New Internationalist

Some rapes are more newsworthy than others in India

2013-09-03-india-590.jpg [Related Image]
A construction worker in Jaipur: protection from sexual violence should apply to all women in India Prayudi Hartono under a Creative Commons Licence

Since the famous or, more appropriately, infamous, Delhi rape case hit global headlines last December, every newspaper carries a daily dose of rape crime reportage from all over India. Many of us Indian women are in a state of perpetual, simmering rage as we read these reports – as should be the case. Tolerance for sexual violence is at a historic low in urban, middle class India.

Last week, a new rape case made the headlines in Mumbai. It set every TV channel ranting and raving because traditionally, all of us consider Mumbai to be India’s safest city for women. I lived there for eight years in the 1970s and took taxis back and forth to the airport at midnight with little fear. In 2000, my daughter moved to Mumbai at 17 for university and I felt no apprehension whatsoever about her safety, whereas Delhi was always a no-no for most parents. The newest Mumbai victim was a photojournalist which shocked the media and totally jolted everyone out of their complacency. ‘It could have been one of us!!’ was the understandable media reaction.

All sexual harassment, violence and rape is abhorrent. And women’s groups in every corner of India are screaming ‘enough!’. But Dalit groups are asking a different question, a very valid question: ‘why are some rapes more outrageous than others? Why does the Indian media scream from the rooftops about middle class girls from Delhi and Mumbai, but ignore the daily attacks on poor, mostly Dalit, women and girls?’ These routine rapes, and I cringe as I write this phrase, barely merit inside column inches on a dull newsroom day. Forget Dalit rapes making headlines, they are just not newsworthy. They are dismissed as rapes that do not interest readers.

Why are these rapes under-reported? Why are they never sensationalized like the infamous Nirbhaya rape in Delhi? December 2012 is seared into our brains, into our collective, national memory. All of us are outraged that the most brutal rapist will walk free in three years because he is a minor. ‘Castrate the bastards’ was a popular sentiment when the verdict was announced a few days ago. The nation expressed outrage and anger all over again.

But when Dalit women are raped, the silence is deafening. The indifference is palpable. A few newspapers diligently report the incidents but even passionate young reporters, journalists who really care, cannot inspire anger or outrage in a cynical, blasé readership. India is enveloped in ennui when the violated women are Dalit – rural or urban, domestic servants or adivasi (indigenous) people.

Yesterday, I received a shocking report entitled ‘101 brutal atrocities/heinous crimes against Dalit women: from the Damini incident (16 December 2012) to the Aasaram arrest (31 Aug 2013)’. It listed crimes against Dalit women and girls from all over over India: Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Bihar, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka. The list went on, its cases came from the north, south, east and west. None of them inspired interest or outrage. Few made headlines.

I get these missives every day and I read them with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. But it’s only when you see a dossier, all the incidents neatly chronicled one after the other, all the newspaper clippings, the information from the public domain that the sheer horror, the rank injustice, the absolutely indigestible bitter truth hits you.  

We need special fast track courts with individuals who are passionate about combating caste atrocities. We need anger and outrage, media coverage and public action. We need a concerned proactive judiciary. We need a comprehensive plan to combat rape and sexual violence, and we need it right now.

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  1. #1 ludwig pesch 03 Sep 13

    With so much sad news, a never ending stream rightly reminds us sympathetic readers that the underlying causes won't just dissappear. Will decision makers and others in positions of authority join the ranks?
    Punishment is one thing (and required by law), deterring predators another. Ideal woul of course be to find better ’aspirations’ than sadistic self-gratification for youngsters, at school and work. In the US draconian laws seem to have failed but for creating a large and profitable ’jailing industry’. No consolation for women nor good for society to have millions of able bodied (though feeble minded or under-educated) men locked up for decades.
    India is a working democracy with a free press. May this opportunity translate itself into lasting change. So keep up the good, albeit heavy work of frank reporting to keep conscience alive and, if needed, kicking!

  2. #2 Aloke Surin 03 Sep 13

    The challenge is to prod a desensitized population and an indifferent administration into action. Throughout the world, brutal rapes,crimes against children, etc. are reported in the media every single day and yet some sort of defense mechanism in the human psyche seems to filter them out of our consciousness and we continue to get on with our lives...

  3. #3 Deepthi Sukumar 04 Sep 13

    How is the rape of dalit women different that it does not get the same reaction of other rapes? The bodies of Dalit women are used to maintain the power relations of the caste system. When these power relations are disturbed for the sake of a little equality or inclusion, caste persons rape dalit women to silence and intimidate. The media like most other public systems is dominated by caste persons and directed by caste attitudes and behaviour. so it is no surprise that violence against dalit women is not exposed!

  4. #4 david cohen 04 Sep 13

    I was struck by Mari Marcel Thekaekara's poignant posting on the way rapes are reported in India.The world of the media just doesn't seem to give a damn about the violence on and against Dalit woman.

    In the US we have a problem rooted in race. Black crime on whites is well reported. Black on
    black crime, or any crime on and against blacks, is not reported. It goes beyond black and includes all people of color except the color white.

    We must ask far more of our police and judges and the media too. But there is an opportunity to make a difference even if we cannot move these recalcitrant institutions. With the advent of social media there can be created a rapid reporting system from within the Dalit communities to report the violence and the response to that violence by those institutions required to do so.

    The glare of exposure is a powerful weapon.

    David Cohen
    Washington, DC
    September 4, 2013

    David Cohen,
    Senior Advisor, Civic Ventures
    Senior Congressional Fellow,
    Council for a Livable World
    E-mail address:[email protected]
    address: 1400 I St. NW
    Washington DC 20005

  5. #5 Josette 04 Sep 13

    So true, Mari, these girls/women would need even more compassion and ’publicity’ because probably they have no-one to gurn to for help.
    Go on doing your good work! Love, Josette

  6. #6 Sumit 05 Sep 13

    Media never stands for weak and poor.It's mouthpiece of few influential people.It is also astonishing thing - In Parliament same influential people save serial rapist like Godmen while on otherhand demand for death penalty in cases of richer girls.

  7. #7 Sunil 06 Sep 13

    Absolutely agree. This is true for other crimes like murder as well . It is sad but true that India is divided between the elite and the rest.

  8. #8 Betty 09 Sep 13

    All animals are equal, but, some are more equal than others.

  9. #9 Bianca 06 Oct 13

    I couldn't agree more. As a fellow Indian this sickens me. I'm inclined to believe that India is in a state of acceptance - acceptance that there is a great epidemic of rape. Hopefully they will progress to the next stage and put in a greater effort to ensure the safety of all of their citizens and not just a particular bunch. Do visit my blog where I write about sexual violence, the more readers the better.

  10. #10 Asha 15 Nov 13

    This artical i read, and found myself right. What about the poor women? What about village women?
    I think media need to focus also towards poor and village women. I think this would be effective step about rapes, sexually abuse crime. This step can change a lots of things in positive side. Voice would be raised by every women without fear automatically.

  11. #11 Asha 15 Nov 13

    This artical i read, and found myself right. What about the poor women? What about village women?
    I think media need to focus also towards poor and village women. I think this would be effective step about rapes, sexually abuse crime. This step can change a lots of things in positive side. Voice would be raised by every women without fear automatically.

  12. #12 Gopal Raj Kumar 13 Dec 13

    It is not just in India. The same applies to so called ’developed nations’ as Australia and the US claim to be. In these places there is often a ’media celebration’ an ’orgy of reporting’ on rape when it occurs in places like India.

    In Australia when a white former employee of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation was kidnapped, raped and murdered it attracted the ire of the organization, a public broadcaster who made a festival of her death.

    ’Feminists’ marched through the streets of Melbourne the media coverage was as wide as it could be and feminists and anti rape groups blocked main streets in protest at her death.

    More often than not, Asian women, men and other non Anglo Saxons are murdered in the most horrific of circumstances and not a mention is made of it. If there is any media interest, it is done in passing. Perhaps after the local news about a celebrities cat being rescued by firemen from the roof of her house.

    There is a need to educate not just men but also women in places like India that justice and rights cannot be won by imitating trendies from the west. They have no interest in rights of women in places like India, Pakistan or Afghanistan. Their interest is purely political and based on the benefits the nation states that fund these groups have to gain from such publicity. They have no interest in the plight of Indian or other Asian women or men. None.

  13. #13 Nicole 05 May 14

    In India’s society there are 1.2 billion people and it is known that there are 250 million Dalits. Dalits are the lowest caste in India and are believed to be the ‘untouchables’. Both men and women are apart of the Dalit group in India, but the women unfortunately deal with much more discrimination and dehumanization. Dalit women are apart of sexual exploitation in India and are prostitutes for men in the higher castes. They do not have a choice most of the time and are put into prostitution by there own parents in order to make money to support there whole family. Along with sexual exploitation these women deal with violence, both physical and verbal, and they are deprived of many things so there health and education are in bad states as well.

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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.

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