To solve a problem, you have to understand it. Why Men Rape " An Indian Undercover Investigation, a new book authored by Tara Kaushal, deconstructs the very complex subject of rape, chipping away at the falsehoods patriarchy has perpetrated. In a country where rape is massively underreported, where few have faith in the police and where half the population lives with the fear of assault, many things need to change.
Questioning the survivor on her whereabouts, telling girls to stay safe aka indoors, and listening to politicians listing Chowmein, jeans and western culture as causes " as a society, we obviously have a long way to go. Kaushal's book is not about these attitudes; it's a deep dive into the rapist's mind and the socio-cultural reality that birthed him.
It's not that there aren't any studies on the subject. There are plenty. But many of them exist in the academic and research world that is largely inaccessible to most of us. What we are acquainted with instead is the villainous rapist from Bollywood, viral videos of assault that are meant to titillate, and coverage on sensational rape-murders like the 2010 Delhi gangrape or the Kathua case. This book brings complex theories on gender and violence to the layperson in an easy, conversational style, making it essential reading for all.
Tara Kaushal, who has written extensively on gender, sexuality and equal rights, began working on this book full-time in 2017. The idea, however, had germinated much earlier and the 2012 case had been one of the triggers. Growing up as a teenager in Noida, Kaushal has faced sexual violence, once narrowly escaping a gangrape. But soon she became determined to fight back, unwilling to accept that men's actions should have such a large bearing on the way she lived her life.
In this book she adopts the anthropological and observational method to interview nine undetected rapists, spending days with them undercover as a film researcher, to uncover not just why they committed these crimes but how their caste, economic reality, upbringing, culture, religion and language have led them to become who they are. The men interviewed for the book are representative of India's demographics in many ways " a doctor who raped his 12-year-old patient and left her paraplegic; an unemployed man who has decided to kill his former lover; a youth who participated in a gangrape; a serial rapist who doesn't believe that rape exists.
In an interview, Kaushal gives us a glimpse into "why men rape", and her journey writing this book.
In the case of some of your subjects, there was a complete lack of understanding of what rape was. Some of them simply equated it with sex and believed that women have a great appetite for it, and that they can never be satiated. Fundamentally, they didn't see anything wrong with forcing themselves on women. I find it unbelievable that after committing a rape and observing the woman, anybody could think that there was nothing wrong with they did. Your thoughts¦
Let's talk about one particular subject [in the book], the political henchman from Bhopal. If you situate women's desires as he does, as insatiable and indiscriminate, that all women want sex and a lot of it, then you believe that the only reason she would be saying no is because of social constructs. He believes it's just a mask. He'll say, "But if you really ask her, she wants sex." So forcing women is nothing much more than divesting them of their social conditioning, according to him.
Another one of my subjects " who stalked a girl for a long time, until he discovered that she'd died by suicide " also believed that to keep stalking a woman till she says yes was normal. That, according to him, was the way "love initiates". Across cultures, in all sorts of literature and film, a woman has to play hard to get until she ultimately capitulates. No means yes. This idea of rape is a sexual extension of that.
These ideas come from patriarchy, an ideology that believes a woman should say no and should appear to preserve her modesty and "virginity". These ideas predate film and literature. We're going back to the origins of patriarchy, which is at the start of the agrarian revolution.
So every time people and patriarchy shame 'loose women', women who have sex when and with whom they want¦in fact, these women are working towards a more honest gender dynamic.
The reasons for why men in India rape are many and complex. You've delved into patriarchy, the penis privilege, language, the way children and particularly boys are brought up, domestic abuse, caste, economic disadvantages. But out of all the reasons that you have uncovered and explained, what would you say is the most important one? The one that causes the most damage?
It's difficult to hone in on one or two but if I had to, I'd look at it this way¦
I'd say rape happens for two reasons. One, the perpetrator objectifies the victim. So, when a man is in a relationship or even if he loves the woman, he is able to take a step back and say, "If it's a choice between my desires and hers, my desires are more important." That boils down to patriarchy. The other is that the perpetrator doesn't objectify the victim, sees them as fully human, and wants to assert power and pain on that human being. That boils down to rage and violence within the perpetrator.
I've watched some of these widely circulated rape videos and in one these, the woman is trying to fight back and the man's just laughing. So why is he laughing? He's laughing because he finds it amusing or he's laughing because his anger is being quelled, his violence is finding resolution. There are lots of reasons for this rage, from capitalism to the caste system, from population to culture and inequality¦. You see everyone getting ahead, and people wearing jade and diamond-studded clothes while you have no money to eat.
Patriarchy needs to be wiped out, simple, and we need to address the systemic reasons for why people are angry. One of the biggest reasons for the rage, and one that is easiest to solve at an individual and community level, is domestic violence against wives and kids at home; and corporal punishment in homes and in schools. We need to actively campaign against this.
Do those who play traditional roles of stay-at-home mom or homemaker strengthen the patriarchy?
We were always patriarchal, historically; now we're a capitalist patriarchy, where money underscores the historical power structures. To undermine capitalist patriarchy, do women need to step back from motherhood and child rearing? That is also unfair. Because, again, we're imposing an idea of what is or isn't right for women to do. The problem is that the labour of stay-at-home mothers isn't paid or rewarded. If she's worked 10 hours a day, every day, brought up the children and taken care of the house, then where's her salary?
There are so many stories of artists who spent years writing, and their wives were running the house, cooking and providing for them. The world is full of men who have gone forward on the labour of women. They want the children, but they don't want to pay for the sacrifices that the woman is making to bring up those children. I don't think stay-at-home wives and mothers are propagating the patriarchal system, but they are victims of the system because it doesn't record or reward their labour.
How much of a change does our legal system require and what changes would you advocate for specifically? There's a 1972 Supreme Court judgment on the Mathura gangrape case that you mention in the book which said that since the woman had not raised an alarm and there were no visible signs of injury, therefore there was no rape. The unscientific two-finger test, as you point out, also was done away with only in 2013.
The first thing that the government does is change the law. It's the easiest thing to do. In 2018, the Madhya Pradesh government decided child rapists would be hanged and that was the new law. We bay for blood, and we want quick and easy answers " and we get them. Change the law, it's simple!
The problem in India is not so much the law. It's the execution of the law. It's the law enforcement. From the police to the judicial system. Judges are overworked. I interviewed a judge recently, and he said that each judge in the Agra District Court has 2000 cases that they need to work; and then in the evenings they need to do the bail hearings, all of which need to be uploaded to the server. It's all very well for us to criticise the slow process of the law but that's the reality of it.
We do need legal reforms, but we don't need it in the laws, we need it in the way it's executed. I met Vinta Nanda on a panel discussion recently. She had been raped over 20 years ago. But when she went to the police station to file an FIR, they told her she'll have to do a medical test. What sense does that make?
Women don't report these cases because they believe nothing will happen and most times that's unfortunately true. And it's a catch-22. We don't report it and the men get away and the burden is back on the survivor to prove it. The only way to solve this is with police reforms but more importantly, men have to stop doing it.
How do we hold Bollywood accountable for rape culture? For many of us, our understanding of romance, college life, sex and many other important aspects of life unfortunately have been shaped by Hindi films. And if films like Kabir Singh continue to be top grossers, the commercial success that regressive and patriarchal ideas offer will ensure that such films keep getting made.
We cannot outsource the responsibility of what gets represented in films just to filmmakers, because they aren't really motivated by societal good. We have put our money and our votes where our mouth is. You have to make liberal the right choice and normalise feminism. You have to not pay to watch a Kabir Singh. There is no way to quantify the harm that Bollywood has done. It's overt and it's covert. And a lot of damage needs to be undone.
Can you take us through your journey of writing this book?
Although I was raped by a gardener when I was four years old and even though there was sexual violence all along, I hadn't told my parents anything so there were no consequences. It wasn't until I was 12 and we'd moved to Noida that I started feeling like what men did was having unnecessary repercussions on my life. My parents didn't want me to go out too much and tried to implement rules for what I could and could not wear. The question I started asking myself was: "Why should the actions of men impact my life so much?"
I was always a feminist, and became more so as I grew older. I studied the subject till my postgraduation, and have written about gender and sexuality since, for over 15 years now. But it wasn't until after the Delhi gangrape of 2012 that I decided this was the book I was going to write. You study sexual violence as an outlier of feminism, but it wasn't enough to write a book about it. I started reading for it and saving for it. In 2017, when I started work on the book full-time, I crowd funded it. That for me was a really big one, because now I was accountable to other people. There were many times I was close to giving up but having made such a social and economic commitment, I couldn't. That pushed me through the tough times.
While I was doing the interviews, some situations did become dangerous. There was a trap laid out for me but I managed to escape; I hung out with a dacoit. But these were not deterrents. I didn't think of the danger of being in such close proximity with these interview subjects, till I was actually in the moment.
Why Men Rape " An Indian Undercover Investigation by Tara Kaushal is published by HarperCollins and was launched on 22 June. The book is available on Amazon.