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Rape in India has little to do with sex

Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 15:52 GMT+7

Editor’s note: There are rising rape cases in India including the gang-rape of a 23-year-old student whose death has triggered protests across the nation and more recently the rape of a Swiss woman. Kiran Johl, a Master's student in Social Work at California State University, Sacramento, told Tuoi Tre News via email that Indian men rape not for pleasure but for power. I am not a cultural or political expert by any means, but as an Indian woman and a future social worker, I have plenty to say about rape in any country.

It is not surprising that women are raped frequently in India or that we hear little about it in the U.S. I think this represents two different phenomena:

Sexual crimes and violence against women occur everywhere, and it has to do with gender inequality, and specifically about beliefs surrounding masculinity and femininity. Men (Indian or otherwise) are more often than not socialized to maintain control over themselves and their surroundings. Consider, then, the rape of the Swiss woman in front of her husband - what could it potentially mean for these very poor Indian men to rape a wealthy (at least in relative terms) European woman in front of her husband? I believe this was a response to their own poverty and perceived loss of masculinity in terms of their abilities to provide for themselves or, presumably, their families. In other words, I do not think this actually had anything to do with sex or pleasure.

Looking at femininity, consider the horrible rape of the 23-year-old student by five men. I cannot remember the exact details, but there was discussion about why the student was unmarried and seen with a young gentleman, and why she was on a bus after dark. What could the men gain by committing a crime against this young woman? I believe that they were trying to regain control over a woman who was, in their minds, acting more independently than they saw fit based on social norms.

These crimes are also outliers- the majority of rapes and sexual assaults do not occur by strangers, but by acquaintances of the victims. Perhaps just because I am a college student, I hear a lot about date and acquaintance rape at parties, etc. Again, I think socialization of masculinity and femininity ties into this- there is an unspoken belief that men are very sexual beings, and it is socially acceptable for them to want sex whenever, wherever, however. There is also an unfortunate belief that women play "hard to get," and that even if they say "No," they will change their minds halfway through the act. This has to do with the porn industry, as well as perceptions of women as being shy, coy, and sexually submissive. There is a clear message to men AND women that women say "No" the first time, men keep trying, and women eventually give in because really they do want it, they just have to pretend not to.

Lastly, I think we have not heard much about rapes in India in the U.S. because of racial and economic inequalities. To put it bluntly, no one cares about poor Indian women, just like we give less attention to the plights of poor Black women compared to middle class White women within the U.S.

Furthermore, as a second generation Indian woman, I could not imagine my family ever talking about sexual crimes against women because, bringing it back to social norms, it is not acceptable to talk about really anything related to sex with your family. I am on one hand not at all shocked to hear about widespread rapes of Indian women, but on the other hand am upset that my family is not talking about them every day, especially since my family members have been traveling back to India recently.

I know little about the politics of India, but no matter where you go, the political institution and media will be connected. I think the protests would have happened regardless due to the nature of the crime, but there is additional incentive to make a big scene when there are political decisions at stake.

Kiran Johl

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