Addressing suppressed sexuality
The ghastly and brutal gang-rape and murderous assault on a 23-year old by six men in New Delhi last month has shaken the national consciousness and hit our sensibilities as a society like no case before. The crime, like many before it, has only highlighted the brutal and life-altering nature that sexual violence has on the victim, but more than that, this case in particular, has highlighted a certain broken society that we live in today. India has been hailed as a success story the world over given our economic prowess and rising international stature. Pitted against the rosy news is the oft-reported but quickly forgotten issue of gender discrimination and sexual violence that exists in the country today. A lot of the sexual crimes committed against the victim are nothing more than criminal acts of a deviant mind hell bent on "proving" the superiority of one's manliness against the victim, or, rape as a tool of warfare between warring factions both by State and non-State actors and groups has been a common and wholly condemnable act for years. However, what stands out in this particular case has been the deeper introspection as to what would make six men commit an act so heinous that the very narration leaves one nauseous and extremely agitated.
Of the many angles on the deeper psychology of the criminals who committed this act, a larger more cultural aspect has been drowned out or forgotten during the debates and opinion pieces. India has largely existed as a culturally conservative society with competing theories on whether the influence of Islam, those of the missionaries or that of the Hindu religion led to the current state of affairs. None of the explanations as to how we got here as a society are as important, as understanding what this conservatism has done as an outcome. The physical separation of boys and girls and in later life men and women has led to a society that is suppressed sexually and does not take social interaction between the two sexes as "normal". Many boys and men, and not necessarily from rural backgrounds, rely on dubious means for sexual education. The sale and use of pornography, B Grade vernacular cinema, graphic soft porn novels and such like are indicators of what young men and boys are being taught as normal sexuality and sexual relationships. This often perverted and deviant view on sex and sexuality objectifies women as sexual objects for the taking and acts like rape or sexual molestation are often the unfortunate outcome.
The wave of globalization has also imported Western influences and cultural underpinnings into a country that has people living with mindsets spread over hundreds of years, if not, millennia. So while the swish set adapt and adopt like their cousins and friends from overseas, the more ordinary see a direct relationship between high street fashion and sexual chasteness. What was the view of the so-called "foreign white woman" of the 60's, 70's and 80's as a woman being sexually chaste and morally dubious, is often equated with any young Indian woman who follows fashion and keeps male company. This culture shock and a lack of structured sexual education has led to the increase in acts of sexual violence and misbehavior against women in the larger scheme of things.
The criticism of popular culture, reality TV and Bollywood's contribution to objectification of woman is not without reason, and coupled with the lack of education and a the influence of Western culture sans the sensibilities has led to a barrage on incidents of sexual violence against women in our country. In the short and medium term, the attention and national anger at the current incident will act as a useful and timely deterrent to any future perpetrators, but the long term solution towards a more gender sensitive society where our women are safe will only happen through a mix of changes in cultural outlooks, change in our social interactions and structured education on sexuality and gender issues.
More about Dr Karan Thakur
Dr Karan Thakur is a dentist by training and a healthcare manager by profession. Other than healthcare and health policy his interests include politics and current affairs, non-fiction reading, art, Western Classical Music and squash. A budding writer, Karan hopes to publish a book of non-fiction someday.