New Internationalist

Women in India are not asking for it

Delhi is sometimes referred to as the rape city of India. I hate being there. Many women do. My female friends from the city might laugh and say that’s an exaggeration, because they actually live there and deal with it. But these are friends who never take public transport in the city as they have chauffeur driven cars or can afford taxis.

I was groped in Delhi on a bus when I was six months pregnant and as big as a house. Why am I telling you this ugly detail now, 25 years later? The memory was dredged up because Tehelka, a weekly magazine famous for its brilliant, fearless exposés, just did a sting operation, telling India how the majority of the Delhi police force views rape victims. And, no surprises, many police officers talked about how most of the women were asking for it because of the way they dressed, drank, and danced in bars, pubs and parties.

So it seems that most of India, including many police, lives in the 18th century in terms of morality and mindsets. And these cops are dealing with young women who have dived into the 21st century with a vengeance, often appearing to be dressed for London or New York. You can see it in the latest fashions, mini-skirts (that’s ancient of course, but not in Delhi or Bangalore) shorts, see-through clothes, plunging necklines.

Many of these cops also have a distinct bias against women from the Northeast. These women look different, dress mostly in Western clothes and are ethnically and culturally different from the average north Indian. So the police can’t relate to middle class, upwardly mobile women who dress, party and drink in Western mode.

The consensus among the police interviewed appeared to be that many of these women will have sex for money, and they cry rape only when they are caught or when they don’t get the money they expected. Appalling as this may sound, this is only a fraction of the nonsense that came out of their mouths.

When it comes to poor Indian women, maids, domestic help and so on who are raped –and here we're talking about women dressed conservatively in traditional saris or shalwar kameezes– the cops believe it’s also for money. For these poor women, the cops insist, it’s an extortion business. They know they can get money out of rich men, far more than they could earn as mere servants, so it’s a new business. Cry rape to get rich instantly!

Even more shocking, though why I should be shocked I don’t really know, was the reaction from Indian men in the comments section of internet posts relating to the Tehelka sting. For example: ‘The police are talking from experience, even in the US eight per cent of rape claims are false.’ Or: ‘Why should you believe women who drink, smoke and dress like they are asking for it?’ Or: ‘How do you know rich men are not being exploited and blackmailed?’

I can imagine the despondency among my feminist friends in Delhi and elsewhere. After 30 years of working with women, this is the situation in the capital of our country.

To be fair, Delhi may be the worst city in India for women, but attitudes are not very different in other parts of the country. Even women police officers often show no sympathy to rape victims.

The Tehelka exposé was moving and brilliant. The nuances cannot emerge in a short blog. But a month after Women’s Day, it’s a good time for us to look at the issue of rape and how it’s dealt with by our media, our courts and our police.

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