The horror of Hathras and the culture of normalising rape

Sex is a biological fact but rape is neither biological nor natural and it is most often not an act of sexual gratification, despite being an extreme form of sexual aggression.

hathras gang rape

We may in due time find a cure for the deadly Coronavirus but the epidemic of rape in India remains incurable. It has only generated a herd immunity in acting against such heinous crime to the point of rape toleration. As almost all women go through some form of sexual harassment in their lives, most cases go unreported to save some abstract honour of the victim which also disgraces and discredits the entire family. It takes the most gory and brutal rapes for the country to come out it of its somnambulance. According to the NCRB data[1], there has been a steady increase in the crime against women with 87 women raped in a single day and one woman raped in every 16 minutes. The horrifying details of violence against women get worse in the case of Dalit women where even filing an FIR is a challenging task. Sadly, it took the gruesome gangrape of Nirbhaya in 2012, in Delhi for the Country to come out in the streets. A nation-wide stir led to the revision of the rape laws in India under Justice Verma Committee Report’s recommendation[2] to redefine ‘rape’ in order to address the existing legal lacunas by broadening the existing flawed understanding of rape. It also included acid attack, sexual harassment, use of criminal force on a woman with an intent to disrobe, trafficking, voyeurism and stalking as part of sexual assaults with stringent punishments. The fact that these widespread crimes against women were legally unrecognised (especially stalking and voyeurism) as sexual assault shows the apathy and the normalising culture of rape in our country.



Image: Screengrab from Markandey Katju’s Facebook wall


As the unfortunate tragedy of Hathras gang rape captured the media glare with the politicians pouring  in and social media buzzing it. Mr Markandey Katju, the former Supreme Court judge of India and the Chairman of the Press Council of India with a long-standing judiciary service made a Facebook Post[3] in all seriousness stating that the rapes in the country are due to the rising unemployment. He further relates the rising number of unemployed male youth of our country with the uncontrollable sexual urges are bound to increase the rapes because they are unable to marry. Before I point out the falsity and the utter farcicality of the argument posed by the most respected judge of our country who may have decided the fate of many rape victims, it’s important to analyse the façade of condemnation of rape which is stated in the first and the last line, while the major part of the post negates the condemnation as it goes on to build an argument that validates caste ridden patriarchy in naturalising the sexual urges of men (and not women) in the form of rape.

The argument posed by Mr Katju is not just flawed but damaging at various levels. Firstly, it promotes a false understanding of rape as a socio-economic phenomenon, thereby absolving men of their crime. If rape is a by-product of a systemic failure of governance in the form of unemployment then it’s understandable for men to rape women for their ‘natural’ urges (not to forget to mention that ‘natural’ is concomitant to ‘good’ in common parlance). What is natural is seldom resisted. Additionally, unemployment rarely impedes marriage for men as most men usually inherit some sort of property or land. Contrastingly, lack of dowry does make many women unmarriageable. Secondly, for Mr Katju, male sexual urges and desires are ‘natural’ like food, it’s interesting how he speaks of sex and food in the same breath while ostensibly condemning the rape.  By equating sex with food, he again normalises the rape culture by re-enforcing male entitlement to female sexuality and bodily claims and not surprisingly in both motif of food and sex, women are conspicuously present by their absence as objects, in most cases preparing food and bed for men. Without distinguishing between sex and rape, Mr Katju almost uses the terms interchangeably further intensifying the rape culture.

While sex is a natural urge in both men, women and people with different sexual orientation, its imperative to disengage sex with rape. Sex is a biological fact but rape is neither biological nor natural and it is most often not an act of sexual gratification, despite being an extreme form of sexual aggression. Rape is an act of cultural and sexual domination. Rape is forced, non-consensual and a complex act. Men can rape for variety of reason, for sex, to seek revenge, to punish, to put women in their place or to show them their ‘aukaat’, for jealousy, to display their power or lack of it, to besmirch the family name, rape is a perfect punishment. Also very often rape is accompanied by bodily mutilation and violent attacks indicating the male power and control in marking their territory. The Hathras gangrape of a Dalit girl by upper caste men followed by unlawful and undignified cremation of her body is embodiment of the noxious interplay of caste and patriarchy to maintain the status quo. Mr Katju’s take on rape here is not only unacceptable but is a dangerous trend as it advertently or inadvertently shifts the discourse on rape to unemployment in an attempt to channelise our anger and outrage into more electorally beneficial issues because as he implies rapes are too mundane (“Numerous rapes have been taking place daily since decades”) Hathras gangrape is a cruel reminder of the upper caste well-oiled machinery that makes raping Dalit women acceptable by easily undermining the legal and social hurdles. Blaming it on unemployment is compounding to the travesty of justice.

 Furthermore, the belief that married women cannot be raped comes from deeply entrenched patriarchal belief that women are men’s property hence the question of consent does not arise in marriage. Historically rape has been a ‘property crime’ not against women, the victim but the husband or the father because raped women were akin to ‘damaged goods’ and hence their owners should be compensated.  If as Mr Katju prescribes marriage to control rapes then why do we have married men raping women inside and outside marriages[4]. Surely Justice J.S Verma, who headed the Verma Committee in the aftermath of national outpouring and outrage against Nirbhaya rape in 2012 did not agree with Mr Katju as he  considered marriage as “not a valid” defence against rape. Hence the Justice Verma Committee maintained that the “relationship between the accused and the complainant is not relevant to the enquiry into whether the complainant consented to the sexual activity and the fact that the accused and the victim are married or in another intimate relationship may not be regarded as a mitigating factor justifying lower sentences for rape.”

Preposterous as it may sound, when there is burglary or theft in our house, do we look for reason for justification of the theft, exploring the socio-economic status of the burglar or lamenting his unemployed and now presumably unmarried state, then why is the prevalence of rape to be blamed on rising unemployment?  It is precisely this mindset that fails to recognise rape as an individual crime on female sexual autonomy and bodily sovereignty that leads to the normalisation of rape.





While Mr Katju is trolled for his post which he described as a ‘twitter storm’ he remained undeterred and put several such post reiterating his condemnation of the rape with more justifications and dismissing women’s sexual urge with the ignominy of forced pregnancies. In other words, women don’t rape men due to fear of pregnancy and also because men are physically difficult to overpower. Unwittingly, Mr Katju points out to the core and crux of rape, and that is, the brazen and most often brutal display of power, violence and aggression which goes without impunity and let’s not forget Mr Katju condemns rape.


*Amina Hussain teaches at the University, Lucknow. She writes on gender issues.




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