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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  1. #1 Laura 10 Apr 12

    Hi Mari,
    I'm so glad there are brilliant people like you speaking up for women in India.
    Keep up the good work.
    Love Laura (DFTI 2005)

  2. #2 Neha Writes 11 Apr 12

    I have never felt so disgusted and angry before. There is a dire need for gender sensitization among the officers. they are supposed to protect us not treat us like criminals. Being a Delhi woman its so hard to not let these twisted arguments affect you psychologically. My blog post on the issue raises similar arguments.

  3. #3 Mark 11 Apr 12


    Yes, unfortunately the general mindset of people in India have gone from bad to worse...

    in Calcutta, a victim who had the guts to go to the media was rubbished by our Chief Ministe( a Lady incidentally). The city's crime wing's first lady police chief cracked the case and arreseted the guilty and guess what happens next...she's transferred to relativly lower profiled role!!

  4. #4 Archana 12 Apr 12

    These archaic notions have seeped in so deep into the collective consciousness that Delhi's entire vibe bears this unsettling feeling of insecurity. Implicit and explicit, it is constantly weighing down on you. Like you've mentioned, public transport there, is unpleasant to say the least. Even if it means a ten minute auto ride. It's in the manner the bus conductors or auto drivers talk to you, it's in the way a passer-by glances at you. It is so disheartening to know that the police have such varied ways of partaking in these crimes.

  5. #5 Niral 12 Apr 12

    Whatever be the crime, whether especially against women and children, there seems to be a mindset amongst our law enforcing agencies that the victims either deserve it or that they have their hands full. Even if citizens rise and the media rise up to the occasion their efforts will still go to waste because for every law there are a hundred loopholes and the perpetrators finally go free.

  6. #6 Mahesh 16 Apr 12

    Thanks for sharing this one

  7. #7 Nina Jatana 27 Apr 12

    I am so glad prominent voices like yours continue to push this envelope. If you didn't I am afraid the issue will stay shut, locked inside without anymore progress for another 20 years. Women are objectified in India. I am not sure there is any other society where women are leered at in the same way - in the West it's a corporate-machine; advertisements, pop-videos, but it's distant - the ordinary women on the street can still walk in relative safety. In South East Asia - in China, HK, South Korea, Japan - the story is far from rosy but women's safety is high and it's higher than the West. Poorer countries suffer, Indonensia, Thailand - women are clearly massively objectified through sex tourism trade, But in India, its women face a massive struggle. The ordinary woman trying to get on with their daily chores is a huge chore in itself. It's tiring. I heave a sigh of relief everytime I land back home from a visit to India. The relief is palpable. I can slip of my jacket and wear a vest top and jeans, and walk, free in the knowledge that I am highly unlikely to face a barrage of creeping eyes over me. If there is one thing I could do to change India it would be to re-programme the way Indian men view women! The unequal position women hold, as human beings in India is morally unacceptable, especially for a country that legalised abortion in the 1960s - a landmark for the rights of women. For too long discussions around development and poverty focus on the gaps between rich and poor. For me the biggest gap in India is the one between the sexes. If 'women's issues' are bundled in with economic development then women will continue to remain on the margins.

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

Read more by Mari Marcel Thekaekara

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