Why are women treated so badly in India?


Recently, a friend told me that women can wear what they want but should be more careful about their attire because men would feel tempted to harass and rape them. And the male mentality isn't changing. I was absolutely speechless. But many people have this horrendous point of view. And this is parroted by many young people in this country ‒ the kind of people who, I thought, are more aware and pissed off about the misogyny that seems to be rampant in our society. But it’s a sign of a far deeper sickness that remains deeply ingrained in us even while our misogynistic society is being ridiculed.

Not a Clue About Rape

The whole ‘Nirbhaya’ tragedy still hangs over us and people still don’t know what rape really is, let alone the motivations or causes of it. Even our politicians don’t seem to have a clue. They seem to think all women who are raped tend to be young, hot, wear skimpy clothes, eat chowmein and burgers, get drunk and wander the streets at night. But such thoughts are fed by ignorance and a superiority complex. There is no pattern – women of any age, of any social status, get attacked. It doesn’t matter if they were supermodels or if they are the simple girl next door. It doesn’t even matter if they are 8 months old. (The rape of men is also a major issue but I’ll tackle that in a different article.)

These crimes are not about sex and lust. The victims have been brutalised, beaten and in some cases stabbed, cut and sodomised by objects like bottles, rods and pipes. Are those the instruments of horny men? Certainly not! Sexual violence is about power, dominance and anger. Those who claim these are crimes of sexual desire, or that it’s a woman’s fault for encouraging it, are either utterly ignorant and don’t have a drop of empathy, or are just outright morons. But I can’t blame only them.

Most people believe as their family and friends do. So what is the root problem of why women have been treated like lesser beings through a large part of our history? One very plausible cause is given in this excellent article about the role of culture in the subjugation of women. But I have another theory that is possibly connected to Sujai’s excellent article.


[UPDATE: I have since discovered that the studies of Dr Zimbardo have never been replicated, and are also ethically questionable, to say the least. So I retract this as evidence. But the principle is compelling - that dehumanization allows people to mistreat others.]

I recently came across a lecture by Dr Philip Zimbardo about a book he wrote called The Lucifer Effect. In it, he describes an experiment he did in Stanford University where two groups of students were put into a role-playing scenario in a fake prison. In just a couple of days, the guards were treating the prisoners in the most atrocious, deviant and humiliating ways. Some decades later, the experiment was turned in to reality by American deputies in the atrocities of Abu Ghraib. Watch this video to get a brief, but the in-depth description from Dr Zimbardo himself.

And now, read this article on Dehumanisation. When a group is regarded as lesser beings, as so many women have, controlling and humiliating them becomes easy for anyone. In our society, women have faced this for so long, they no longer question it. That’s how deep it’s entrenched in our social perceptions. Women are being harassed and stripped naked on the streets by complete strangers as the public looks on. No one cares enough to stop them.

The Woes of Wives

When it comes to marriage, the man’s family chooses the right girl for him. Some of the criteria they look for: she must be a virgin; well educated but willing to stop working and become a housewife; she must wear decent clothes; she must be willing to raise children and take care of her in-laws; she must be fair skinned and BM or ‘broad-minded’, whatever the hell that implies. Not all of these are demanded by everyone, of course. But it’s sickening how common demands like these are.

Just open the newspaper matrimonial and you will see what I mean. You think that only happens in the lower strata of society? You couldn't be more mistaken. This permeates every single layer and class. In many homes across this country, women are treated like slaves. They are ordered around by their in-laws, even mothers-in-law (having been treated in the same way, they may feel the need to pass the mistreatment on to the next generation). If they refuse, they can be abused, beaten or punished with impunity, and even killed, burnt or mutilated with acid. And this passes from generation to generation.

The young women of the typical Indian household are taught to be submissive, and the men are taught that they are violently superior. The result: marital rape – the crime that isn’t even an offence. It’s her husband’s right. Her only choice is to take it or face torture.

From the New York Times:

A Delhi court has ruled that sex between a husband and wife, ‘even if forcible, is not rape.’ The judge’s decision[…] upheld section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which does not recognize ‘sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife, the wife not being under fifteen years of age,’ as rape.

And some more facts:

Approximations have quoted that every 6 hours; a young married woman is burnt or beaten to death, or driven to suicide from emotional abuse by her husband. The UN Population Fund states that more than 2/3rds of married women in India, aged between 15 to 49 have been beaten, raped or forced to provide sex. In 2005, 6787 cases were recorded of women murdered by their husbands or their husbands’ families. 56% of Indian women believed occasional wife-beating to be justified.

Oh, and the killing of female infants is still happening. Hospitals won’t allow gender checking, but what happens when the baby goes home? In a culture where such things are so widespread, where children are growing up in households like this and seeing their mothers being mistreated, how else would we expect them to treat other women?


Now, with social media, awareness of sexual discrimination, prejudice and violence is growing. It won’t happen overnight but these issues are being discussed and condemned in public. But for each condemnation, there are ten rape threats out there, if not more. So how do we fix it? It won’t be easy, that’s for sure. There are myriad root causes here and we must try and tackle them one by one. But before we find answers, we must ask the questions. Do you think women are being dehumanised? Do you think women should be free to do what they want or be careful of lust-addled men? Does that imply you’re blaming women for the harassment they face? Do you know someone who thinks this way? Think about it; talk about it. I have. And here's what I think one solution could be.