Look around on social media, and it seems the word “pervert” has become a favourite of Indian men. As the media deliver a depressingly frequent register of rapes of women and children, as more and more women speak up every day about the constant threat and occurrence of sexual harassment and assault, it’s the one defence that embattled men have latched on to.
In this imagination, the facts of the matter are clear – the majority of Indian men are good men, they are loving and respectful fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. It’s just a few bad seeds, an inhuman minority that is depraved and perverted, and that should ideally just be culled from the population. “Hang the b*******”, “Castrate them”, is the constant refrain every time a conversation about sexual violence begins.
This “miniscule minority” of perverts is important to Indian men on social media, because it’s the ground for the defensive response that arises in every single conversation on sexual violence. A woman just has to say that she has been groped in public or propositioned at work or leched at, and an army of men automatically descends: “Not all men rape, not all men grope, not all men harass, not all men lech,” this mighty chorus immediately starts to chant, filling endless comment pages with the hashtag #NotAllMen.
In the rising cacophony, the depressing reality that women seek to raise a mirror to has completely been drowned out. So let’s start with that reality first. Check the statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau, and you’ll see that there were 34,651 cases of rape in 2015. That means that one woman was raped in the country every 15 minutes. And when you include other cases of sexual assault including molestation and harassment, the numbers go up by a staggering 90,000 cases.
And note, these statistics do not include children and minor girls. The alarming number in the case of minor girls and children is 10,854 cases of rape, and 14,913 cases under the POCSO Act, which covers a range of sexual crimes against children.
These numbers do not even reveal the full picture, as study after study has established that a significant percentage of sexual crimes go unreported for a variety of reasons.
The most important number to note, though, appears in a little paragraph tucked away under the eye-catching tables in the NCRB report. “Out of 34,651 rape cases (of women), in 33,098 cases the offenders were known to the victims accounting for 95.5% of total rape cases during 2015,” the report says.
As much as the #NotAllMen army would like us to believe in the miniscule minority of perverts, this means that in a huge majority of cases, women were raped by family members, relatives, neighbours and co-workers. These aren’t shadowy strangers lurking in dark alleys waiting to satiate their lust on unsuspecting women, these are men that women meet every day, talk to, work with, men who they probably treat with respect and affection, and from whom they expect the same respect and affection.
But, you’ll hear from the #NotAllMen gang, does that mean all men are molesters, sexual harassers, rapists? And of course, the answer is no. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a serious problem on our hands. What #notallmen does is to let men proclaim their own non-harassment credentials, and rest on this feeble glory that they themselves have not raped and harassed, and therefore they bear no responsibility for incidents occurring around them.
So let’s set the record straight on this: when women begin a conversation on what men do to women, none of them are making the ridiculous claim that every man does so. The numbers game is a spurious smokescreen to hide a more important reality – that sexual violence is a systemic problem in India today. A systemic problem means that there is a whole social environment in which thousands of men are encouraged to subject women and children to different forms of sexual violence.
What the #NotAllMen brigade really want us all to ignore is that rape and sexual violence don’t happen in a vacuum, that their occurrence is dictated by the everyday culture we live in, and the position this culture gives to women. And on that count, we constantly fail the test.
We fail to restrain male aggression from a young age, because, “boys will be boys”. We continue to let our sons live entitled lives, so that we still have the laughable phenomenon of thousands of adult men who can’t even perform the simplest tasks involved in taking care of themselves. We continue to saddle such helpless men onto women who are then expected to be at the beck and call of these men for the rest of their lives. And we continue to judge women for how they dress, where they go, how they live, who they befriend, what desires they feel and a whole lot more.
All of this, and more, sets the tone for how men in our country see women, and behave with them. All of this has also developed over years and decades, until it feels almost natural. Which means that all of this requires a much deeper, more introspective and more uncomfortably difficult conversation in society. None of us wants to imagine that we have perpetuated a culture that even indirectly leads to violence against women. But this is the responsibility we have to accept.
But then again, it’s so much easier to cry #NotAllMen, to vent our bloodlust calling for rapists to be hanged and castrated, and finally sit back and continue with our lives safe in the knowledge that we have not raped, molested or leched, and that’s a matter of great pride.