Monday, December 31, 2012

Fitting the narrative


This is going to be a long one, and if you want, please skip to the last para(before Notes) with the summary:

The other day, I had a mild argument with a fellow tweeter who reproached me for using an expletive. This was in the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape incident and she linked me to this article which contends that rapists act out expletives. Therefore, the article points out, while also throwing some comparisons between US and India, we need to introspect ourselves as a society. Because everything, from expletives, rape jokes1, objectifying of women in Indian films, even jokes about Kim Kardashian, leads to rape in this country.

Nassim Nicolas Taleb, in his books ‘Fooled by Randomness’ and ‘The Black Swan’, as well as the recently released ‘Antifragile’, throws light on our need for a narrative to every piece of information. Indian Stock market fell by 2 points? That is because of the 'weak cues' from Europe. It increased by a single point the next day? Must be the announcement of another round of quantitative easing in the US. There can be no piece of information without an easily graspable narrative that gives our brain seemingly no work to do. To explain it better, some analysts will show how the data is correlated, as if correlation leads to causation2. Taleb tells us that such narratives blind us to randomness, the fact that makes people “see elephants in the clouds instead of understanding that they are in fact randomly shaped clouds that appear to our eyes as elephants”.

We could be dealing with a similar issue here. I see many people outraging on mediums like twitter and facebook about how rape is a symptom of the diseased patriarchal and class-based society that has repressed women for centuries. They also see many articles that cite every trend that shapes our country, from rising income to women in the workplace, from infanticide to better access to information as a reason for ‘rising number of rape incidents’ in the past few years. These articles do not investigate to check if maybe there are more rape incidents reported today than earlier, (Refer: The fallacy of Silent Evidence)

Now, there are inherent dangers to such narratives as they all seem to absolve the person who is central to this crime: the rapist. It is him, and him alone, or the gang, who is/are responsible for this dastardly act. Do we have a patriarchal society that represses women? Yes we do. But do all men turn out to be rapists or repressors of women? Almost 500 million of them don't. Does every man who watches a film objectifying women gets out of the theater and immediately start eve teasing women? No. In fact, USA’s porn film industry, whose business is objectifying women, has an estimated size of $8 billion, whereas the size of entire Bollywood is only estimated to be $3 billion. Some experts say that only one in ten cases are reported in India. If that is the case, we have around 215,000 rape incidents in this country (which still looks suspiciously low), compared to around 90,000 incidents in the USA3. Granted, the reach of the Bollywood is much more significant, but what I’m saying is rape is still a random event, like murder. Your narrative, however brilliant and yet simplistic it seems, cannot predict when the next rape will happen, and where.

Also, we need to face one more fact. Changing the mindset of people is the HARDEST thing to do. Just ask marketers. They've been marketing their products and services in a way that reaffirms their Target Customers’ mindsets for ages now, because people just do not want to accept that their way of life might be flawed. So, you are not going to make most of this generation’s men, and indeed, women, accept that women are equal to men. Your best shot at it would be to get that thought engendered in schools and other educational institutions so things change in the next 20-30 years. 

What should we do in the meanwhile? We can start by trying to see rape as a crime which needs to be controlled. In a country like ours, any small improvement can bring in a huge difference just because of the size of our population. So yes, banning tinted glasses might actually lessen the number of rapes. So can having lights switched on inside buses and having a national rapist registry. Or increasing the strength of the police patrol on the streets, however partisan policemen and women might themselves be. Also, harsher and quicker delivered punishments4. To call these measures insignificant and wait for 'deep-seated changes in society's mindsets' is like, well, asking the guy who wants skirts banned to change his mindset.

Will targeting rapists stop rape in this country? No, I am afraid not. But it will definitely improve the numbers. There are many other steps we can take, too. If we can have a separate body that monitors corruption, why not one whose main task is to control rape and ensure swift justice in rape cases? Maybe we could fill that body with people who are better sensitized than our current police force. Mind you, that might increase the number of incidents reported which may again show a ‘rise in incidents’, but better to bring it to light than sweep it under the carpet, especially if it leads to a higher rate of incarceration of rapists.

So, to summarize, stop with the narrative, rape is a random act (even when committed by neighbour/family member), expend your energy to push for the right legislation, and don’t spend too much time trying to change mindsets.

NOTES:

1        I detest rape jokes, and I am disgusted when I hear them, but I have no right to stop someone saying it. On a similar note, I am even more revolted by dead baby jokes.

2        No it doesn’t.


4        I am against capital punishment for any crime, but if we, in due course of dialog, find this the best method for lessening the crime, then we must definitely explore the option