Reports of the rape (and murder) of a four months old baby girl makes one wonder whether this is a country worth living for the female gender.

It is difficult to even imagine what perverse pleasure can any man derive by having forcible sexual intercourse with a four months old baby. Or where the minor is old enough to even comprehend what is meant by ‘rape’, one shudders to think of the torture, pain and suffering she would have undergone while being gang-raped for days and being battered with, say, 86 injuries on her body.

Or of the living death to which her parents, grandparents and siblings are bound to remain subjected, re-living every minute her fond memories as also the trauma inflicted upon their precious one, helplessly screaming, crying and begging for help. And these are not isolated cases.

Rapes of women of all age groups are reported on a daily basis. In every fresh rape, the most degraded, depraved and brutal acts of previous rape become the norm. And now, the barbaric crime of rape has assumed a new dimension. In which other country do we witness lawyers coming on the streets to defend alleged rapists on communal lines, waving the national flag and raising the battle cry of “protecting” their religion and their country.

Everytime there is a publicised incident of rape, it becomes another topic for panel discussions for the news channels and an election agenda for the political parties; it is seen as an opportunity by the legislative bodies to promulgate ordinances and set up committees; and the inability of our courts to even decide rape cases for years, if not decades, gets glossed over by ceremoniously announcing fast track courts. In this entire turmoil, what remains unaddressed is the reason which leads a man to commit such gruesome, heart wrenching and inhumane acts.

The recent spurt of incident relating to rape and brutalisation of the girl child have been said to have been spurred by a mix of various factors, ranging from repressed sexuality of our men attendant to the Indian society to their frustrations on account of increasing inequalities and divides in society to the breakdown of virtually all institutions to simply unemployment. But surely the heart of the matter is the sickening and deplorable mindset and conditioning of how our men view the female gender.

I believe that male behavior in India is absolutely in sync with the societal norms defined (of course) by the men of the society. Males have grown up in a society having deeply entrenched idea of misogyny, where a woman is an inferior sexual object who ought to be domesticated and dominated. They have always seen men of the families taking decisions and women quietly complying with them. Their culture has prescribed a subordinate position to women, who are considered incapable of living independently. Hence, a female is to be kept under the custody of her father as child, under her husband as a subservient wife and under her son as dependent widow.

Manusmriti, for instance, characterises women as “impure and representing falsehood”, and mandates that it is the duty of all the husbands “to exert total control over their wives” and it is the duty of the wife to “obey and please her husband” by the reason of which she would “be exalted in heaven”.

It is in the name of religion and culture that society perpetuates subjugation of women, who are quite effectively burdened with the task of protecting and upholding the religion induced culture, at the cost of their life, liberty, dignity and individual worth. Practices such as sati, jauhar, devdasi, dowry, child marriage, female genital mutilation arise from the idea of women, as sanctioned by the religion, of a lascivious sexual identity with the limited utility of procreation. Such ideology has conditioned the mindset and the behavioural conduct of our society.

But for such ideology, the women of this country would have ‘dared’ to consider themselves as individuals possessing rights. Women would have dared to lead normal human life without fear of being exploited or violated.

It is our societal norms that teach our men to remind women of their ‘limits’ - that they have no existence separate from the men; that they should live how they ‘ought to’ and not how they ‘want to’; that they are not individuals worthy of dignity themselves but are rightless beings carrying the burden of dignity of their families, rather of the entire communities.

A list of prohibitions is prepared for the ‘weaker sex’ to be strictly adhered to from their infancy onwards, so as to condition and restrict their understanding and to weaken their thoughts. It is deemed to be better to cut the flaps before they could turn into wings, lest they should be allowed to outgrow and fly outside the societal limits. The ‘guardians of morality’ immediately jump to sully the image of a woman and her family in case she is seen attempting to assert her individual worth.

“Her family was not able to keep her under control” is the conclusion which is readily drawn by the society; and this lack of control is held to be the reason behind the incidents of sexual misbehavior. It is a shame for the family when their daughter is raped, whereas the families of the men accused of raping have a sense of accomplishment. And then, it may not be long before there is a trend of rape crimes on communal lines bolstered by the widespread support extended to rapists by their fellow ‘nationalists’.

It is, therefore, not surprising that a woman simply cannot go about doing her daily chores without being subjected to the stereotypical glances and glares, which have become commonplace and ‘normal male behaviour’ in our society. It is normal to be inappropriately touched or groped or pushed while she is travelling in public transport; it is normal to be stared at even while driving her own car. She is not even safe within her own house as is evident from the number of incidents of sexual abuse by relatives and not to forget, the incidents of marital rape.

If this remains to be the psychology and basic foundation of the society, no amount of harsh punishment would deter such incidents of rape and sexual violence. Capital punishment or even castration would remain ineffective in addressing such cases if the society continues to remain morally depraved.

The only hope is to move our society from the religious and culture induced inequalities towards a society based on the constitutional morality of individuality and equality. But that is a far-cry when our institutions are so impotent that they find themselves unable to even register complaints of gang-rape victims against named politicians and law-makers, and so shameless that they instead arrest the family members of the victim to torture and beat them to death in custody.

This country is certainly not worth living for the female gender.

(Kunika is Advocate & Barrister ,Supreme Court of India)