The Rapes Go On. How Do We?


THE WORDS ARE GETTING WORN NOW. The rape was horrific, heartbreaking, the criminals are monstrous, animals, the administration is apathetic, inadequate, the punishment should be castration, lobotomy. TEHELKA’s past coverage of Delhi police’s response to rape gutted any vestige of faith in the system to redress, much less protect against or deter gender crimes — because rape is never just about sex. This, despite the implementation of gender sensitisation training modules for cops in the Capital over a decade ago, which petered out in the absence of political will. Can nothing change? What happens then to the outrage we feel when a 23-year-old paramedical student from Dehradun is raped by six men on a bus, hammered with an iron rod, and tossed out on the road to die? Does the anger and anguish get lost in the warp of our social fabric, too slender a skein to assert itself? We spoke with lawyers, activists, policymakers, writers and thinkers in an attempt to trace the patterns of rape and to unravel its insidious design. With the hope that our outrage will stand out against the bold, brazen and repeating motif of misogyny.

Compiled by Aditi Saxton & Sunaina Kumar.
With Inputs From Aradhna Wal, Shazia Nigar, Shonali Ghosal & Soumik Mukherjee

5 Reasons Why The Rapes Won’t Stop

Honour killings, female foeticide, dowry deaths, acid attacks, public stripping and parading, eve-teasing, sexual assault — these are just some of the ways in which men in our country express their hatred for women. Some form of misogyny is endemic to every society, but in India, men get away with persecuting, abusing and raping women with a sense of glory and of celebrating their manhood. As activist Gautam Bhan says, the root cause may lie in the dangerous mix of impunity and entitlement at the core of contemporary masculinity in our culture. “Men are not born biologically violent. We make them so. Boys and men are raised in our society to think that we are men because we demand, we take, we win, we conquer.”

The “she asked for it” narrative is so deep-rooted that all discussions about the issue of violence against women address the behaviour of women rather than the perpetrators. Even the National Commission of Women (NCW) issues advisories about how women should be careful of what they wear. The perpetrators are often protected by their Khap, or clan or family. As the reported cases of rape in our cities climb up, they point towards a reaction of a patriarchy towards women stepping out of their prescribed domains. Lawyer Rebecca John says, “There is a baser male element that seeks to exercise power over women; and what better way than raping her. It’s a power equation where men want to tell women that they are ultimately the masters of the universe.” This power equation is established as much on the streets and public places as on the domestic front where the woman is always a second class citizen. Marital rape, child abuse and sexual violence remain taboo topics, even though statistics point out that more than 80 percent of rapes committed in India are by known perpetrators.

The Guwahati street molestation incident is a case study for the complete failure of governance, of the victim who was let down as much by the system as she was by society. First, the calls to the local police station were not answered; the search for suspects began two days after the incident when there was already a public outcry and the video went viral. Later, the statements of the police were deeply insensitive, the chief minister used it to score off his political rivals and, unforgivably, the NCW revealed the identity of the victim to the media.

Akhila Sivadas of the Centre for Advocacy and Research points out that there is no responsibility charter in place for the safety of women and those loopholes need immediate attention in the wake of the Delhi case. The State continues to play a passive role in tackling these issues. In Delhi, women live with a curfew sanctioned by the CM, who says that women should be home by a particular time, because she cannot secure the streets. Women have to live with a constant threat and calibrate their actions with an enormous amount of calculation: should I go out, where should I go, how should I dress. Author Nilanjana Roy says, “There is no basic safety for a lot of Indian women. You are not safe at home and you’re not safe on the streets, where are you safe? The women in this country have a huge amount of fighting spirit, but we’d rather not be fighting every day.”

The speedy justice that is being demanded in the Delhi case is an exception backed by political will. Otherwise, figures from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) tell a damning story of a 26 percent rape conviction rate for 2011, which means that fewer victims receive justice as the rate for conviction in rape cases declines in India, even as our laws related to sexual assault and rape cry out for a relook. The conviction rate is just another reason why victims are reluct ant to go to court and rapists are undeterred. Lawyer Rebecca John lays emphasis on the imbalance in the system. “You have 26 special courts set up in Delhi that look at corruption on a daily basis. This puts a strain on an overworked criminal justice system. Regular criminal courts have to look at 30-40 cases every day. At any point, there’ll be 100 rape cases at various stages. Corruption is important, but it doesn’t affect real lives the way rape does.”

Gender crimes are imprecisely defined under the law, lacking responsiveness to culturally specific ground realities. Lawyer Madhu Mehra points out a particular instance — the practice of publicly stripping and parading women. “This is not mentioned as a heinous crime under the graded category of outraging the modesty of a woman. If you manage to grade sexual assault, you’ll see the types of crimes that are peculiar to our subcontinent and then decide appropriate punishment. You can’t leave so much to the imagination.”

Violence against women does not occur in isolation. As much as we reassess the legal and administrative breakdown, the role of popular culture, of films and media in objectifying women and perpetrating gender prejudices cannot be discounted. When young boys talk about women through their body parts, we overlook it by justifying that boys will be boys; when films tell us that it’s alright to tease women, we accept it as entertainment; when television shows and advertising peddle stereotypes, we do not even question them. Psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar says, “The propagation of the idea of the body as a field of entertainment by the media and entertainment industries is nothing short of a perversion.”

The Delhi Police ran an ad campaign recently with Farhan Akhtar where he urges men to protect women with the tagline ‘Be a man’. “Women don’t need men to protect them. We need to fight the idea that the blame lies with the woman,” says Kavita Krishnan of All India Progressive Women’s Association. The brainwashing is pervasive. Independent filmmaker Onir says of plotlines and characters in Bollywood, “They are suggesting that women being molested is entertainment. You treat her badly, you humiliate her, but at the end of the day she will come around.”

Urbanisation and a weakening notion of community and culture has played a significant role in the rise of crimes against women. Metros like Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru are important commercial centres where millions of migrants from different social, cultural and economic backgrounds settle. Says Akhila Sivadas, “Cities are losing equilibrium and bursting at the seams. There is no sense of community, we all live in anonymity. It’s the ‘I’ phenomenon at work.” The economic disparity, in turn, means there is anger, which is frequently expressed through sexual offences against women. What adds fuel to the fire is that our idea of urbanisation is mock pastiche of the West. Kakar says, “The idea of full equality of women and their social emancipation, especially in the erotic sphere, is to be welcomed and advanced with all the strength at our command. But by putting this idea into practice through clumsy and feeble imitation of western mores of fashion, beauty and sexual conduct only diminishes the power and desirability of the idea, makes it appear superfluous, cheap and ludicrous.”

5 Things We Can Fix

Illustrations: Anand Naorem

The loudest rallying cry was for better training of the personnel manning the frontlines, the government physicians, the constables and SHOs certainly, but also for bolstering secondary lines of engagement, the petty bureaucrats, the support workers at shelters and counselling centres. Lawyer Tridip Pais has witnessed firsthand, “the court staff, typist and the defence counsel treat rape cases as salacious gossip.” To surrender to the notion that some people cannot be taught, that their attitudes are too deeply inculcated, is to buckle at the first obstacle. While the private domain of the home is harder to access, a classroom can be located in a pre-school or a police station and even in a TV station.

As Karuna Nundy, a lawyer, analogises astutely, “We’ve been thinking of the Dalit boy sitting in a corner of the classroom, who sees a cartoon that’s discriminatory. Think also of the girl who only sees Maharani Laxmibai and Sarojini Naidu in her history books.” A curriculum that champions the concept of gender equality and demonstrates it forcefully and evocatively, could be the most effective weapon. As Mallika Dutt, president of the NGO Breakthrough, says, a rejection of the male protectorate doesn’t mean that women can’t collaborate with men, “not just as perpetrators of violence against women, but as part of the solution to challenging the secondclass citizenship that women experience in their homes and in the public space”

Lawyer Madhu Mehra is rightly strident in her criticism of the letter of the law. When only penile penetration gets classified as rape, and other brutally intrusive sexual assaults (like the one the young woman in Delhi was subjected to) are downgraded to “an outrage of modesty” — a charge carrying a maximum sentence of two years — the law becomes an obstruction to justice. Coyly couching rape in subjective terms like modesty and chastity makes a woman a vessel of uncertain virtue, to be graded by another’s moral cadences.

The vocabulary for rape has to be explicit, even when it is deeply discomfiting, because each veneer of propriety adds a layer of sexism gratis. When the self-aware and confident writer and blogger Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan realised that the ditty boys beeping on car horns in Delhi was code for “Pakad, pakadke chod do” (Catch ’em and fuck ’em), it still took her a while to recognise it for the violent, hateful threatening behaviour it was. There are so many allowances made for that sort of expression (rapper Honey Singh is a case in point and, hopefully, soon will be a case for the judiciary), that it can only be countered in precise, unequivocal language. Eve-teasing is sexual harassment and abuse, there is nothing remotely biblical or fun about it.

The quasi-solidarity expressed by decision makers, the palaver of “whatever steps necessary” and “universal condemnation”, sounds like it comes from the heart, even as leaders sit on their hands. While impounding the specific chartered bus could be a standard step for this investigation, CM Sheila Dikshit’s appeal for an enforcement of a tinted window ban has an uncanny semblance to locking the stable door. A better understanding of the interplay of socioeconomic factors, a trenchant look at the breakdown of community structures in metropolises, analyses of structures that suppress the reporting of rape in rural areas, an examination of the efficacy of citizen warden programmes like the one ex-cop Kiran Bedi had initiated, could help make real headway. Com mission research, as Nilanjana Roy says, on how imbalanced male-female ratios can impact violence, chart the districts that have registered a decrease in gender violence and isolate the changing variables, publicise rigorously vetted findings and base policies around them.

A report
 published by the NCW in 2001 on the need for gender sensitisation training modules for police officers, didn’t differ substantially in content or conclusions from TEHELKA’s sting operation conducted on 30 senior cops in Delhi-NCR. But the public money earmarked to combat these entrenched attitudes has had a fallow outcome. Lawyer Madhu Mehra’s strategy is to use the funds allocated to combat what she terms ‘gender terrorism’. “Make announcements about what kind of behaviour is to be reported. Loud, clear messages not just on TV, but at airports, bus stops, schools, again and again, till they are ingrained.”

Nundy also says money can serve a moral purpose, though she suggests channelling it through the civil courts, so that women can seek compensation for psychological and material damage in a forum easier to navigate. She also sugge sts an innovative system of incentives, where positive behaviour in the criminal justice system towards Dalit women, lesbians and sexually active women wearing skimpy clothes should be recognised and rewarded.

The response
 to this rape, to this attempt to murder, has been so heartening. If you can ignore the sadistic streak that runs parallel to the level reactions, which are in no way less impassioned for being reasonable. There have been calls to punish the rapists with lynching, staking, burning, forced organ donation under duress, or death by a slow dripping stream of acid. This makes the call for capital punishment sound almost rational. But as several respondents noted, faced with a death penalty, a rapist is more likely to turn a murderer. They disagreed on whether a harsher punishment could be a greater deterrent, or whether the actual gap to be plugged is the implementation. None advocated vigilante justice — punishment must be meted out by the law.

Avninder Singh, a lawyer, cautions against the collective flip-flops prodded by a cause célèbre, “A while ago, we demanded the removal of police discretion to arrest people accused of cyber crimes. Now we demand wider powers for law enforcement. Today, a man convicted of rape was not granted interim suspension of his sentence to attend the last rites of his father. Last week, he’d have been.”


‘Rape is a cultural thing in India; just as the US has gun culture, we have this. Eve-teasing is so widely accepted, as if men must prove their manhood by indulging in it. The police subscribes to the same value system’
Flavia Agnes, Lawyer

‘The police suffers from a statistical approach. You may have failed professionally, but may be successful statistically. The numbers show there’s been a marginal increase in rape cases. But many more go unreported’
Kiran Bedi, Former IPS Officer

‘The traditional Indian idea of the body as a temple only provokes pitying glances. Under the onslaught of western superficiality, not its serious underpinnings, we are reverting to primitive barbarism’
Sudhir Kakar, Psychoanalyst

‘You need to stop killing women at birth, so as to not skew the gender ratio. Areas where you have a balanced ratio have lower reports of sexual violence. I don’t think hopelessness is a valid response’
Nilanjana Roy, Author

‘We cannot legislate good behaviour, we have to build its DNA —in schools, homes and the media – which must begin by denying that this entitlement and the violence it takes to live it is the only way to be ‘men”
Gautam Bhan, Queer Rights Activist

‘The police needs better investigation methods. We don’t have proper witness protection programmes, or the best prosecutors — though the victim’s lawyer being allowed to be present now helps somewhat’
Karuna Nundy, Lawyer




  1. 2 types of rapes in India.
    Rape is used by BC/SC/ST/MC people to let off their hatred (23 year FC girl is raped by 6 BC/SC/ST/MC men in Delhi)
    1. High Court filed Suo motu case.
    2. Police caught accused within 3 days.
    3. National media and students agitate.
    4. Protestors demand capital punishment for accused.
    5. Sonia Gandhi, Sheila Dixit, Manmohan, Shinde visit/assure justice to the victim.
    Rape is used by FORWARD CASTE people to show off their hegemony (16 year SC girl was raped by 12 FC men in Haryana)
    1. High Court didn’t file Suo motu case.
    2. Police didn’t register complaint till victim’s father committed suicide.
    3. International media high-lighted the case.
    4. Only SC/ST people agitated for justice to victim.
    5. Sonia Gandhi, Hooda, Manmohan, Shinde never visited the victim.
    ‘Diverse society (USSR/India) is bound to fail’ –Putnam.
    Caste system seeds hatred among people in India.
    It’s only going to get worse in the future.

  2. Here is an economic reason for the authorities in India to put a stop to rape, and to educate everyone in your country that rape is a human rights abuse. There is a petition at the US government website White House dot com, to stop all visas from India and Pakistan until the government and people of India put a stop to the rape culture of violence. It calls for sending home all Indian and Pakistani nationals until the problem is solved. Seem too strong? There will also be calls in the United Nations for India to stop these human rights abuses. The petition is here:

  3. Rape is not centered to India alone! It is occurring in countries all over the world. In India, though the basic culture and Hindu thoughts do advocate respect for women, the common instinct is to suppress women. They are made to cover their faces in public, they are kept out of public participation, they are restricted to maternal and domestic charges, and the exceptions to these are few and far in between and mostly centered in metropolitan cities. Our media too is to blame, especially the cinematic media, which till recent year could not produce a movie without a rape scene in it. Our press too sensationalize rape stories with graphic accounts and images making it all sound like cheap porn stories. It is in cities women are fashionable and seen to be accepted as equals. But these fashionable ladies unwittingly light up the animal instincts of odd mentally unstable, culturally and educationally deprived, male factors that roam the streets. Of course that is not the only reason. Basic hatred for woman, family feuds, childhood deformities, alcohol, drugs,etc., all contribute to persons crossing the thin border of decency between man and beast. Rape, in its definition (sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent), can also happen between a husband and his wife. But rape of a nature like what happened in Delhi recently, with such shockingly high degree brutality, must receive exemplary punishment, something of equally shocking proportions, if only to make a strong point towards deterring further perpetration of such dastardly acts. Today, even the worst and proven cases of rape languish in a court of law for years together. A serial rape case in Kerala, where in several prominent personalities are indicted amongst 40 odd people, is going on for for the past 16 years (since 1996). What a sorry, sorry, state of affairs.

  4. It is worth pointing out that the punishment of “castration” meted out in certain parts of the US is not surgical, but chemical… this is a reversible process designed to surpress the libido. This is a highly controversial measure, which some see as a humane and practical alternative to lengthy prison sentences for sex offenders, while others consider it “cruel and inhuman”.

    The way it is presented in the table above makes it seem like a form of retributive ‘justice’.

  5. i’d say existing laws are sufficient….please open your minds and THINK for a change instead of acting like emotional fools…what these mangina reporters seek to achieve is raw deal for men , specifically innocent men…..if a man and a woman indulge in consensual sex and the man breaks off the relationship after sometime these people want to classify that as RAPE…..see women are being projected as these pure saintly divine flowers that need to be protected from EVIL men…while these white knights just want a system that gives the woman the power to point her finger at anyone and the man she points at is going to be crucified with extreme prejudice…these emo idiots feel that “investigation” and “a MAN being given the benifit of doubt” is unjustified and unnecessary ….delhi rape case is rarest of rare case and it has been given more footage than it deserves …..

  6. Dear All,
    Gandhi had the opinion that state has to do a little when people of the state does the majority. In this case, State could not make unnecessary laws which might be abused or misused. It does also warrant that People of the state should become morally good. We need to look for building our society with values that enrich the soul of each. if we fail in doing so, no matter what, and how harsh the laws could be, we will fail in our goal of achieving zero-rape situation.

  7. There is only one last resort left to deal with these animals. All like-minded,anti rapists should get together and hire merceneries who are available at a price/payroll from around the world or hired exterminators to go after these scum of indian society with one purpose 24×7 finish them off one by one!!. FEAR IS THE ONLY KEY!! ( and this should be a permenant arrangement)


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