Have I got your attention? I certainly hope so. I just read a news story about two Indian sisters who were allegedly gang-raped by three men, two of whom were police officers, strangled and then hung from a tree. I’m literally still shaking from the complete and utter disgust I felt after reading the whole story. These two sisters were only 14 and 15 years old! I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of sick, perverse and twisted stains on humanity would find pleasure in robbing these young girls of their innocence. Rape in any form is unacceptable and I’ve never been able to understand how the attacker could find pleasure in committing such a heinous act. But to rape children, that to me, is pure evil. I just don’t understand it.
I’m sure many of us remember the stories of a fatal gang-rape that took place on a moving bus in New Delhi in 2012. I remember reading about it back then thinking how could this have happened? How did an innocent woman, only 23 years old, get onto a bus unsuspectingly, and then get raped so violently? How did the six men on the bus all get the impulse to rape her? How does that happen? Was it due to social conditioning? Was there a lack of moral guidance in these men’s lives growing up that didn’t teach them the difference between right and wrong? Does that even need to be a taught lesson – don’t we intrinsically have a moral compass within us that would tell us that forcefully having sex with someone against their will is just wrong – no question, no debate, just completely wrong?
The woman from 2012 died from her injuries 13 days after the rape. Of the six men who raped her, one hung himself while in police custody, one, who was only 17 at the time, received a maximum sentence of 3 years in a reform facility, and the remaining four men were sentenced to death. The case sparked a much needed outcry and international discussion on the frequency of rape in India and prompted stricter anti-rape laws. Sadly, those laws haven’t done much to reduce the number of rapes that still take place in India today. Even the statistic mentioned earlier of a woman being raped every 22 minutes is estimated to be drastically under representative because of the social stigma attached to women who are the victims of rape. Many of these victims are told by their families and their local law enforcement to keep quiet about their attacks in order to preserve their honor and respect for their family’s reputations. Honor and respect – not exactly what I would consider being preserved after a rape takes place. Quite the contrary. However, in India (and many other places around the world) a woman who is a victim of rape carries that stigma with her for the rest of her life. In India especially, her chances of ever getting married or finding a partner are drastically, if not completely, reduced. She is seen as an outcast and sentenced to a lesser life for an act that was imposed upon her against her will. For something she had no control over. Not only does she have to live with the trauma, both physical and mental, she has to then carry the consequences of that horrible abuse for the rest of her life.
So what role does social conditioning have on the case of the two sisters in India? It was reported in the story that they were from the Dalit community in India, also known as the ‘Untouchables‘. In India’s history of the caste system, the Dalit were seen as the lowest rung on the caste ladder. Their designation of being ‘untouchable’ was a literal one in that they were seen as impure and regarded as a lesser sect of the population. “In the context of traditional Hindu society, Dalit status has often been historically associated with occupations regarded as ritually impure, such as any involving leatherwork, butchering, or removal of rubbish, animal carcasses, and waste. Dalits worked as manual laborers cleaning streets, latrines, and sewers. Engaging in these activities was considered to be polluting to the individual, and this pollution was considered contagious. As a result, Dalits were commonly segregated, and banned from full participation in Hindu social life.”
Did the Dalit status of these two young girls have anything to do with their rape? Did the men who raped them have the sense that what they were doing was somehow more acceptable because they were raping women that had a lesser designation in their caste beliefs?
Perhaps the messages they heard around them growing up, and even in present day, gave them the false notion that it was ‘okay’ to have sex with women even if they didn’t consent. The girls were raped in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The head of the Uttar Pradesh governing party told an election rally just last month that he was opposed to gang rapists being executed. Why? Well, in Mulayam Singh Yadav’s words, “Boys will be boys. They make mistakes.” No sir, a mistake is a baseball accidentally going through a house window after a great hit. A mistake is jumping in a puddle of mud after your mom just finished cleaning your clothes. Those are mistakes that could be justified by “boys being boys” but there isn’t any chance that raping a woman can be written off as “boys being boys.”
I just don’t get it. It makes me really sad to think that in some places around the world, messages like these are being handed down through society (and believe me, I’m not deluding myself into thinking these types of behaviors and notions only take place thousands of miles away and not in our own backyards). There are so many forms of inequality and injustice within our society. Haven’t we learned from history? Haven’t we seen enough evidence that would clear up any doubts in our heads that this is just wrong? The skewed sense of morality (or perhaps a lack of morality at all) that allows people to commit acts like these and somehow justify them within their own heads just makes me wonder where the world is headed.