5 Non-Fiction Books to Help Understand the Grim Realities of Rape and Rape Culture

These stories have been collected over many years, by different authors and bring out the absolute apathy in our approach towards women's safety, document the growing rape culture and a system that's still not recognising the seriousness of the problem.

Priyanka Chakrabarty
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Trigger Warning: This post contains mention of rape, sexual violence and sexual assault and can be triggering.

Rape culture is an environment which allows sexual violence to be normalised. Acts like blaming the victim, or phrases like “boys will be boys” are examples of rape culture where sexual violence is ignored, underplayed and the system time and again fails the victim. Rape culture is deeply rooted in patriarchy which enables men to have control over women’s bodies as a matter of right.

This is fuelled by persisting gender inequalities between the two sexes and the larger social, economic and legal structure tilting in favour of men. In this larger patriarchal system we have to place and understand rape culture. Here are some books that have documented grim realities of rape in India.

What We Talk About When we talk About Rape


What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape written by Sohaila Abdulali is an account of rape, rape culture and stories of survivors that is deeply personal and political at the same time. Abdulali has been a survivor of gang rape as a teenager in Mumbai.  She narrates her tale by stating she chose "rape over death" as her perpetrators told her they would kill her if she did not stop resisting. The books move from deeply personal stories of suvivors of sexual assault, the way survivors deal with the aftermath and ultimately existing in a culture that enables rape.

Working with survivors of sexual assault, it sheds light upon rape cultures all across the world. As a reader I understood that rape culture operates the same way in every country- discrediting the victim and blaming the victim. The book also capture the quite strength that the survivors that inculcated in the aftermath of surviving sexual violence. It is an eye opening account of hoe rape cultures across the world operates.


Public Secrets of Law: Rape Trials in India

Public Secrets of Law by Pratiksha Baxi is one of the first books that lays bare the social phenomenon of compromise in rape trials. Compromise is a an out of court settlement among the perpetrator and the survivor of  rape and their family. It is usually a monetary settlement to either influence witnesses of the case to turn hostile or pay the victim to change her statements. This leads to acquittal in the case and the perpetrator walks free.

It is an ethnographic study of rape trials in India and a searing account of how patriarchy and patriarchal systems continuously fail survivors of sexual assault. It gives the readers real accounts of compromises that have occurred in rape cases. This books tells us that lofty ideas of justice exist only in textbooks. One of the most powerful lines in the books is, "that which is formally illegitimate is sufficiently legitimated in practice". This book is not an easy read but an important one.

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Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop

Khairlaji: A Strange and Bitter Crop written by Anand Teltumbde is a harrowing account of the rape and murder of a Dalit family, that took in Khairlanji, a village in Maharashtra. This book brings to the forefront the role caste plays of the victims and perpetrators in aspects such as systemic response and access to justice.  Caste plays an integral role in perceptions of who is a model victim and who's honour and violation of body is worth fighting for.

In 2006, Surekha Bhotmange and Priyanka Bhotmange were stipped naked, paraded and killed. Surekha's son Sudhir and Roshan were lynched. What was their crime? They were Dalits. The entire village has been involved in the murder and sexual violence. Thirty eight had been accused in the case and only eight have been convicted. This book is an account of that incident and they way this incident became a symbol for Dalit oppression across the country.


Also Read: Today I Learnt: Bimbo And How It Stereotypes Women As The "Dumb" Gender

Why Men Rape: An Indian Undercover Investigation


Why Men Rape is written by Tara Kaushal. In this book Kaushal asks men who have committed acts of sexual assault, violence and rape, why they raped? It is an undercover investigation of what social forces make rapists starting from the structure of family, the position of women in families and the ways men and socialised to view and interact with women.

One of the insights, though not surprising, is patriarchy enables the men to be entitled and believe that have onus on women and their bodies. A rare account of rape culture that turns the gaze on perpetrators and questions social structures that enables creation of perpetrators. The book tells us that rapists are crated by this very society that enables victim blaming, that allows men to get away with bad behaviour and that allows men to believe that consent is a grey area and no hardly ever means no!

Also Read: After Delhi, Hyderabad, Now Hathras: Executions And Encounters Haven't Curbed Gangrapes


 No Nation for Women: Reportage on Rape from India, The World’s Largest Democracy


No Nation for Women by Priyanka Dubey  covers stories of rape, sexual violence, sexual assault, corrective and/or revenge rape and child sexual abuse all across the country. All of these are the intersection of survivors seeking justice and the ways criminal justice system fails the victims time and again. A lot of the accounts in the book are popular and have been widely reported. She asks the question of how can a reader, an impassionate listener of these stories empathise with survivors of sexual violence? At what point the reporting of sexual violence border on apathy?

These stories have been collected over many years and Dubey laces the narratives with her personal observation. In a lot of stories she tells the readers the personal impact she has faced as a listener and collector of these accounts. It is a deeply personal, harrowing read which once again captures the labyrinth of due process of law and the wyas it continues to fail women.

Also Read: Nirbhaya Convicts Hanged, What About 1,38,642 Pending Rape Cases?

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