knows that her status as the wife of a rapist is still higher than that as a divorcee, an abandoned, or a single, woman.

Save for some enlightened pockets, the only way for women to have power is by being co-conspirators in this system. Which is why a mother-in-law will harass a new bride for dowry, force an expectant daughter-in-law to abort a female foetus, and actively arrange another wife for her son if no male heirs have been forthcoming. 

Why is it that nobody questions a system which debars menstruating women from entering a Hindu temple? (And just for the sake of consistency, shouldn't the temples dedicated to female deities also remove the deity from the temple for five days when presumably the deity is menstruating? Or do goddesses come with an in-built male-ordained menses-suppressing capability? ) Why is it customary to serve food first to men even as the women of the house patiently wait on them?  Why is there a pan-Indian preference for sons over daughters which has led to a 100 million missing women in India ? 

The facts are staring us in the face. With 940 females for 1000 males, we have a skewed gender ratio. Economic growth is bringing more women out of their homes as they seek greater opportunities in the 21st century. However, the dominant cultural mindset harks to medieval times. No wonder we are on a collision course.

Everyone wants a woman who is somebody else’s daughter. The Draupadisation of women - where one wife is shared by several men - is rampant in parts of India where gender ratios are biased severely in favour of men. This ‘epidemic’ of rape is another symptom of our structural flaw. 

Why then are we not addressing that flaw? 

Because it requires us to change our own self first. If we are serious about the safety of women we have to begin addressing the axiom that has engendered the belief that women are second-class citizens. 

Improvements in police, law and judiciary will doubtless help but real change will come when each one of us challenges the underlying precepts of our misogynistic culture. Oh yes abhi. Right now. Pronto.


  1. These points deserve serious thought.

  2. Very apt Manreet!
    Sociologically embedded in our psyche, it is up to us to stand up against it in our daily lives; if we, each one, every woman were to decide from this day forward not to accept this second rung citizenship, the postscript that states "inferior due gender", we can hope to see some positive changes in a few decades.
    However, the law and order and judicial system has failed us here in dilli, the former by fobbing off the trauma of a 5 year old raped girl and her parents with 2000 bucks.... the judiciary since we still await justice for Nirbhaya.

  3. Madam, I appreciate your article..
    But the paragraph from Bhagvad Gita seems mis-interpreted..
    The para can also be seen as equalising the discriminated. Since it can also be viewed as
    "All those who were considered of lower castes or gender are actually equal in view of god and can attain supreme destination.."
    Hindu culture has its share of problems I totally agree..
    I would love to get your response on my view..
    Do visit my post on the same subject..

    1. Here we go round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush...

      'equalizing the discriminated': So salvation lies in being equal in the eyes of God, never mind the ranking in the human world!

  4. Madam,
    I just meant that the para is actually criticizing the human discrimination..
    The para just says that "humans discriminate" and dat religion or god has nothing to do with it..
    P.s. i m just talking abt dat para alone, nothing abt all hindu scriptures as such..

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Anisha Kanjilal26 April 2013 at 17:23

    I admire anyone who voices out their opinion but honestly what has been said here is nothing new. This is what we've all been saying . I always say that we women are our own worst enemies in how we treat our children of different sexes, our daughters in law, daughters etc.
    Its all very well to say we need to change ourselves. The pertinent question is how?
    The ones who don't buy into the premise that men are superior, need no change in thought ...presumably they conduct their lives in a manner befitting their level of awareness. The true danger is that the people you are talking about see nothing wrong in their way of thinking. To them, probably God, in His infinite wisdom, has made women inferior !!

    Also these changes percolate slowly down generations. It will take at least 2-3 generations of men ( who primarily learn by example,) to understand that women are not only mother ,sister, daughter , wife... and that they are not free to violate anyone who doesn't fall under these categories in relation to themselves.
    As we have seen.. the media furore has made no difference to the crime rate. Even education takes generations to make a difference.
    In the interim, the one deterrent could be that of severe punishment. Not the noose... that is too quick and ends the matter for the rapist , leaving the victim to deal with a lifetime of suffering.
    Chemical or physical castration will give the rapist a life of never forgetting what he has done to someone else.

    While I agree with you a 100% that a change of our own innermost attitude is at the heart of any revolution..change comes much much later. How do you explain to people, the fallacy of their ways?

    1. I never claimed I was saying anything revolutionary. This post came out of my amazement at people who want instant change in the system without actually tackling the fundamentals of that very system. If we want the police and judiciary to suddenly start functioning differently we also have to remember that they don't operate in a vacuum - they spring from the same society that we are a part of.

      The decision to change our own actions isn't long term - we can do it abhi, now. The effects of these will be long term because effecting a change in the mind set of a people is a slow laborious process. But the deterioration didn't happen overnight either.

      Here's how we bring about a change:

      - Speak up. Refuse to accept any inequality or injustice. Each one us has a sphere of influence, our family, friends, relatives, work place - let's bring our voice to work there.

      - Call out any act of 'eve teasing', sexual harassment, physical violence that you encounter. Or see another being subjected to in your presence. Just refuse to treat it as a 'barking dogs' menace.

      - Treat our sons and daughters equally. In every single thing.

      - Challenge religious notions that are accepted without question - if a menstruating woman cannot enter a temple, why should she or her family go to that temple? Talk to the temple priest, within the community, galvanize opinion against this discriminatory practice.

      - Why should Sita be a role model for Indian women and not Draupadi? Challenge assumptions, ask questions, force people to re-think.

      - In parallel we aggressively pursue the change we want in policing and law

      Change isn't easy and won't come quickly but unless we start addressing the structural flaw within our society we aren't going to get far with cosmetic changes alone

  7. probably one of the worst things happening in society these day.....


  8. The problem lies with the prevailing worldview - Weltanshauung. Who can change it?