Image from Tehelka.
I was reading this horrifying undercover by Tehelka, where Delhi police are essentially blaming women for getting raped. As Inspector Sunil Kumar of Delhi Police said, “First, it is my fault because I courted disaster. No rape can happen in Delhi without the girl’s provocation.” This is pretty much the attitude. But why?
Humans are sexually dimorphic, ie the men are bigger than the females. In most such species, this is because the men compete with each other over mates. Note that they’re not necessarily using violence against females, though that is sorta implied. Now, the basic logic here is something akin to a protection racket. A woman is claimed by a man who defends her against other men. You can see this in any nightclub or, say, the Ramayana. Man fights for woman against a hostile world. Go outside of that protection and you’re in trouble.
Women are the weaker sex. If you’re looking at purely individual, biological relations, it breaks down like that. But humans are much more complicated.
Humans are social animals. Thus, while men could physically subdue and fight over women, this becomes societally toxic really fast. Especially in small hunter gatherer societies, especially when sisters and daughters are involved. Hence rather than having biological violence, we get societal violence, ie violence with rules. In the modern context the state can detain and also kill you under certain conditions, but individuals cannot. In the latter day it would be whoever had the power, be they feudal lord or chief (note that this substrate still remains, ie non-institutional agents like Duminda Silva can still get away with rape and murder).
So, it’s still a protection racket, just an organized one. Women are ‘protected’ under a set of patriarchal rules, ie as daughters and wives. In countries where there aren’t other categories (student, single mother, career women) you see women getting shunted from daughter to wife fast, ie AfPak. If those rules are broken then there are societal consequences. But here is where things get fucked up. As before, the person blamed for breaking the rules is more likely to be the woman.
The idea is that the lines are here (mainly within the house), and here you have protection. Go outside of these lines, however, and there be dragons and we can’t be responsible for what happens to you. As Sub-Inspector Roop Lal in Gurgaon said “If a girl asks for a birthday party and is alone with 2-3 boys and sees they are drinking, she knows what is likely to happen. When she herself goes for such a party, she can’t complain of rape. How can you call it rape if she is sitting and drinking with them? You are a student and have brain of your own. Why are you going out with them?”
Delhi/Gurgaon has had a spate of rapes, to which the police have idiotically responded by asking for women to stay home after 8 PM. As in, to stay within the lines of the current protection racket. What I found interesting was that people protested this edict for violating labor laws, keeping women from working in call centers, restaurants, etc. Which is an economic argument.
The thing is that a patriarchal protection racket is actually an extremely inefficient way of allocating human resources. If you keep half of your population offline because you’re worried about the other half raping them, you’ve effectively crippled your workforce. Hence there are broad political and social forces that support security rather than obscurity for women. Which is why the Delhi police look so stupid in the modern day.
Hence, while you can say that women are the weaker sex, human sexuality and gender roles have always been socially mediated – towards the interests of society. While institutions like marriage and family and home are bulwarks against our rapier tendencies, there is also probably more rape within marriage and family than without. This is also an extremely inefficient way of running a modern economy. If women are educated and work you get lower birth rates, more productivity, better governance and rising incomes for all. This is obviously a social good, which is why modern societies have moved from telling women not to go outside to actually fixing the outside. While the Delhi police display somewhat normative attitudes for lawless societies, they are supposed to enforce the law. India is modernizing, and women are a big part of that.
There is a new normal where gender relations has gone from a protection racket to actual institutional protection. Because it’s better for society, it’s more adaptive, and because it’s simply morally good and true. The Delhi police would be wise to catch up.