Sunday, December 30, 2012

Speaking of violent societies...

The gang rape of an Indian woman, the violent protests following the incident, and her recent death raise some disquieting questions relevant to our own national debate on firearms and violence.

I agreed earlier with cassandra of Delawareliberal that we--Americans--are a violent society.  The graph she used compared us to other OECD nations, and we didn't look very good.  It did not occur to me at the time, however, to compare the US to the world's largest democratic nation:  India.

When I did, there were some disquieting discoveries:

India is an exceptionally violent place, especially against women:
Domestic violence in India is endemic and widespread predominantly against women.[1] Around 70% of women in India are victims to domestic violence according to Renuka Chowdhury junior minister for women and child development. National Crime Records Bureau reveal that a crime against a women is committed every three minutes, a women is raped every 29 minutes, a dowry death occurs every 77 minutes and one case of cruelty committed by either the husband or relative of the victim.[2]
A very good discussion of Why India is So Damn Violent suggests, among other things, the influence of media in a society already dealing with a long tradition of patriarchy and misogyny [apologies for the bizarre spacing; could not get rid of it]:   

Take something as ubiquitous in Indian life as Bollywood cinema.
As pointed out by economist Swaminathan Aiyar, Bollywood films are replete with scenes characterized by the harassment of women and even of rape. As he writes, one particular well-known screen villain did about 100 rape scenes “with the audience almost cheering him on.”
Mr. Aiyar notes that in the film “Hum,” icon Amitabh Bachchan played a role in which he, watched by a large group of men, forces his unwanted attention on the film’s heroine, who eventually relents and gives him the kiss that he’s been looking for.
Mr. Aiyar concludes that the message of such scenes to the audience is that “if only you harass a woman enough, no matter how often she says no, she’ll ultimately say yes.”
Apart from a few notable exceptions such as the actor Farhan Akhtar who have called out the misogyny in Bollywood cinema, the silence on the role that Bollywood itself may play in perpetuating gender stereotypes is deafening.
Of course, as with the correlation between the sex ratio and violent crime, it’s difficult — if not impossible — to prove that a casual relationship exists between the depiction of misogyny in popular culture and the incidence of violence against women.
It could also be that popular culture reflects values and mores as much as it shapes them. Still, in a celebrity obsessed culture such as India’s, in which people follow every tiny move of their favorite film star, we shouldn’t underestimate the power of cinema and other forms of popular culture to be an agent of social change.

 Note the similarity here in the tendency to see media depictions as either causal or reflective of societal trends toward violence.  In our own discussions, a number of commenters (again at DL) have suggested that media should not be considered a prime culprit because (I'm paraphrasing rather than hunting down the original comment) Europeans and Canadians watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games but do not have the same level of gun violence as we do in our society.

India doesn't have that level of gun violence, either, because in India owning a gun (like owning property) is not a right but a privilege, and guns are--by American standards--very carefully controlled.

The link is too comprehensive to really excerpt effectively, so if you are not in the mood for clicking through, try this:

Gun ownership in India is a privilege under the Arms Act of 1959.[74] The Arms Act of 1959 and the Arms Rules of 1962 were derived from the text of the Indian Arms Act of 1876 created by the British Rulers in view of the 1857 rebellion against the East India company.[75] 
To obtain a license to own a firearm, a person has to prove that there exists "threat to life."[citation needed] Once a license is obtained, there are several restrictions on caliber (9mm.303 British .45 ACP are prohibited along with several other calibers) and types of firearms (semiautomatic rifles, short barrel shotguns, and automatic weapons are not allowed for civilians).[citation needed] A license is limited to three firearms under section 3 of the Arms Act 1959.[75]Under the wake of terror the government is considering making the rules even more stringent.

Yet these restrictions have not, apparently, made India a less violent place--and not just in terms of women:
A report published by the National Crime Records Bureau compared crime rate from 1953 to 2006. The report noted that burglary declined over a period of 53 years by 38% (from 147,379 in 1953 to 91,666 in 2006), whereas murder has increased by 231% (from 9,803 in 1953 to 32,481 in 2006).[2] Kidnapping has increased by 356% (from 5,261 in 1953 to 23,991 in 2006), robbery by 120% (from 8,407 in 1953 to 18,456 in 2006) and riots by 176% (from 20,529 in 1953 to 56,641 in 2006).[2]
Certainly there will be objections to comparing India to the US as opposed to Europe, Canada, or Australia, but I think there is some validity in doing so.  The two primary objections I can think of are that India is far more racked with religious conflicts than America, and that India is not necessarily considered an industrialized nation.  Both arguments have some validity, but I do not think that they should blind us to the fact that in the world's largest democracy strong gun controls have NOT resulted in a decrease in violent crime when women are getting gang-raped to death in the streets and tens of thousands of people are being kidnapped or murdered each year.

What does it all mean for our national discussion of gun rights and gun control?

I'm not sure, other than to say that we all need to get beyond the usual talking points and engage in some serious research and reflection.

11 comments:

delacrat said...


"Yet these [gun]restrictions have not, apparently, made India a less violent place--and not just in terms of women:"

"...whereas murder has increased by 231% (from 9,803 in 1953 to 32,481 in 2006)."

The population of India over the narrower time period of 1961 to 2003 has increased over 235%.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:India-demography.png

If anything, India's increase in murders over the past 50-60 years has not kept pace with the population increase.

NCSDad said...

Using statistics on crime in India is a fools errand. Reporting levels are so low as to be meaningless. Bureaucrats openly manipulate the data further to suit their ends. It's an amazingly cruel place for many of the citizens. Change is coming only slowly.

kavips said...

As your post below this one shows, Yemen is also more violent than the US.

kavips said...

Ahhh, but with India there is a correlation....

We have Hollywood.
They have Bollywood.

Hmmm. Something to think about.

kavips said...

Just as an example for those unfamiliar with Bollywood.....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sdyC1BrQd6g

Dana Garrett said...

From my study of Hinduism, women are considered to be inferior to men because to be reincarnated as a woman is considered to be a punishment for some past life transgression(s). So hardship is considered something that is coming to women. And the maltreatment of women in Islam goes without saying.

NCSDad said...

And maybe it's more complicated than that Dana. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/12/29/india-rape-victim-dies-sexual-violence-proble/

NCSDad said...

https://mobile.twitter.com/bintbattuta/status/286022808599949312/photo/1
Bureaucrat Today magazine in India
Just for general interest.

Dana Garrett said...

NCSDad, I read the article you posted a link to and, if anything, I think it reinforces my view that the longstanding, theologically-driven view of the innate inferiority of women have had social consequences that lead to a rape culture in India. In the article reasons 1,3,4,6,7,9,10 are arguable manifestations of the point.

NCSDad said...

Dana, I merely wanted to demonstrate that poverty is a major factor. It does not trump culture - and it's not just women in India that get treated poorly -- but the reverse is not true either. Thus, more complicated.

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