On Instagram, a private group called “Bois Locker Room” is run by schoolboys from elite Delhi schools who do not know the word “consent”. Going by screenshots of the exchanges, rapes and gangrapes are contemplated, pictures of underage girls are passed around. Since the group came to public notice, a 15-year-old has been detained by the police, charged with insulting the “modesty of a woman” and transmitting obscene and sexually explicit material in electronic form, among other offences.
It would be tempting to blame Instagram for making this logistically possible for a bunch of teenagers amid lockdown – the group was formed in the last week of March. But all social media platforms allow such opportunities. Take, for instance, the group of 13 and 14-year-olds from Mumbai suspended from school in December for discussing sexual violence against a classmate on WhatsApp. The very nature of online platforms makes them hard to police. Besides, they only provide a convenient outlet for dark energies.
With the charges against the 15-year-old, many may be relieved that the law will take its course and the offenders punished according to juvenile justice laws. But a narrow reliance on the law, the idea that hanging rapists will stop rapes or that locking up boys in juvenile detention centres will change attitudes among teenagers, has not worked in the past. Across the country, there are schoolboys who think women’s bodies are for sport, that sexual aggression is a sign of masculinity.
The very name of the group holds some clues to the ideas that shape it. The locker room is that safe space for competitive displays of heterosexual masculinity – no judgement, only laughs and erotic thrills. The proverbial “locker room talk” has long been excused as something men do to let off steam, insulated from the pressures of polite society and politically correct discourse. The word “boi” has gone through several inflections in popular culture, but in this case it seems to be an indulgent name for someone who is full of animal spirits, maybe a bit out there, maybe a bit caddish. But no matter, bois will be bois.
Underwriting the whole sordid episode are social and educational failures. The 15-year-old inherited the locker room from older men, those who think nothing of haranguing women on social media or groping them on the streets. Sexualised taunts and threats have been weaponised in India’s political culture to terrify women into toeing the line, as some have pointed out. From homes to public spaces to virtual worlds, Indian attitudes to sex swing wildly between repression and aggression, silence and violence.
“Indian culture” has been brandished about to halt proper sex education in schools. When the Central government tried to introduce an Adolescence Education Programme in schools, 13 states banned it immediately. Resistance to sex education has continued across states, leading to alarmingly low levels of awareness about safe sex pratices, sexually transmitted infections and abuse. In 2018, the prime minister flagged off a school health programme, which would include sex education, under the Centre’s Ayushman Bharat scheme. But as of February 2020, the Centre was still rolling out plans to implement the programme.
Much more needs to be done, in schools and at home. Teenagers need a safe space to talk about sex without shame or disrespect, about consent, about an individual’s autonomy over his or her body. Until then, locker rooms will continue to proliferate.