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'Indian government only provides a band-aid after rape'

Murali Krishnan Interview
July 27, 2020

Vasu Primlani is India's first openly gay stand-up comedian, a somatic therapist, and a recipient of the Nari Shakti Award for empowering women. A child rape survivor, she also helps others rebuild their lives.

A woman in India at a protest holds up a sign reading: Say no to rape
Image: picture alliance/NurPhoto/S. Pal Chaudhury

DW: According to human rights activists, India is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for women. Why do you think this is?

Vasu Primlani: There are several reasons for this, including deep-rooted patriarchy, a justice system that works at snail-pace, and poor policing and conviction rates. Societal attitudes and a non-responsive judicial system compound the problem. I feel there is no concept of human rights in the country.

Read more: What is behind India's rape problem?

Do you think power dynamics play a role?

Vasu Primlani, India's first openly gay stand-up comedian
Vasu PrimlaniImage: DW/M. Krishnan

We have a toxic patriarchal system where the political class is reluctant to even consider marital rape a crime. India's legal and political systems are led by individuals who reinforce patriarchal values. This is particularly true of India's present leadership. Consequently, this has created a combination of public apathy and legal indifference.

I believe children are molded by society, by parents, peers and teachers. If children are led to believe that rape is ok, it becomes normalized in society. If you recall the Nirbhaya case [the 2012 New Delhi gang rape and murder], the youngest rapist said, "Why catch me? Everyone is doing it." For some rapists, they rape because they believe it is the normal thing to do. However, when rape is weaponized in caste dynamics or in war then it is a power issue.

Read more: India executes four men convicted of 2012 Delhi gang rape

A woman is raped every 15 minutes in India, according to data from the National Crime Record Bureau. Do you think tougher laws can prevent rape?

Even with legal protection and an expanded definition of rape, I question how effective the system is. India is lacking accountability. Despite global outrage, the Nirbhaya case took more than seven years to complete, and even that was the expedited process for a high-profile case. There is a backlog of over 33 million cases. Cases drag on, often for decades. As a result, people rapidly lose faith in an already broken judicial system.

Promoting gender equality in India

If you want to bring about systemic changes, you change the government, the laws, the social fabric and the way of thinking. Every problem has a solution. But India has never tried.

You have advocated for critical, immediate rehabilitation for rapists as one of the possible methods for rape prevention. How does that work?

Abuse leaves a scar on children. They grow up without a sense of dignity because of the abuse. They don't know what safety is. Abuse becomes normalized for them.

Read more: Sexual abuse cases and India's failure to protect children

The Indian government has not tried to prevent rape, it only provides a band-aid after a rape occurs. I have worked with rapists and murderers in Mumbai and have reformed them. Somatic therapy integrates rehabilitation and works with murderers and rapists so that they do not commit the crime again. The first step to changing people is making them understand and acknowledge the weight of their actions.

Murali Krishnan
Murali Krishnan Journalist based in New Delhi, focusing on Indian politics, society and business@mkrish11