The Barbaric Subjugation of Women


I once wrote, “The original, unredeemed social and political crime of human history is the displacement and genocidal destruction of aboriginal populations.” Yet there is something prior. We might call it first a human crime, though it transforms almost immediately into a social, then political crime. Unlike the crime against indigenous peoples it has its roots, though not a rationale, in evolutionary biology. Stories like these two from India this week only reinforce the commonplace that rape is not about sex, but power and violence.  Still, the particular characteristics of these events overwhelm with the sense of their physical and social monstrosity.

First, there is the case of the young woman gang raped on a bus.

As protests grew in India Saturday over the death of a young woman who was raped in Delhi this month by several men in a moving bus, police said her attackers would be charged with murder.

The charges came as government officials appealed for calm in the streets after the woman, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, died early Saturday in a Singapore hospital. In a statement, Dr. Kelvin Loh, the chief executive of Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore, said the woman died “peacefully.”

Indian police said Saturday that if convicted, the men could face the death penalty for the attack, which has served as a reminder of the dangerous conditions women face in India.

The woman, whose intestines were removed because of injuries caused by a metal rod used during the rape, has not been identified. She was flown to Singapore on Wednesday night after undergoing three abdominal operations at a local hospital. She had also suffered a major brain injury, cardiac arrest and infections of the lungs and abdomen. “She was courageous in fighting for her life for so long against the odds, but the trauma to her body was too severe for her to overcome,” Dr. Loh’s statement said.

One contemplates the circumstances that could bring disparate men together in an ad hoc group to attack another human being so brutally, confusing their barbarity with sexual acts. What must be the currents in a society, a cultural milieu, reinforced by what tenets of religion and tradition, that permit women to be so dehumanized in the vision of some men as to enable the men to behave in this way? To attack like the wildest animals attacking prey or natural threats?

Closer to home, behaviorally, is the story that soon followed, of the young victim of rape, encouraged to marry her attacker, who committed suicide in response.

A 17-year-old Indian girl who was gang-raped committed suicide after police pressured her to drop the case and marry one of her attackers, police and a relative said on Thursday.

Amid the ongoing uproar over the gang-rape of a student on a bus in New Delhi earlier this month, the latest case has again shone the spotlight on the police’s handling of sex crimes.

One police officer has been sacked and another suspended over their conduct after the assault during the festival of Diwali on November 13 in the Patiala region in the Punjab, according to officials.

The teenager was found dead on Wednesday night after swallowing poison.

Inspector General Paramjit Singh Gill said that the teenager had been “running from pillar to post to get her case registered” but officers failed to open a formal inquiry.

“One of the officers tried to convince her to withdraw the case,” Gill, the police chief for the area, told AFP.

Before her death, there had been no arrests over her case although three people were detained on Thursday. Two of them were her alleged male attackers and the third was a suspected woman accomplice.

The victim’s sister told Indian television that the teenager had been urged to either accept a cash settlement or marry one of her attackers.

“The police started pressuring her to either reach a financial settlement with her attackers or marry one of them,” her sister told the NDTV network.

One is compelled to contemplate the humanness of this young woman in the eyes of the policemen. They not only so dismiss the import of the crime as not to bring a case, but are so absent human empathy that they cannot begin to appreciate the psychic crime. The rape is like a petty theft to them, not a violation of a woman’s integral self.

When in the United States we hear the mockery by a Rush Limbaugh of a woman’s sexual nature and her right to control her sexuality and reproduction, when we see states manipulate law and regulation – in Kansas and Mississippi, for instance – to deny women, through denial of access, their constitutional right to abortions services, when GOP candidates for office speak of rape in the ignorant and  controlling manner that several did this election year, when religious traditions we are urged to respect for their Godliness, here, too, in the United States, continue to conceive and preach of marriage as a relationship in which a woman fulfills a subordinate role – then we know we are removed from these greater abuses by degree of development but not by nature of origin.

The truth is that the war on women, much maligned in defensiveness by rabid conservatives this U.S. election year, is probably the original human war: against desire and sometimes love, also domination, subjugation, control, and brutality – a Taliban of human nature. Our development will be far less remarkable than we even think it until that first crime, and the ideologies of its defense, is finally insupportable.


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