Rape. And how men see it

Drenched in pain Angry women at Rajpath, Photo: AP

THIS IS A MOMENT THAT COULD GO EITHER WAY. It can deepen a crucial engagement or it can leave one with the chaotic debris of a fierce, but passing storm. As the intense outrage over the gangrape in New Delhi on 16 December begins to live out its heat, it’s imperative to question, which of these will we be left with?

Over the past few weeks, many angry questions have been hurled at the police, the judiciary and the political establishment. The failures of the State are staggering and one cannot be grateful enough for the initial rage and outpouring on the street. Without that, there would have been no conversation.

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But there is an urgent need now for calmer review, for genuine and calibrated suggestions that can lead to long- and short-term change. There is a need also to ask, are we framing this discourse wisely? Can its shrillness or the suggested remedies have adverse impacts one did not intend?

Before examining any of that though, there is a big missing piece that must find voice. The anger against the State — the demand for greater efficiencies and accountability — is hugely legitimate. But what about the giant shadow in the room? How endemic is the prejudice that stalks our society? What produces and perpetuates it? What creates the idea of women as ‘fair game’ for sexual violence? What, in effect, do Indian men think about women?

It would have been comforting if vile foolishness in India had been the domain of the few. But Asaram Bapu is not alone when he says one hand cannot clap by itself. Or that taking diksha, reciting a mantra and pleading with her rapists as brothers might have saved the young girl that fateful night.

The clergy of the Jamaat-e-Islami-Hind are not alone when they advocate co-educational institutes to be shut down, pre-marital sex to be outlawed and girls to dress in sober and dignified clothes as ways to prevent rape.

Mohan Bhagwat is not alone when he asserts more rapes happen in ‘India’ than ‘Bharat’ — the first a synecdoche for promiscuous modernity; the latter for a more pious and traditional order where women live within boundaries prescribed by men. Abhijit Mukherjee is not alone when he mocks women protesters as “dented, painted” girls. Nor are Abu Azmi, Kailash Vijayvargiya or the Chhattisgarh home minister who says minors in the state are being raped because their stars are not favourable.

If they had been alone — a marginal raft of clumsy old men — mere derision would have been enough. But the fear is, they are signposts of a much wider and deeper mindset. And if they are that, how is one to negotiate such a gaping cultural divide? How can a society articulate — and enforce — desired values for itself if there is such a foundational disagreement over what those values should be?

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Shoma Chaudhury is Managing Editor, Tehelka, a weekly newsmagazine widely respected for its investigative and public interest journalism. Earlier she had worked with The Pioneer, India Today, and Outlook. In 2000, she left Outlook to join Tarun Tejpal, and was among the team that started Tehelka.com. When Tehelka was forced to close down by the government after its seminal story on defence corruption, she was one of four people who stayed on to fight and articulate Tehelka‘s vision and relaunch it as a national weekly.

Shoma has written extensively on several areas of conflict in India – people vs State; the Maoist insurgency, the Muslim question, and issues of capitalist development and land grab. She has won several awards, including the Ramnath Goenka Award and the Chameli Devi Award for the most outstanding woman journalist in 2009. In 2011, Newsweek (USA) picked her as one of 150 power women who “shake the world”. In May 2012, she also won the Mumbai Press Club Award for best political reporting. She lives in Delhi and has two sons.


  1. Are we finding solutions against Rape (forced sex) or a new meaning to women liberation. So far as women liberation is concerned it is seen in metro cities like Noida and Gurgaon around NCR. No body is denying their right to wear, move or to keep sexual relations as those are far away from their parents. Boys from other states are also enjoying their company being colleagues. One may find such couples in all the markets and malls. Those should not talk of those girls who are happy with their family and relatives though themselves not working. Rapes are committed even by colleagues of these free from homes girls but are not given any importance as there is always one boy who accept the girl. Otherwise also girls of modern times do not attach more importance to being virgin and nor modern boys. The call should be the person who rapes should be brought to book if reported by the victim.

    • Dear Pardeep, I agree with you that we should only talk about “solutions to rape” i.e better security for women. However, everytime there is a crime against women, people like Asaram talk about loose women. So obviously the two ideas of solution to rape and discussions on the women’s place in society are intermingled.
      You are also mixing “being raped” with “not being a virgin”. Surely you understand that a girl who enjoys sex with her boyfriend does not wish to be raped by strangers? Or do you think if a non-virgin girl is raped, its not a big deal? Also, this girl in Delhi, was not far from home – her parents were in Delhi. She went to see a movie with a male friend. Most of us who are working or are students, have seen a evening show and gone home. And I went to college 25 years back. Do you believe she deserved to be raped for this? I am just curious to know what you think. Since I do not know any men like you, growing up very middle class in India. The father of my children also took me for evening shows – Jo jeeta wohi sikander , and subsequently “accepted” to marry a girl like me (who goes to movies with a man). Do you think that was a mistake?

      • Hi Elokeshi, I don’t see any direction in Pardeep’s comment. I read it multiple times but frankly can’t make any sense of it at all.. I wonder how you managed to frame a reply to it 🙂

  2. liberal also needs to understand when they say what they think/and feel is truth and every other opinion is foolish, lame and obviously false,what difference they have from the politicians or the religious fanatics?

    Here loud mouth TV pundits sits in Delhi or Mumbai talks on behalf of the whole nation, you need to understand that they the Jammat the Ashram the VHP the RSS and other all have tremendous following (loud mouth TV pundits TRP figure will be laughable) before you start to ridicule them on national television people watching these channels know the double standards you guys have when it comes to your interest.

    Shiney Ahuja was a rape accused do the film industry (shabana Azmi) wants him killed or amputated? where was everybody(in black) when one from their industry raped women?

    when the zee tv reporters black mailed businessmen i haven’t seen these so called intellectuals debating it on 9 clock

    Radia Tapes? Salman Khan running over roadside dwellers?

    oh i get it they wont come on your tv if you say bad(truth) about them!!!!

    now stop being holier than thou and clean up your acts then talk

    • Let us judge argument based on the evidence in their favor rather than the certainty by which they are said. I think people who claim the Earth is flat are stupid and wrong, but that doesn’t make my opinion as bad as their’s.

      Moving on to “double standards”, I don’t think anyone is lumping Tehelka and Salman Khan together as the same “liberal media”. I don’t know if you remember, but the same “liberal media” publicized the Salman Khan issue and demanded justice. Similar to the many rape cases in India, that too was a failure of justice.

      I mean, ultimately, if your argument is “an actor raped his maid, so no journalist can demand punishment for rape anywhere” — that’s a pretty bad argument.

    • So true. Personally, I think it’s a mistake we often make to focus on these views of rape as lying with men. Women hold them as well, having learned them from their own mothers and grandmothers, and pass these views onto their daughters. And their sons.

  3. “How can a society articulate — and enforce — desired values for itself if there is a foundational disagreement over what those values should be?”

    Absolutely chilling. Thank you for articulating your research so well. Someday, we’ll learn to look within, and not find the closest, most-convenient way out – blame.

  4. it’s amazing that Shoma on one hand wants men to practice half of Islam that is purdah of the eye and leave out the other half that is women themselves preserving their dignity.

    With all due respect and not blaming women for any of that which has occurred; You can only get results if you practice something in it’s entirety.

    If humans and more importantly men could only control themselves despite the temptations then half of the world would not be suffering from diabetes 🙂

    • yeah, but diabetes affects only the greedy man in question, unlike rape, by which he violates another human being. for the sake of argument lets accept your point that it is ‘up to a woman to preserve her ‘dignity, blah blah’, but how does a breach on this count justify violence of one human over another? But then, maybe in your view a woman is not quite a human being?

    • Giving in to temptation is not your problem Green Devil!
      If men weren’t attracted to women and vice-versa, the human race wouldn’t propagate. You only need to remember that the girl you’re looking at is a person just like you, and deserves as much respect as you think you do.
      Bottom line: Look at girls, get attracted and get tempted by all means; but as soon as you feel your temptation might disturb a fellow human being, consult your right hand.

  5. i am an engineering student.one of my friends who has multiple girlfriends also feels that girls are stupid and can be fooled easily for getting into relationships.

  6. This article is well balanced and brings together the fractal voices of India today. The question is not just about ‘rape solution’ as mentioned by Pradeep but a general change away from the idea of women as a property.

    It is easy to see the thought process behind some of the comments such as the auto rickshaw drivers. It is the doctrine that he was brought up by and has see in his lifetime. It is is horizon. What we need is more exposure and a simple understanding of all human kind the difference in behaviours between human and animals

    We are all equal beings in this world. Nothing makes one caste/ religion/ sex better than the other. Till this understanding is a given. Nothing can change.

    • I don’t quite agree with the rickshaw driver doctrine. It is not temptation that leads to rape. It’s rather the confidence of getting away with it. Say that rickshaw driver makes a trip to the USA and sees girls in bikinis, would he not be tempted? He definitely would. Would he dare make them uncomfortable? No way! He knows he’ll go to jail if he does.

  7. Sad, yet so true. Self-responsibility, treating a woman as a human who feels pain, fear, joy, hope, being civilized in the true sense…is not too much to ask for.

  8. I think you dont have gud editor who can edit or who can decide of pics should be censored of this pics (July 2004 Manipuri women protest against the army’s brutalities). please use black strip or any means cesnor it.

  9. Ever since this ghastly incident, there have been number of views and measures flowing in, the best i can do as a man is, to keep a check on my self. how could i take Dressing, language, style as provocation and destroys girls life soo in humanly, I never like to get sexually assaulted for such reasons. equally I find women responsible and the biggest mistake they do by remaining silent or accepting them self as weak.

  10. In any class of our society i.e. Poor, Middle Class, Higher Middle Class & Rich from childhood onwards we had been taught that a girl’s main job is to look household work and a boy has to earn to look after every member as a superior person in the family such mentality comes from our Hippocratic society to fulfill insecurities.

    When a boy grow up and sees that girls are becoming more independent, getting higher or equivalent position in jobs, selecting partner and taking decision by own.

    We somehow does not digest it, some men finds difficult to take commands from women.

    If women back answer some men cannot tolerate and it comes to their HONOR and SELF ESTEEM.

    To fulfill his weakness, men like to attack women by RAPING her not just to get sexual pleasure but to show his strength and to prove that she is weak (Mentally it really affects on women as if she lost something which cannot be recovered) because our society teaches that she should take care of her body more than her life, family reputation will remain if she remain Virgin till she does not get married.

    This is one of the main reasons why we criticize western culture whether it comes to Live-in relationship or western outfit.

    INEQUALITY is the root cause of all problems in India and its not only comes from our mind but also reflects in all religions made by men

  11. It all comes down to values and culture. I do not find Indian culture and parents teaching about kindness, compassion, respect, sympathy, empathy towards fellow human beings and society. India needs a massive education drive on basic things starting from words, sorry, please, thank you, good morning, good evening, have a nice day and most important smile.

  12. Its good that this issue has triggered the much needed debate across the nation. But a I would like to make a gentle remark on the psychology that is driving the majority of the protesters to participation: The new urban middle class which is growing stronger and has started to reap the benefits of neo-liberal reforms wants to create a pseudo culture that imitates the west (read US) only in its consumerist form. This requires a clean and safe city in which they can carry out their rampant consumption on the scale and style of any developed country. And, they can not tolerate the wild beasts from the slums threatening their never-ending party. The anger, agitation and the strength to face the water cannons and lathis is coming from the unprecedented coverage by the corporate media whose agenda is symbiotic to the needs and demand of the urban middle class. The psychology of a section of the protesters who are politically motivated and are taking this situation to gain support and to organize the anger against patriarchy, is indeed opposite to this and is progressive at least to some extent but the limitations of their revisionist politics will do much less to attack the Brahminical patriarchy which is the characteristic of the Indian state.

    • Though, some can ignore to argue or agree with you, and give these statements some importance. It’s really not the time for all this. I m a small townee, History of my state has been done with much more gruesome rapes. My state is fighting Communists at its best, tribes and scheduled castes make much of my state. I can get the grip of your points. the liberties of middleclass, corporates…call what u want with your peers in some snobbish academic debate. Don’t side track the belated spark against Rape.

      • In my comment I have nowhere mentioned that this agitation is not significant and by no means I have intended to “side track” it. My only remark was on the psychology of the the majority of the protesters and I stand by that. No logical person can deny that. This is of utmost important to analyse the class character of any movement and all progressives should do whatever they can to ensure that any movement that deals with identity (be it feminist movements or dalit movements) should not gets limited to middle class issues. Numerous incidents of rape happen every year in Kashmir, North-East and Tribal areas committed by the state forces, but we do not see the middle class coming to streets in protest, and obviously the corporate media does not reports it in the “interest of the nation”. Similarly, the middle class maintains unequivocal silence over rape of dalit women, which is a norm across the length and breadth of the nation. The middle class is not even ready to question the patriarchy within the family which subjugates women to domestic violence, sexual suppression and everyday rape. THIS HAS TO CHANGE. If we are not raising these questions now or ignoring these questions, that simply means that we have no interest in overthrowing the existing social structure and at best we are just trying to make our cities safe for the consumerist urban middle class by suppressing and dehumanising the slum dwellers or the people living on the margins.

  13. Understanding the theory is crucial to comprehending the growing crisis in society of sexual harassment, rapes and worse. The human mood states are definitely affected by pollution bands ( Carbon/Nitrogen )
    ” The six main ‘vices’ of man – kaama (lust), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), mada (arrogance) moha (delusion), and matsara (jealousy) – which in turn lead to himsa (violence) are due to the consumption of food, water, and air polluted with nitrates.” ( Dr. Uday S. Bhawalkar PhD I.I.T. Bombay 1996 ) The use of CNG / LPG in urban cities to fuel autos, taxis and buses and now even private cars is suspected to be linked to deteriorating human sexual behavior. A social study of the use of these fuels and incidents of reported sexual crimes could show a correspondence, to give credence to this suggestion. All fuels in urban cities need to be ecologically cleansed before distribution for any public use. This is because they are otherwise not only polluting but hazardous to human health and behavior. Creative ‘Ecological Castration’ of male society could be a wiser approach, to avoid such heinous crimes in society, because the root cause of violent rape viz man made chemical toxicity is Eco technologically addressed. To put it simply, we need to start with correcting air & water pollution which impacts human behavior in the maximum way. Solutions beyond imagination are available.

  14. Excellent article Shoma. Congratulations for highlighting two underlying fundamental issues that our society needs to resolve. One – that our justice and police system is generally insensitive to citizen needs (and by extension women, who are even more vulnerable) and there is a deep rooted prejudice about gender role in our society. These cannot be fixed by making stricter laws and fast track courts and by shutting up the Asarams and Moulavi’s.

    Its time to refocus the agitation to a less sexy but fundamental issue that our government and administrative machinery delivers too little??

    And please replacing the congress with someone else in 2014 will not solve anything. Its time to put administrative and political reforms on the agenda. While we haven’t had enough economic reforms, but that can wait. Personally, I much rather live in a poor but well governed society than a rich and unjust one.

  15. Male1 : I have slept around with 10 girls and tonight will be my 11th. Mind you I only indulge in consensual sex.
    Male2: You are a stud. (Deep down inside – Wish I could be him)

    Male1: That girl has slept around with more than 1 guy. She is a slut. She will sleep around with anyone. Who would marry her.
    Male2: Yeah!

    That tells a lot about how things are around. Bad and Sad.

  16. Also woman should stop harrasing man using dowry laws and putting false cases against man.. more than 90% cases are false and supreme court had said this in their verdict also..

  17. The article is excellent. But few quotes of people in-between the article are disturbing. Can people of this country first think of banning alcohol and then talk about women’s dress? or are they trying to insult men by telling that, men are not more than animals when on alcohol during night-time?

  18. This story could have been written about America just a few decades ago.

    It has taken two or more generations to change the laws so that men are held accountable for their sexual abuse and not blame the woman or girl.

    The legal change happened because of a widespread change in attitude. The change started with women but eventually men began to have a sense of personal honor, integrity and responsibility.

    Boys have to be taught, from a very young age, they the attractiveness of a girl is no exuse for harassmant, rape or other sexual abuse.

    “She made me do it” attitudes needs to be banned from the media by public pressure.

    It’s not perfect in Ameria. There are still many many who use women to excuse their lack of character and morals but things have gotten better over here. I believe in can in India, as well.

  19. ISKCON (hare krishnas) and its founder Bhaktivedanta Swami proclaims in his books that “women like rape” and are “less intelligent than men” and are “nine times more lusty than men”

  20. A simple question to all the men who supports the rape or hold women responsible: Even if women are Loose character as they are out in smaller dresses, what make them (men) loose character to do this heinous crime?

  21. What a shame that those killers of small children in the USA via mass shootings can’t take out their rage on some of these despicable animals in India!! Perhaps every Indian woman should be given a gun for personal protection. India you are an absolute disgrace!!! Superpower of the future??? I think not. Hell hole of the world is more like it.

  22. Thanks for the article, it was very pleasing to at last read of some sane voices out there, however, the difficulty of the task ahead is very clear given the mindset of the people spoken with and the larger mass per se where men are equated to animals and in one instance a can of petrol, showing that they are devoid of any moral obligation or responsibility let alone empathy towards another individual, and putting the responsibility and blame of the horror on the victim.
    That said, cynicism and rhetoric as represented by some of the religious heads and the political class in general will hamper progress in the manner which this article wishes to happen. Change does happen in India gradually, but as in nature, sometimes it can be quite rapid in pace and magnitude, hopefully, this will prove a tipping point in a lot of ways

  23. Until men take responsibility for their own behavior, which if they are the superior, intelligent, and rational creatures they claim to be should not be such a challenge, the truth is women who are free to move about in public will be raped publicly (by boyfriends, acquaintances or strangers) while women who are cloistered in private will be raped privately (by uncles, husbands or other relatives). If men are the depraved, animalistic, impulse driven beasts these widespread victim-blaming views suggest they are, and they are unable to separate their behaviors from even the most primal, anti-social emotions, then surely they should advocating for governing by women. As it seems it is with women that the responsibility for civilized society lies, it would be logical that they should then have the power to implement and enforce civility.

    The bottom line is that boys need to be raised to take responsibility for themselves and their own behavior and to never take physical advantage of anyone (male or female, young or old, human or animal). Absent this, you will never have a civilized society but rather a simple gathering of thugs.

  24. The bottomline is this- The psyche in a patriarchal society is always heavily tilted towards boys/men. This is not going to change in South Asia or anywhere else in the world. Journalists like Shoma live in a closeted world of their own with western ideas.

  25. The outrage against the Delhi rape highlights one particular aspect and that is the lamentable low regards for the women independence or choices of the life that she wants to live with.Societal prejudices,attitudes or mind-sets need to be changed/altered/amended as per the respect for that individual’s wish.They should be friendly or advisory in nature rather than being imposing and dictating the lives to be lived in accordance with.Enforce the law strictly and you would see the impact very soon.But,allow all the individuals to live with the rights of security,safety,dignity and decency.

  26. Rape and how men see it? Really?
    Was I questioned before you wrote this? How can you generalize based on comments made by a certain section of males?

    Dear Author, please keep your judgmental opinions to yourself instead of sharing them on this public forum.

  27. Shoma, I am very impressed by your survey and the different perspectives you have managed to bring out. Of course how much ever you try you’ll be critised because of the you-have-to-choose-a-side syndrome or you’re-with-us-or-against-us syndrome that plagues most people in society. The result being that the fact that your effort to say that ‘there is no monolothic masculine perspective on rape in India’ goes unnoticed. The those who over-look this would fall into the category of ‘rape-is-a-woman’s-fault’ believers. Anyway, let me share a recent experience with you. Two days ago I was travelling in an auto with a friend in the evening at 8pm. A group of young boys in a Santro car DL 3C BS 2581 halted next to the auto we had taken at the traffic signal. They looked at us and laughed and looked at us and laughed. Then they rolled down their windows and played the Kareena Kapoor-Fevicol song at a volume meant for at least the entire traffic at the signal to hear. Needless to say that the behaviour was unprovoked (unless some want to say that being in an auto at 8pm in Delhi with another girl is by itself a provocation). I want to share the optimism that after so much has happened in the city such behavious will change; I am saddened and angered by instances where my optimism is trampled upon.

  28. Suyvey is fine.

    But to stop this crime against Humanity is not only writing and reading the good article.

    The Capital punishment is the only way to stop this ugly crime.
    1) Death peanlty for the Rapist.
    2) One part of his wealth shall be given to the victim.
    3) If he do not have wealth The Govenment shall compensate the Girl and for her marriage(if she is unmarried)

    If any ministers daughter was a victime; then this law would have immediately ammended in Parilment next day of such incident.

  29. Rape is more a social issue then crimanal issue execption like Delhi Gang Rape deservers death most of Indian rapes are incest so its both men and women to guide younger generation to keep balance in oriential way of life and western influence major deamging factor is breakup of joint family system two women cannot live with each other in india women are women s biggest enemy they say right

  30. Well written as usual Shoma. I am scared to discuss this issue with the concept of women’s rights and dressing sense with the men in my family. I am scared that they too might end up having the same attitude!

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  33. One thing is clear, Reading the data from different states, Women blaming is rampant in the northern part of the country. Serious mind set change is required in states like Haryana, UP, Punjab and so forth

  34. It is a part of social construct, in which you as a boy is not even taught to fetch a glass of water or obey any one of your female relatives in family. North India certainly is a much different place where it is forbidden for men to do any work.

    But region wise we all are same we do not respect women

  35. The earlier part consisted of what Indian men think about women, they are probably uneducated and have in raised in gender biased environment where women are seen as inferior to men. Clothes are blamed, but what when a 5yr old is raped? does she wear sultry clothes too? Saudi Arabia has no rapes not because of the factor stated but also because of the stringent punishment in that place. Only women have to control themselves? have to control their sexuality? what about men? remarks like where there is dry grass and petrol, grass ought to catch fire, makes no sense. You wear a saree, salwar or a skirt the person will rape you if he wants to. The person who wants to control will control. We need to get to the roots, how are we brought up? what lessons are we given about women when we are kids. How does society look upon a girl who is raped? is she encouraged to live freely or is she constantly reminded of the fact that she was raped. Its so scary. Its scary to be a girl and to live in 21st century.

  36. Psychologically speaking most rapists derive pleasure not from the act of intercourse itself but rather the act of force on their victims. I’m inclined to believe that if encountered in such a situation, faking promiscuity can throw these kind of rapists off. Some may even completely lose interest, and for others it’s a better idea to do this as once their pants are down to their knees well, be creative, it’s easier to get away. I have no way of saying if this will work practically but theoretically it should.


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