Delhi Gang-Rape and the modern Shurapanakha

by January 8, 2013

 “The sexual exposure we face is unparalleled in the history of mankind… Because pornography and sex have such a forceful pull on us, if left unchecked our society will erode before our very eyes. We will have millions of people who have sexual addictions.”

–          ‘Treating Pornography Addiction’ by Dr. Kevin B. Skinner

The horrifying gang-rape of a young physiotherapy student in a private bus in Delhi has sparked outrage across the country. The innocuous-seeming circumstances in which the rape occurred, the bloodcurdling brutality of the perpetrators, the ineptitude of the police and the “Theek hain?” gaffe of the Prime Minister have all added fuel to the fire.

Before addressing this issue, I offer my sincere prayers for the departed soul of the victim and my heartfelt condolences to her bereaved and traumatized family. Gita wisdom teaches us that all of us are relatives, connected in God’s all-encompassing family. So we are all together in getting over this tragedy.

The Delhi horror underscores undeniably that our female citizens absolutely require much better security. We need a more vigilant police force, prompter help-lines, and stronger and swifter punishments for sexual assaulters.

Yet will better security be enough? Might our society be suffering from a more deep-rooted malaise of which this gruesome rape is an intolerably stinking symptom? After all, the news periodically reports incidents of scary sexual violence. School-teacher extracting sexual favors from a girl-student in the classroom; father having incest with his daughter in the presence of his son; mother and daughter hacking to death a man with whom both had an affair – these are the headlines from just a week’s news.

Surely something is terribly wrong in our society, but what is it?

The topic of sexual assault is complex; sociologists include anger, power and sadism among its causes. Here, I will focus on one important aspect that has been largely overlooked by the media but is illumined by Vedic wisdom.

The little-discussed Shurapanakha factor

In the Vedic tradition, the demon Ravana, the villain of the Ramayana, is the emblem of lust. Ravana was so dominated by lust that he would abduct beautiful women wherever he found them and force them to join his harem. He even raped a relative, the celestial nymph Rambha, who was married to his nephew. Thereafter he was cursed to die if he ever raped any other women again. So, when he abducted Sita for enjoying her sexually, he threatened to kill and eat her if she didn’t voluntarily comply. Thus, for the sake of gratifying his sexual appetite he had a proclivity to rape and to commit other types of horrible violence against women. He finally met his just end when he was given capital punishment by Lord Rama.

The perversity of Ravana is widely known, but a crucial detail underlying his perversity is less known. The Ramayana describes that though Ravana was initially allured by thoughts of possessing Sita, he gave up his evil intentions when he was told about the unmatchable power of Rama. However, when his malicious sister Shurapanakha incited him by describing Sita’s beauty explicitly and provocatively, he lost all sense and courted self-destruction. Shurapanakha had her own scores to settle and she used Ravana as her pawn by inciting him.

The Ramayana, in addition to being an ancient history, features characters who are prototypes for perennial themes. In our current context, Ravana obviously symbolizes sexual perverts like the Delhi rapists. What does Shurapanakha symbolize? She symbolizes the forces that incite people sexually and make them behave in Ravana-like ways.

The modern Shurapanakha

Today’s primary sexual inciter, the modern Shurapanakha, is the commercial world that uses sex to sell its products. The commercial world knows that sex is the best sales tool because nothing catches people’s attention and triggers their imagination as much as sex. So it exploits sex as its ubiquitous marketer and fills our culture with sexually provocative images.

This commercial exploitation of sex is all the more flagrant in the entertainment industry, especially Hollywood and Bollywood, where sex is arguably the most glamorized product on sale. And the modern Shurapanakha is at its blatant worst as the pornography industry, where sex, even brutal sex, is the only product on sale. Commercial porn websites, magazines, books, videos, DVDs, cable television, etc. comprise one of the most lucrative global industries. In the United States alone, porn revenue is larger than the combined revenues of all professional football, baseball and basketball franchises.

Due to this massive commercial exploitation, sex is thrust upon us from all directions – TV, theaters, internet, magazines and billboards. Practically wherever we look, sexually provocative images are pushed into our eyes. The way human culture has become sexualized in the last several decades has no precedent in world history.

The Deadly Consequence of Liberalization

The modern Shurapanakha incites in a much more insidious way than the Ramayana Shurapanakha. It fools us into believing that becoming its pawn, that is, becoming sexually incited, is a sign of sexual liberalization. To understand how such liberalization can entrap us, let’s first look at the rationale for sexual restraint.

The Bhagavad-gita (07.10) offers us insight into the sanctity of sex: when it is performed within the precincts of dharma, it offers us an opportunity to experience the divine. Sex enables us to become co-creators with God in bringing new life into the world.

At the same time, Gita wisdom cautions us that when sex is divorced from this divine perspective and purpose, it becomes motivated by a deadly force that impels people into perversity. In the Bhagavad-gita (03.36), Arjuna asks Krishna: what makes people act sinfully, even against their will? This eternally relevant question is presently resonant. Krishna answers (Gita 03.37) that the evil inner impeller is lust which is the all-devouring sinful enemy of the world. Then he outlines how a philosophically informed and devotionally centered culture empowers us to keep lust under control.

Traditionally, the sexual force was regulated by the sacred inviolable covenant of marriage. The modern Shurapanakha has persuaded us that this covenant is too regressive and repressive, and so we need to liberate ourselves from it. Being thus taken in, we approve the release of this force from within the fence of covenant each time we delight in sexually explicit imagery, language and music.

However, lust once released can rapidly veer out of control. The Bhagavad-gita (03.39) states that lust is like an insatiable fire. Indulgence acts as the fuel that aggravates the fire. So, when we release the force of lust a bit through indulgence, it becomes that much stronger and demands more release through greater indulgence. When we accede, it becomes stronger still and demands still greater release, thereby trapping us. What we might have thought of as unconscionable before we released lust may over time become acceptable, then enjoyable and finally irresistible. This is how the modern Shurapanakha makes many people into sexual perverts.

The English satirist Alexander Pope in his An Essay on Man echoes how vice – the modern Shurapanakha in our context – inverts our sensibilities:

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien

As to be hated needs but to be seen

Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face,

We first endure, then pity, then embrace.

–          Alexander Pope

Understanding this insidious nature of lust can help us see the link between the generic commercial exploitation of sex and this specific ghastly sexual assault: the force that we are releasing in the name of liberalization is the same force that in a later stage is impelling such fiendish crimes.

By no means is this metaphorical analysis of lust as a monster meant to shift the blame away from the rapists; they are responsible for letting the monster pervert them. The purpose of this analysis is to point out that their barbarism is not an anomaly that can be rectified just by stronger legal measures; it is a detestable but natural consequence of the feverish sexualization that has permeated our entire culture.

How the unconscionable can become the real

We may doubt: “Most commercial depictions of sex in the media portray romantic and consensual sex. How can that lead to such perversity?”

Not all commercial sexual depictions are consensual; the reprehensible glamorization of violent sex in extreme forms of pornography is a significant exception. But even if we set aside this exception, the fact remains that the commercial depiction of sex is designed to trigger lust. And once this hideous monster is aroused, it can become blind to the difference between sanctified sex and profane sex. It can become blinder still so as to see no difference between consensual sex and forcible sex. And at its blindest, it can no longer distinguish between sex alone and sex mixed with violence, torture, maiming, and murder. Due to this blinding nature of lust, the Bhagavad-gita cautions us that it is “the destroyer of knowledge and intelligence” (Gita 3.41) and is “our eternal enemy” (Gita 3.39).

Those who give a free rein to this monster become the modern Ravanas. In fact, they end up becoming worse than the Ramayana Ravana; the barbarous violence of the Delhi rapists far exceeded what Ravana did to anyone. These perverts need to be swiftly and visibly meted out the necessary severe punishment, as was meted out by Lord Rama to Ravana.

But we also need to remember that the Shurapanakha which incited them is inciting everyone, including us too. Of course, the savagery of the Delhi rapists is unthinkable for any civilized person. Yet, appalling as all incidents of sexual violence are, they happen frequently not just in India but all over the world. So, it would surely be naïve and simplistic to demonize these perpetrators alone and give a clean chit to everyone else, including ourselves.

Perhaps this revolting gang-rape is the jolt necessary to drive home the reality that we are being manipulated by self-serving interests who are exploiting our sexuality to fill their bank accounts while propelling us on a self-destructive track of ever-aggravating lust.  Liberalization is the ploy that is deceiving us to willingly, even eagerly, play into the hands of the modern Shurapanakha.

If we don’t curb the modern Shurapanakha, then just as the knowledge of Rama’s power couldn’t deter the lust-maddened Ravana, the knowledge of severe legal punishments won’t deter the modern lust-maddened Ravanas.

The fetish for political correctness

Today speaking against sexual liberalization is widely considered politically incorrect. Those who have the audacity to suggest that anything might be wrong with liberalization are immediately silenced by a severe political backlash.

Pertinently, the Ramayana depicts the results of a fetish for political correctness. Soon after Ravana played into the hands of Shurapanakha and abducted Sita, he started witnessing the consequences of his suicidal folly: Hanuman with his tail-blazing exploits reduced nearly half of Lanka to ashes.

The distraught Ravana called an emergency meeting of his ministers. In that council, saying that the demon-king had erred in abducting Sita was politically incorrect. So his bootlicking ministers just recommended better security measures for Lanka as the solution. Hardly anyone dared to go against the canon of political correctness. The only vocal politically incorrect dissident was Vibhishana; he boldly and firmly urged Ravana to give up his lust for Sita and return her to Rama.

Unfortunately, Ravana was too possessed by the monster of lust to even consider this sound advice. He curtly silenced Vibhishana’s dissenting voice and thereby sealed his own pact with death.

Despite the differences between this Ramayana situation and the gang-rape aftermath, the central point of the parallel is valid and vital: will we choose political correctness or corrective reform?

Towards a liberalizing respiritualization

If we choose reform, then each one of us can make a tangible contribution. All of us have the power to stop being puppets of the modern Shurapanakha; we can individually rebel against the rabid sexualization of our culture. Each time we dress, each time we look at others, each time we respond to sexually overt or covert language, we have the power to make a statement: “We will no longer be pawns in the hands of those who exploit our sexuality.” Every such statement is not just a statement; it is also a contribution to the progressive curing of the sexual fever that is pandemic in our culture.

To accelerate this healing, Gita wisdom offers us an intellectual foundation and a practical pathway. It helps us understand that we are not our bodies, but are eternal souls. We are beloved parts of Krishna, who is our all-attractive all-loving Lord. Our infatuation with sex is a distorted reflection of our original love for him. By redirecting our love towards him, we can relish a deep inner happiness that helps us regulate and transcend sexual craving.

And the process of devotional service offers us a practical means for redirecting our love towards Krishna. Devotional culture naturally focuses on Krishna and minimizes all distractions. That’s why in such a culture neither men nor women highlight or aggravate their sexuality. Instead, both focus on developing their latent spirituality. We see each other not as potential sex objects but as spiritual beings, as fellow travelers on an epic devotional voyage back to Krishna. Such a vision helps us strive undistractedly for inner fulfillment. The more we become spiritually fulfilled, the more we become liberated from the constant craving for sex. When our mental energy is no longer perpetually dissipated by sexual fantasies, we become free to fully use our abilities and resources for our own and others’ holistic well-being.  That is real liberalization indeed.

Decreasing the sexualization of our culture and participating in its re-spiritualization – that is the twofold solution to the grave problem of sexual violence.



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  • nishita
    January 8, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Dear Chaitanya Charan Prabhuji,
    Thank you so much for pointing out the actual cause for the present disturbance prevailing in society…. Your words indeed showers hope & solace in our hearts, unlike the reports now coming regularly in the newspapers about the incident, which are so disturbing… Please pray for us and bless us that we may not become pawns of the modern Shurapanakha as stated

  • Kiran
    January 9, 2013 at 12:32 am

    Absolutely Brilliant, very convincing analysis and solution… Thanks for the insightful article!

  • Vaikuntha Vraj Das
    January 9, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Article is truelly awesome giving a comprehensive understanding & analysis of the the current social disturbance what the society is going through .We are greatful to have such an intellectual leaders in our society acting as beacon for our march towards true bliss for what we are truelly craving for.
    Thank you Prji for your such a nice article.

  • AG
    January 9, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    Amazing article.. Great work

  • Abhijit Toley
    January 9, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Too good!

  • Vineeth Mohan
    January 9, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    wowww , shurpanaka factor was always there and am sure no one noticed it.

  • Praveen S
    January 9, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    Thank you for the Brilliant analysis of the Shurapanakha factor, and exposing the modern Shurapanakha before us.

  • sampath
    January 9, 2013 at 5:28 pm

    Chaitanya charan prabhu. Thanks for the bold and insightful article. In the name of freedom and liberalization, the propounders have purchased morality, ethics and character from the residents of the society. The society will continue to pay its price till this sale is reversed. I recollect your words that society should move from “freedom for” to “freedom from” in order to realize its full potential.

  • krishnam raju
    January 10, 2013 at 12:56 am

    Excellent article….

  • Dhananjay Vashistha
    January 10, 2013 at 2:48 am

    Excellent article, This article must come in “Back To Godhead” magazine

  • vikas kumar
    January 10, 2013 at 9:26 am

    it was indeed an eye opening pr. ji, thank u so much…HARE KRISHNA

  • Preethi Dhiman
    January 10, 2013 at 10:21 am

    A brilliant root cause analysis of our troubled times! I pray it helps in bringing sanity in atleast the well-educated ‘cultured society.’ I hope politicians in the top echelons get to read the article and make the so called ‘politically incorrect’ amendments for the benefit of the nation at large. I wish we join hands and raise red flags against sexually explicit advertisements and media to begin with. Schools and colleges impose stern dress code, code of conduct and language used on campuses. As brothers and sisters, we rebuild a nation where children of tomorrow can live a purer, uncorrupted, fearless and spiritually motivated lives.

  • Keshav
    January 10, 2013 at 11:46 am

    Hari Bol ,

    Thanks for this article , very very educative .

    Large number of Readers have shared this on Facebook ,

    I hope same same response from readers for other articles too .

    Its good to show huge response to issue like this ,
    but if we have same response to other articles that Chaitanya Charan Prabhu have wrote then it will blossom our spritual life .

    Many of his articles unshared on Facebook have great inner depth
    but those remains untouched due to spritual issue rather than material issue .

    So i think if we focus on Spiritual topics more than we focus on material ,then
    these incidences will not happen ..

  • January 10, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Thanks for such a brilliant masterpiece.

    Today many of the so called scholars often ridicule the Vedic literatures and claim that they denigrate women. In fact these days it has become a fashion to deride the Vedic literatures to champion ones modern outlook. Timeless Vedic literatures have always held high regard for women.

    Below are quotes from the scriptures, it can help us to understand Vedic perspective about women.
    • A Woman must be honored and adorned by their fathers, brothers, husbands, and brothers in law, who desire their own welfare. Where women are honored, there the gods are pleased; but where they are not honored, no sacred rite yields rewards. Where the female relations live in grief, the family soon wholly perishes; but that family where they are not unhappy ever prospers. The houses on which female relations, not being duly honored, pronounce a curse, perish completely, as if destroyed by magic. Hence men who seek (their own) welfare, should always honor women on holidays and festivals with (gifts of) ornaments, clothes and (dainty) food. In that family, where the husband is pleased with his wife and the wife with her husband, happiness will assuredly be lasting. (Manusmriti: The Laws of Manu, Chapter 3,55-60)
    • Vedas state that when a woman marries then she enters “as a river enters the sea” and “to rule there along with her husband, as a queen, over the other members of the family”. (Atharva-Veda 14.1.43-44)

    Sir Monier Monier-Williams (1860-1888) an Indologist and head of the Oxford’s Boden Chair, has written: “Indian wives often possess greater influence than wives of Europeans.” He is not a true Hindu who does not regard a woman’s body as sacred as the temple of God. He is an outcast who touches a woman’s body with irreverence, hatred or anger.”

    There are so called scholars who have some personal bias towards Hinduism so they pick and chose a particular statement from the Vedic literatures, manipulate it and then try to portray that Vedas are against women. And unfortunately there are very few people who speak against this bias.

    The atrocities which are happening against women (or against men) is because people have started taking great pleasure in living sinful lives. Just an e.g. during the Vedic tradition elders were greatly respected but today they are thrown into old age homes by his own sons and daughters (!). In order to live an independent life mother abort the child in the womb – it’s a cold blooded murder of a child who cannot protect himself/herself. Yes, irrespective of whether the child is male or female they are being murdered in mother’s womb.

    Strict laws and strong moral values are answer to crimes against humanity.

    January 13, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Hare krishna pr,
    thanks for highlighting public issues which everyone is curious about.Everyone in society is simply becoming agitated by such issues & media is exaggerating still more to make their business, but no one knows whats the cure. At least now nation as a whole should realize the dangerous consequences of overthrowing Vedic life style & not following Regulative principles.I pray so that HDG Srila prabhupada message of godhead to spread more broadly.

  • manoj
    January 15, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Really a very good article…! Brilliant !

  • Mahesh
    January 15, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Amazing Article…

  • Narasimharupa Das
    January 15, 2013 at 7:03 pm

    Hari Bol HG Chaitanya Charan Prabhuji, thanks for posting such a wonderful article. It really has root cause of the Delhi like incidents and solutions to it. We pray to Krishna and Prabhupada that the society and it’s administrators pay heed to it and have some necessary actions taken on the modern Shurpanakha which is making people become Ravana….. Thanks again!

  • Ashutosh
    January 15, 2013 at 10:44 pm

    Hare Krishna
    When will the media be truly an instrument for mass education ? Only when this type of article will be the headline news of every mass media. This article should be discussed widely to draw the attention of the leaders and the govts of every nation. And, it’s(the vedic wisdom) the only solution for the peace, prosperity and bliss on earth.

  • January 16, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    Hare Krishna Pr,humble obeisances,thankyou so much for such deep insight analysis of present crimes thru scriptures and proving what scriptures say is all-time applicable.Ys

    January 16, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    This article really showed the hand behind the stick. The act was the conciquences of the SURPANAKHA, whom we have sheltered at our home and mind.
    The cause of the act is very nicely said.
    Thank You very much Pr.

  • shivprasad shinde
    January 16, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    Great article.
    This article need to be published in national daily’s. urgency for publication in present social situation.

  • Amit
    January 18, 2013 at 12:52 am

    Never looked at Ramayana from this angle.

  • shilpa
    January 18, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    Article bring out a lot f ancient concept with modern thoughts, which are so correct.
    Superb Article….

  • Namashri
    January 18, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    This class of Gurudev also says about advts

    ISKCON desire tree / ISKCON Swamis / ISKCON Swamis – R to Y / His Holiness Radhanath Swami / Lectures / Theme wise / Brahmachari Training /
    1989-008 Proper Behaviour of a Brahmacari SB – Radhanath Swami NV 1989-06-27 IDesireTree

    Generally a woman desires to be close to someone whom she loves.hence if someone in renounced order allures her while no intention of marriage He also emotionally rapes her.

  • Madhavi gauri
    January 19, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Enlightening article..

  • Mukesh
    January 23, 2013 at 9:42 am

    Hare krishna,

    An excellent article indeed. But I could not understand why ‘Liberalization’ is being singled out as culprit here. As if this hideous monsters of LUST was non-existent earlier. Of-course ‘Liberalization’ has its its negatives but it has its positives also. People share knowledge, work together for better future. Level of ignorance has gone down though materially only. I think some people like they always are in any society are misusing this tool of ‘Liberalization’ for their interest but end up being misused by another set of people again like always they are for suiting there needs i.e. LUST.

    I’m sorry prabhuji for expressing against your opinion. But I sincerely believe that society itself will have to fight this Ravana of LUST. Shifting the blame on Surpanakha won’t serve the purpose.

    YAS Mukesh

  • Amrta Madhavi Devi Dasi
    January 31, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    Its so nice that you are talking an present day situations. This message should reach all homes somehow. Very convincing. Unbeatable. Thank you Prabhu

  • Akash Deep Patel
    February 1, 2013 at 6:31 pm

    Thanks a lot prabhuji, for analyzing the incident and causes in wholesome way explaining this with historical parallel. Re-spiritualization of culture struggles against selfish nature of materialism which blocks wisdom in general. Thanks also for your generous efforts for providing Gita wisdom in modern materialistic environment.

  • Shivam Saraogi
    February 2, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    Hare Krishna prji.
    This is simply amazing. I just love the way you have mentioned the two fold solution at the end. People really need to change their consciousness. In this regard, there was an interesting article, which I thought to share with you:

    Thank you so much for your brilliant writings.
    yas, shivam.

  • Sudama Vipra Das
    May 10, 2013 at 10:28 am

    HK pr,

    The way you have analyzed and hit the root cause of the issue is marvellous.

    You opened our eyes

    Thanks a lot . I have also shared your article with a few ppl without letting you know .

    Hope it opens their eyes and awakens them


    Sudama Vipra Das

  • Chaitanya Charan das
    May 22, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    Anuj Agarwal forwarded me this relevant article; my thanks to him.

    Respected Prabhu,

    Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila prabhupada.

    Delhi police’s survey supports your article on Delhi rape case:

    Free porn, illicit liquor behind rise in rapes: Delhi Police survey
    Karn Pratap Singh , Hindustan Times New Delhi, May 21, 2013
    First Published: 00:19 IST(21/5/2013) | Last Updated: 02:43 IST(21/5/2013)
    A | A+ | A-
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    Free availability of porn movies, on internet and otherwise, as well as sale of illicit liquor have contributed to the recent rise in sexual crimes against women, says a survey by Delhi police.

    Rape victim
    In the wake of the findings, instructions have been issued to all police stations in the city to put an immediate stop on the sale of porn movies and illicit liquor in their respective jurisdictions.
    They have been asked to conduct awareness programmes in schools and colleges to educate teenagers about the new rape laws and have been directed to paste posters and pamphlets, mentioning the enactment of the new law, at “conspicuous places’’.
    “Delhi police has taken a good initiative in which they must educate youngsters about the new Protection of Children from sexual offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. They should tell the youth that even a normal act of sexual exploitation will come under the category of rape, attracting an equal stringent punishment,” said Ashok Arora, a senior advocate.
    The new orders were issued from the office of Special Commissioner (law & order) Deepak Mishra last week. The order, a copy of which is with HT, says that police personnel whose efforts will show results on the ground will be encouraged with handsome rewards.
    “Strict departmental actions will be taken against SHOs for showing lackadaisical attitude in implementing the instructions,” the order said.The survey was conducted after the recent horrific rapes and gang-rape reported from Gandhi Nagar, Badarpur, Sangam Vihar, and others in which the accused committed the crime either after consuming liquor or after watching porn. “Watching pornography incites and ruins the immature minds, who out of curiosity and to satisfy their urge tend to victimise women and children. Many sexual crimes are done under the influence of alcohol,” said a senior police officer.
    The findings of the survey, which was conducted at the police station level, were shocking and it revealed that in markets such as Nehru Place, Sarojini Nagar, Palika Bazar and Janpath, electronic gadgets, including Chinese phones are being widely used in distribution of pornography to teenagers. To increase sale of such cheap phones, shopkeepers insert memory cards loaded with porn clips, the officer said.
    “All the police stations have been asked to form a team and conduct frequent raids in markets and shops to seize such material,” the officer said.

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