Rape Culture, Indian Edition

By Omar Ali 97 Comments

There is news about another rape case (alleged rape case?) making wavers in India and Twitter regular @conradkbarwa posted some excerpts from a book by poet and journalist Nirupama Dutta that you can see below:





The anecdotes listed in these pages are obviously very disturbing and shocking, and I have no doubt that even if Nirupama moves in unusually nasty company, many such cases do occur across the Indian subcontinent and in most of them the police are yet another source of oppression (and sometimes even a second rape in the police station). The excerpts above are from East Punjab, so from a land that we are not entirely unfamiliar with (apart from whatever similarities exist across east and west Punjab, my in-laws are from villages near Ludhiana). It made me think about our own Punjab and the various anecdotes I have heard about rape of lower class women in villages as well as the use of sweepers and servants for sexual favors in urban areas. And of course, about the well publicized recent rape cases in Pakistani Punjab and about Razib Khan’s comment somewhere that “THIS is what a real rape culture looks like”. Which led to a tangential question in my mind: what are the similarities and differences between rape culture in Pakistani Punjab and Indian Punjab? 

  1. Differences in terms of actual prevalence and mechanics? Is such rape more common? less common? about the same? What figures do we have? How reliable are they? What is the trendline? How does this compare to other societies? 
  2. Differences in how it is framed: rapes in Pakistan tend to be framed as either class oppression (mostly by leftist/liberal commentators) or as “declining morals due to Indian movies, western influence, modernization, etc” (Islamist and/or traditional commentators). Rapes in India tend to be framed as class oppression too at times, but it seems that liberals and even traditional leftists in India (or about India, this is also true of most sympathetic Western commentators) seem very likely to blame “Brahminism” and the caste system as very specifically Indian forms of rape culture, not comparable to similar atrocities that happen to lower class populations in other countries (though I assume that population numbers being what they are, most actual rapists in East Punjab are  likely to be Jats or other local elites, Sikhs rather than Hindus, and rarely Brahmins). There is also a traditionalist view in India (that “lax morals, westernization, bollywood ” etc are to blame) and of course Hindutva types will add “love jihad” or “Muslim/Turkic colonization” to the list of putative causes. What are the most important causes in your view? 
  3. Which brings me to the real trigger for this post: Do you think the focus on caste in East Punjab (as in Nirupama Dutta’s book) and its relative absence in Western Punjab stories reflects a real difference in how easy it is to rape poor girls and get away with it? I know most Pakistanis will say this is exactly the case and that we are much better off since we are Muslims and any caste-ism that exists in us is a legacy of Hinduism, is less than it is in East Punjab, is fading fast and is the reason we have less rapes already, while Indian society will remain stuck in rape culture because of “Brahminism”.  Of course this is a question that in principle can be answered. What is the prevalence of the rape/sexual abuse of lower class women in Pakistani Punjab vs East Punjab? If it is really lower, then it needs an explanation. If it is not lower, then it may be that the focus on Brahminism is taking the public discussion (and possible solutions) into unhelpful areas? Or is it Pakistan that needs to talk more about caste rather than class to catch up to the reality? 
  4. I am not revealing any secrets by adding that this is connected to a personal feeling that left/liberal discourse is focused on political needs (defeating BJP/Hindu revivalism in this case)  and when you add that the usual human thing of finding a convenient narrative and beating it to death, it is possible that Pakistanis are actually a little better at analyzing their own society because they don’t have to carry this burden. But I am aware that this may be an extension of “grass is greener on the other side” on my part, and it is in fact the case that conversion to Islam (or “Indus man superiority”) has made Pakistanis less rapey than Indians. But if this is the case, why are Sikhs still rapey? does Brahminism work on them more than it does on Punjabi Muslims? (I am also aware that 6 out of ten readers will misunderstand what I am trying to ask here, but that is par for the course and I am more interested in the 4 who do get the question).

Fire away…