How we’ve forgotten the dehumanization angle of the Delhi gang rape case – explains Bhavana.

A lot of people have been debating and discussing solutions to reduce/eliminate rape in India in the past few days. Several solutions have been offered from modifyinglaws of the land, to stricter security measures through more efficient courts, to improving “moral” values, to better parenting of sons.
I am not here to debate them. There are experts for that. I am also not here to provide “the” solution as seasoned activists and grassroots workers who work with survivors in close proximity know betterthan I can ever do. This post is to reflect on those aspects that have not gained prominence as yet. Itis more an exploration thana definitive answer.
This post is last in the series Take Back India. Previous posts include Men We Trust , Coping and Transforming , and Taking Back Now .)
It was a comment made by afriend that got me thinking– on how the core issue of dehumanization in the Delhi Gang rape incident has somehow been lost in the melee.
Yes, rape is a symptom of larger malaise in the society. There is an ulcer or a tumour in the system. The problem, as my friend stated, is dehumanization. Itreminded me of the works of two philosophers—Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas and how perhaps their works may be applicable in this regard.
But before I set off, let me state this—that we do not know for a fact why men rape. We, in India, have notstudied psychology of rapists. Whatever little information we have is based on infrequent studiesin the West. Those studies find reason for rape as hostility and desire for control and that it is not a result of sexual arousal. Those studies also find thatthere are two kinds of men—one, criminal rapists who tend to be poor and less educated and have a record of criminal offences, and who tend to social isolates; two, psychiatric rapists who are well-educated and well-to-do, who blend into society well. Both do not have mental health issues but rather seem to be connected to a subculture of violence which legitimizesthe use of force as in rape. Fellow blogger Srini C.who blogs at What Ho! has also reflected on Why do rapes happen? .
Given this background, albeit sketchy, let me dwell on the point made in the beginning—dehumanizing the other. MartinBuber postulated t MartinBuber postulated that there are two ways we interact with this world. One is I-It and the other is I-Thou . In the I-It relationship, the Other loses humanity, it is converted into an object. Even though we may call a person he or she, we still mean “it.” In I-Thou relationship, the Other is present fully as we are present to ourselves, as we feel our hunger, our pain, our joy.
Emmanuel Levinas speaks of how “I” is called into an ethical relationship with the Other, by the Presence of the Other—the Other beckons the “I” into responsibility. But we often don’t see the Face of the Other, because it is mediated by the Other of the Other—or in simple words, the Other is never present before us fully as that which is palpitating withlife, with dignity and beauty.
So I ask the question—what prevents us from feeling the Other as we feel ourselves. One, self-needsand wants are so high that one is unable to look beyond to the Other. Two, social isolation, for e.g. class distance, a growing issue in modern India. Three, alienation from fellow beings due to excessive pre-occupation with television and internet which mediates social life. Inall such cases, the Other ceases to exist as a presence, it ceases to pulsate with breath and beauty, it becomes an It .
How do we break that cycle? Inter-class and inter-gender community dialogue can possibly be one route. I watched and read community mediation cases where communities which had encountered inter-ethnic riots were able to talk through their issues and find a working ground.
Two, instead of giving capital punishment, efforts can be made for rapists to meet and know about the life of the girl who was raped. However, it needs tobe done sensitively. For e.g. in USA, drunk drivers have to attend a compulsory meeting with family of folks who were killed or injured due to drunk driving—called MAD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). Research has shown that if family members are extremely aggressive and hostile to the drunk drivers, they do not manage to send intended message. Drivers feel so guilty that when they leave the prison they go back to drinking to assuage their guilt. What is found effective is low-intensity messages, in which drunk drivers are coaxed and and gently nudged into realizing what they have done. Such a process has been found to reduce repeat offenses.


2 comments on “How we’ve forgotten the dehumanization angle of the Delhi gang rape case – explains Bhavana.

  1. Beechmount says:


    I’m not a philosopher and I don’t pretend to fully understand how they reason. Having a down-to-earth view of things, I think many overlook the fact that the attitude toward rape is a consequence of the fact that the police tend only to prosecute the severest cases. Eve-teasing becomes a “sport”, since those who commit this unacceptable deed knows too well they will get away with it. Sexual gratification by “taking” it when they want to thus becomes easy.

    There are no simple solutions to change the attitude of millions of people, especially when holders of political office and high officials seem to commit the same offence-and no doubt get away with it. It remains to be seen, however, if death sentences handed out (and carried out) to the guilty offenders will make a large difference. Common reasoning suggests that at least some of the potential rapists may think twice, before committing the crime, knowing they will receive a death sentence for it.

  2. gita4elamats says:

    Dehumanising is a natural consequence of gender-inequality.

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