While travelling around India I made sure I went back to see my family in the village in which my dad grew up. The last time I was there was 11 years previously, so I was excited to finally visit my second home as an adult. As soon as I got there, conversations with my family members quickly turned to questions about when I was getting married. My grandma, uncle, neighbours, even my younger cousins, were all asking when the wedding was or whether the only reason I visited India was to find a wife. The thought of travelling for experience and fun seemed impossible for them to comprehend.
The older uncles were all very keen to get me out of the family circles and go for a drink in their ‘office’ so we could sip whiskey till the early morning and puff on ciggies while we talked ‘man to man’. It felt like the UK; the conversations, the banter and social gatherings were all similar. However, I noticed that conversations had an odd habit of turning from marriage to numerous questions about my sex life: how many women have you slept with? Do you get a lot of sex in the UK? Do you pay for sex? Western women are loose, aren’t they? Their ideas about my life in the UK were clearly glamorised – they seemed to think I was some wealthy playboy with a queue of women constantly begging me for sex.
To be clear, the discussion wasn’t purely about sex, but there definitely was an obsession with it; an almost fetishisation of the West’s approach to sex. Even hotel staff that I chatted with in Goa had asked about the “looseness of Western women”. Answering their questions on this topic didn’t frustrate me as I accepted the cultural differences we have. It was only when young boys, some even under the age of 12 in the community, seemed to be obsessing over my sex life and casually watching porn on their mobile phones that I began to realise how far this fixation on sex seemed to go. It was then I noticed that men and boys in India are incredibly hypersexual. Maybe it’s due to the conservative cultural values of marriage and monogamy and that proper sex education is way behind the West. Women and men never speak openly about it together. Sex is seen as something only enjoyable for men, while women aren’t supposed to have a sexuality. My male relatives kept pushing the idea of marriage, but they seemed to be of the opinion that, “you can continue having sex with other people, but marry someone soon … wives are only needed for baby-making, nothing else”.
It was clear they thought women were only needed for the sexual gratification of men’s sexual urges and to fulfil society’s expectations of marriage and produce children. It made me realise that perhaps this is also why India has a huge rape culture problem? After all, if so much of a woman’s sexual existence is reduced to satisfying men’s urges for sex, is it any wonder that many men feel they have a right to take what they see as theirs?
We all know about the high-profile 2012 rape case in Delhi which generated widespread international news coverage – a young woman beaten, raped and tortured by 6 men on a private bus. There was a documentary about the case called India’s Daughter, however it was banned because the Indian government objected to the film-makers releasing it without their approval. As a British Indian, this was frustrating as on one hand they want to encourage more women to report rape cases and not be silenced, but then when an opportunity arrives to educate more people, they choose to ban it? It’s obvious to me that India is in denial about its rape culture, or too protective of its image around the world.
After the visit with my family I travelled to Mumbai, Goa and Gujarat where I met some incredible people showing me the real India. Taking me to the slums of Mumbai and hotspots for the best food. One guy I met took me around some unique bars and I explained the pattern I had found with the men in India, how they seemed hypersexual and how this could link to the high number of rape cases. He agreed there was problem and how it’s a struggle to openly educate people and get these cases reported due to the shame the person would bring on their family and the fear of people in the community finding out. He also explained the difficulty of reporting a rape case when the abuser is within your family circle – a brother, father, uncle or cousin. After too many neat whiskeys and delving further into political and social conversations about India, he then opened up and said he had been raped when he was younger by an older relative and how he knows many people – both men and women – who have suffered the same.
Later in my travels, I met a girl my age who complained about the harassment she faces in the streets and about how her friends have become used to men gawking at them and making advances. She said it’s a slow process and the blaming of women is one major reason victims don’t report the abuse – blamed for wearing revealing clothes, putting on too much make-up, giving eye contact or talking a certain way. A woman’s purity is valuable and once that’s been robbed, she is blamed and shamed in the community.
There needs to be more focus on the younger generation to change their mentality on sex, rape and their expectations of women. She said that there had been some positive changes from the Delhi rape case, such as the government setting up 660 rape crisis centres across India.
However, the stats and facts of rape in India are still worrying:
- A rape takes place in India every 20 minutes.
- India has a conviction rate of 24.2% in rape cases.
- Anywhere between 50-90% rape cases go unreported.
As an Indian myself, with the privilege of living in the UK, I think there needs to be more done about how we educate boys and men in understanding that rape is unacceptable, we need to change their views on women and what their function is within society, and we need to look at how society responds to women who are raped to protect them from the stigma and shame that currently follows them for the rest of their lives.