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Tara Kaushal, the author of the breakthrough book Why Men Rape speaks of the challenges of going undercover to speak with actual rapists and writing it.
Many things have been said and written about patriarchy, rape and other gender related violence over the years but Tara Kaushal’s Why Men Rape: An Indian Undercover Investigation goes deeper into the Indian context of rape; it analyses the psychology of men who rape, and our understanding of what rape is.
India is a complex and multi-faceted country, the cultural, environmental and social factors that affect women’s safety here is vastly different from other countries outside of South Asia. Tara Kaushal through her book Why Men Rape aims to understand and analyse these unique Indian scenarios that makes rape and rape culture flourish here.
*Trigger warning: This contains some graphic descriptions of violence against women – specifically rape, and may be triggering to survivors
Why Men Rape by Tara Kaushal digs into the lives of nine rapists from various cultural, economical and social backgrounds of India and dissects the reasoning, understanding and psychology of the men who are inclined towards sexual violence. Tara talks about her journey of going undercover and dissecting these men and their lives from a close proximity and sometimes even in dangerous situations.
A project as complex as this comes with its own set of challenges, Tara talks about her seven-year-long journey of writing the book and the challenges that came with it:
“The idea for this book and larger project came to me in 2013, after the Delhi gang rape—that’s when I started reading, saving and planning for it—but it was only in 2017 that I took it on full-time. I started with crowd funding for it, which I didn’t expect to be as hard and time consuming as it was! I went undercover with my first set of subjects between September and December that year, and then I did my second set of subjects between August and December the following year. I spent the whole of 2019 writing and finished early this year. The book was to have come out on the 20th of April but was delayed by COVID, and came out on the 22nd of June.”
“As much as every phase had its own challenges, the most challenging aspect was the writing, hands down. It took me a long to time to process all of the data that I had read or gleaned from the experts I interviewed. And I had to see how it applied to, intersected with the lives of my subjects. Also, the point was to make the important interesting, to make complex data and academic research palatable for my readers. For example, I was reading an important article that was only about 10-15 pages but it was so dense that it took me two weeks to read it! I didn’t want my book to be like that. It took me so long to understand the research, and even longer to process it and write about it.”
“My spouse helped me a lot during the difficult times, without him this book would not have been possible at all. He did everything I needed him to do. He was the one who kept me going.”
Tara went undercover and investigated nine men who had committed acts of rape but were not in jail for one reason or another. She would spend the entire day talking to these men and their family members sometimes she encountered dangerous situations as well.
Maintaining an undercover identity and talking about sensitive issues that are deeply personal doesn’t sound an easy thing to do. Tara says one was definitely much harder than the other,
“Maintaining the identity was easy because it was borrowed a bit from my actual identity. I pretended to be researcher from Australia and I am part Australian. So maintaining the story was the easy bit. Maintaining the emotions was not. It wasn’t easy at all, because my empathy and sympathy clearly lies with the victims. So to be able to extend empathy to men who rape like took all I had. But If I didn’t extend that empathy and applied the judgement which was just under the surface for me, I would have defeated the purpose of why I was there. I was there to listen and hear their side of the story. If I didn’t consciously let my anger go, I would not have got what I was looking for, I would have lost track of the big picture. It was challenging and I did deal with quite a bit of depression and emotional turbulence during the writing of this book.”
Even though the description of the book may lead you to believe that it is an explicit book with gruesome details, Why Men Rape by Tara Kaushal is a very insightful and the least triggering of all the books about gender violence I have read. There are moments of utter shock that inevitably comes while discussing rape and paedophilia but it thankfully doesn’t including any description of the act of rape itself. Tara says she made a very conscious effort to not include such details. She says,
“Some people say that you should be graphic so that (potential) perpetrators understand just how gruesome and horrifying rape is. This is based on the older idea of violence, the idea that perpetrators ‘objectify’ their victims and, therefore, humanising the victims will or may lead them to stop.
It is only recently that researchers have started to look at violence in the exact opposite fashion. The idea is that it is not the absence of the victims’ personhood but the presence of it that causes the violence. When seen like this, perpetrators want to hurt and humiliate, and enjoy the hurt and humiliation they are causing. From this perspective, giving graphic descriptions is just titillation.”
“You find men laughing in rape videos while the women are pleading. They wouldn’t be laughing if they didn’t enjoy the pain they were inflicting. They know that they are causing pain and they like it. It is evident from the fact that, after the Kathua and Telengana gang rapes and murders, the names of the victims were trending on porn sites. So I will not give graphic descriptions of gender violence.”
The common theme that kept reappearing with most of the subjects in the book was the influence from Hindi cinema. One of the men said that he wanted to kill his former partner and become like Sunny Deol. Tara explains that we should try our best to reduce the demand for misogynistic and problematic entertainment,
“When something gets into a film, it stays there. The subject of mine who wanted to kill his ex-girlfriend kept singing the song, “Maar diya jaye ya chod diya jaye” from the 1970s. So a Bollywood film will continue to have impact for multiple generations. What is made today will be consumed by many many generations to come. So, yes, Bollywood needs to catch up to a more open paradigm… but I also don’t believe in curtailing creative freedom. Even filmmakers who make misogynistic crap cannot be denied their creative freedom. Bollywood is not the cause, it is a symptom. We need to stop consuming films like Kabir Singh, if we don’t pay for them then they will stop getting made.”
As a survivor, scholar and writer of gender violence Tara Kaushal has been very against death penalty for rapists, including rapists of children. One of the 9 men among her subjects was a doctor who raped his 12-year-old patient and left her disabled for life.
Tara explains that death penalty will only reduce reporting and sentencing of the perpetrators, and it will not benefit the victims at all.
She says, “There are moral and ethical considerations that explain why I have a problem with capital punishment, but let’s talk about whether or not it solves anything. Does it act as a deterrent for rapists? No it does not. What it will do is it will reduce sentencing. We have this idea about men who rape like a ‘Shakti Kapoor’ idea of rapist. But that’s actually not true; it’s usually your mama and your chacha and your father and a lot of familial emotions that come into play while punishing these rapists. The ‘stranger danger’ idea of rape has been disproved. 94 -95% of rape is committed by people you know. If capital punishment was implemented, kids are not going to be able to report if they know that dadaji is going to be hanged for what I tell them. And the families are not going to report it either.”
“I don’t know whether capital punishment will actually serve any sort of purpose. Of course moral and ethical considerations aside, is it going to reduce reporting, is it going to reduce sentencing? I think so. Mark my words.”
She adds, “Have you actually looked at the Indian justice system closely? It is so flawed and with so many innocents in jail, so many innocents being prosecuted that if we add easy capital punishment to the mix, do you know how many people will die? And most experts agree that capital punishment is not the solution.”
Even though the book talks a lot about the underbelly of rape culture and Tara Kaushal had a challenging time writing it, there were some surprisingly good things that came out of it too.
Tara says, “When I put out the crowd funding link, two of my biggest patrons were strangers. That was completely unexpected, I expected people who were acquainted with my work to contribute but they were complete strangers. There was this guy who read my crowd funding mail and told me that he was a student and he didn’t have the money to contribute but is there any way he could help me. There was a lot instances like these.
And these were men, not women. I have always said that patriarchy versus feminism is not a fight between genders but between ideologies, of people who believe in the difference and hierarchies of gender, and those who believe in equality (through equity). Men can be as aligned to this idea as women.”
“The best part? The reaction of my father-in-law. As you know, the conclusion of my book chronicles my own experiences with sexual violence. Many readers and reviewers have called it out for being the most evocative part of the book, but I was expecting family to be a little uncomfortable about it. But when my father-in-law called to tell me he had finished reading the book and ‘loved it, especially the conclusion’, I was pleasantly surprised.”
Tara emphasises that rape culture has far reaching consequences on any population. It disempowers women; it is the reason why almost every woman has been sexually assaulted at least once in their lives and in order to eliminate this issue we need to focus on the young boys and men. We need to look at the factors that encourages Indian men towards violence and actively work towards eliminating them.
Tara Kaushal is a media consultant, writer and author who has primarily worked around the issue of gender justice for many years. She has worked as a professor, columnist, art director, editor and radio jockey. Why Men Rape is her debut book. You can find her on Facebook and Instagram.
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Image source: Tara Kaushal pic by Sahil Mane, book cover Amazon
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