Gang Rape and Honour Killing

Let’s Honestly Face It!

The 2012 Delhi gang rape case involved a rape and murder that occurred on 16 December 2012 in Munirka, a neighbourhood located in the southern part of New Delhi, when a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern was beaten and gang raped in a private bus in which she was travelling with a male friend.

There were six others in the bus, including the driver, all of whom raped the woman and beat her friend. The woman died from her injuries thirteen days later while undergoing emergency treatment in Singapore. (source: Wikipedia)

That horror story shocked the world because it was given wide media coverage. But it was not an isolated event. Such atrocities happen every day everywhere but in India the situation is getting alarming. Why?

Besides gang rape there are honour killings which are acts of vengeance committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family. A woman can be targeted by (individuals within) her family for a variety of reasons, including: refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, being the victim of a sexual assault, seeking a divorce—even from an abusive husband — or (allegedly) committing adultery. The mere perception that a woman has behaved in a way that “dishonours” her family is sufficient to trigger an attack on her life.

Men can also be the victims of honour killings by members of the family of a woman with whom they are perceived to have an inappropriate relationship. The loose term “honor killing” applies to killing of both men and women in cultures that practice it.

Some women who bridge social divides, publicly engage other communities, or adopt some of the customs or the religion of an outside group may be attacked. In countries that receive immigrants, some otherwise low-status immigrant men and boys have asserted their dominant patriarchal status by inflicting honour killings on women family members who have participated in public life, for example, in feminist and integration politics. (source: Wikipedia)

Ms Nupur Basu is a senior journalist, media educator and an award-winning documentary filmmaker. Among her five independent documentaries is ‘No Country for Young Girls’. She is the author of an article ‘Honour killings: India’s crying shame’ which reveals these gruesome acts of revenge taking place in India today. According to statistics from the United Nations, one in five cases of honour killing internationally every year comes from India. Of the 5000 cases reported internationally, 1000 are from India. Non-governmental organisations put the number at four times this figure. They claim it is around 20,000 cases globally every year.

Why are these things happening in what is often called the largest democracy in the world?

Gang rape and honour killing are the cancer of patriarchy.

Conservative patriarchal beliefs, customs and traditions are at the root of these atrocities. Although according to certain cliches a baby girl is Lakshmi, social reality points in the opposite direction. A baby girl is more often perceived as a curse. Technology instead of helping the emancipation of women has in this case become a lethal weapon. Now that it is possible to know the sex of a foetus, thousands of female foetuses are destroyed because of the custom whereby an important dowry has to be paid to the groom which could ruin a family. As a result the man-woman ratio (1:1) is upset and more and more young men find it hard to find a life partner. These frustrated randy men, proud of their patriarchal rights, seek revenge through rape and honour killing.

There are rearguard people who oppose any change in the cultural field for they believe that culture with an uppercase ‘C’ is sacrosanct. Culture is man-made and should be open to change to make life better. Beliefs, customs and traditions help to make life meaningful but archaic practices have to be jettisoned for they are obstacles to development. To build a better world major reforms at all levels are imperative be they economic, political, social or cultural.


* Published in print edition on 7 March 2014

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