The Horror Story That Began at Home: The Shattering Child Rape Case in Chennai

It seems as though this has become commonplace now. Waking up to one horror or another. The place changes, the circumstances change, the victims (in number and in demographics) change. And yet the news of shootings, bombings, rapes, murders seem to constantly batter our weary souls.

A few days ago, it was reported that an 11-year-old girl was repeatedly raped by 17 men over a period of several months. These men were workers in the child’s apartment complex and included several security guards, a plumber, and the elevator operator, among others, ranging from early 20s to late 60s in age. Essentially, they were people she should have been able to trust.

These were the people who drugged her, forced her to watch pornography, violently raped her, filming themselves doing so, and threatened her into silence. Keeping in mind that a large percentage of the middle class and higher Indian population retains household help, these cases are not only intolerable to anyone with the tiniest moral compass, or really anyone who is not the kind of deviant who would perpetrate such a terrible crime, they are also every parent’s worst nightmare.

Over the past few days, the number of the perpetrators, in this case, are being reported to be higher than first reported, now the numbers ranging from 18 to 22. Soon afterwards, in a stunning, and yet sadly expected fashion, people started pointing fingers even closer to home, in the classic victim-shaming cycle we seem to espouse as a society.

So, let’s analyze the scope of this problem. Frankly, even one child who faces this sort of barbaric, unforgivable molestation is one child too many. But this BBC article from December 2017 reported the sickening results of a government-run study, stating that a child is sexually abused every 15 minutes in India. Furthermore, it seems as though recently, brutal rapes and gang rapes are occurring at a greater frequency. Looking back at 2018 alone (and we’ve just barely crossed the half-year mark), we’ve heard of several gang rapes of child victims – such as the gang rape and murder of 8-year-old Asifa Bano in Kashmir, the 4-month-old baby (YES, BABY) in Indore, a 7-year-old girl in Madhya Pradesh, and so many others.

For every one case that makes it through multiple news channels and reaches people globally, there are most certainly several cases that we never hear about but are reported locally – a heartbreaking search on the keyword “child rape” on the Indian Express site being the case in point. In 2016, according to a Washington Post article, child rapes reported that year were astronomically 82% higher – 19,000 of the total of 39,000 reported rapes, where the victims were children. This article points to a small town, Gajipur, where three children were raped in a span of 10 days this month, leaving the community terrified. However, their solution includes talking to little girls about “good touch” versus “bad touch.” How about teaching boys the same?

The burning question here is WHY is this happening?

There could be a multitude of factors, and I certainly cannot claim to be an expert nor an activist. However, as a woman, who grew up in India—Chennai, to be specific—and who has a (self-proclaimed) high voracity for reading about topics related to misogyny, here are a few perceived factors:

  • Education, or lack thereof of the perpetrators
  • Lower socioeconomic status of the perpetrators
  • Lack of proper sex education
  • Legal system (Panchayat systems in villages, delayed or no justice, etc.)
  • Blatant patriarchy supported by society and starting at home
  • Post-rape victim shaming/blaming and in some cases retribution
  • Complete lack of understanding of consent
  • Unnatural male to female ratio
  • Falsified reports of rape used to cover up consensual relationships due to fear of family or society

A criminology doctoral candidate, Madhumita Pandey interviewed 100 convicted rapists in Delhi’s Tihar jail, and said only a few had graduated high school, and most had dropped out in 3rd or 4th grade. She continues to state sex education as well is lacking out of fear that speaking about sex will “corrupt” children and teenagers.

Interestingly, while there are some studies that have shown the link between porn and sexual aggression, a study conducted in India found no significant link between access to porn and rape statistics. However, it is undeniable that the act of sex carries a heavy burden of shame in India, and arguably way more so for women. I read the article detailing Madhumita Pandey’s experience, and a chill went down my spine:

“There were only three or four who said we are repenting. Others had found a way to put their actions into some justification, neutralize, or blame action onto the victim.”

One case, in particular, participant 49, sent Pandey on an unexpected journey. He expressed remorse for raping a 5-year-old girl.

“He said ‘yes I feel bad, I ruined her life.’ Now she is no longer a virgin, no one would marry her. Then he said, ‘I would accept her, I will marry her when I come out of jail.’”

Growing up in India, I learned to quickly develop a disdain for the justice system. I have heard of (even in my own family) cases being stuck in courts for DECADES. Rape cases are not immune to such a problem, and frequently take years to get justice served. An Al Jazeera report points out that only one in four rape cases in India lead to a conviction, and a large percentage of rape cases take 5 to 10 years in court to reach a verdict. Furthermore, even the process of reporting and registering the rape can sometimes take so long, that it can hamper the ability to collect physical evidence of the rape.

In another case, a Panchaayat (ancient self-governance practice that continues in many villages, even today) tried to cover up reported rape, by trying to bribe and/or punish the accuser. It is important to point out that Panchayats have been claimed to be instigators of cruel punitive misogynic “justice” – such as honor killings, beatings, rapes, etc.

In so many cases, even politicians, policymakers and people within the legal system have held and expressed shamefully backward and twisted views on rapes. For example, as reported by BBC:

“Mulayam Singh Yadav, leader of the regional Samajwadi Party said: ‘Boys make mistakes. They should not hang for this. We will change the anti-rape laws.’”

BBC continues to point out that several of Prime Minister Modi’s own party members have been accused of rape. An even more disgusting example of this is evident in watching “India’s Daughter,” a documentary detailing the Nirbhaya case, including video testimony from the victim’s family and friends, legal professionals, the rapists themselves, and politicians. To say it is horrifying is a drastic understatement.

A big part of the problem is rooted in family, society and how gender roles play out. I recall watching a video (source unknown) where men walking in a park were stopped and casually interviewed to determine whether they understood consent. Most if not all did not comprehend the concept of marital rape.

And yet this rightly offended opinion piece writer claims that consent, in its nature, is pre-meditated, and as such, the very men who are likely to molest and rape in India, who would have never considered a woman’s consent or willingness or respect for that matter, before they felt her up on a bus or violated her physically or verbally, or with their eyes even, wouldn’t consider any of those things before they rape her.

Indian society simply instills different ideals in girls and boys. We are steeped in patriarchy, and in smaller towns and villages, and the more traditional the family, the stronger the sense that a woman simply doesn’t and shouldn’t have a voice, an opinion, or rights. Some of us were fortunate enough to have grown up in progressive households, strong female role models in our mothers, sisters, aunts and teachers, and opportunities to thrive in our socioeconomic status or surpass it. Many are not so fortunate, and women tend to pay the price.

Because in India, more so than many other countries, the stark extremes live amongst one another. The highly educated and illiterate, the obscenely rich and the starving homeless, people with extreme and opposing beliefs and values, and so on. Therefore, even villages and towns aside, these factors can apply to bustling, metropolitan cities, as is seen in the Nirbhaya case, and in the case of this little girl from Chennai.

So much more can be said in analysis, trying to dissect this problem, but it is so convoluted, that unraveling it will likely take generations of Indians bringing up their sons and daughters the right way and massive upheavals to the justice and education systems, and maybe a few stars aligning in perfect formation. I do not presume to have answers, but this is yet another outcry, just one more voice in the crowd, helplessly following the news from afar, and hoping for some peace and justice for the victims and their families, hoping for change, hoping to never have to read another such news report. But, I’m already dreading tomorrow’s headlines.

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