Delhi rape: what it says about us Indians

December 25, 2012

 Demonstrators run and throw stones towards the police during a protest in front of India Gate in New Delhi December 23, 2012. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

We Indians are an angry people now. Thousands of people have poured into the streets, indignant and outraged over the savage case of rape and assault on a young woman in New Delhi.

That anger degenerated this week into hysteria and bloodlust, with calls for capital punishment and castration of the rapists. The Internet was flooded with comments urging public hanging and beatings. One response on an Internet forum suggested that Delhi men be raped so that “the problem can be solved”; another advocated the rapists be urinated upon.

If there was ever a proud moment to be an Indian, this isn’t it.

There are some who want stricter punishment in such cases, but clearly, as many experts say, it is the certainty of punishment rather than the severity that matters. Sexual assault cases on women in India increased by 25 percent in the six years to 2011, and lawyers believe much of this can be attributed to the low rate of conviction in such cases.

The only time I remember when rape has made national headlines and generated an outpouring of anger was when the victim was someone like us — middle class, educated and urban — such as the cases of the medical student in 2003, or  the call centre worker a few years ago.

A few months ago, several men in a village in Haryana reportedly raped a young woman in a car. Someone filmed the attack, and the tape circulated through the village. The woman’s father was so overcome with shame that he killed himself. I don’t remember this case generated the same level of hysteria and calls for public hanging, for it happened to someone who was not like us.

Now, we in the media talk of “national shame”. Where is our sense of shame when women are stripped, beaten and paraded naked in front of an entire village as punishment?A demonstrator holds a placard in front of the India Gate as she takes part in a protest rally organised by various women's organisations in New Delhi December 21, 2012. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

I remember the case of a woman in the late 1990’s, who was labelled a witch by the politically mighty in the village who wanted to seize her land. She was dragged out of her home, stripped, tied up and left hanging from a tree, chili powder poured into her genitals. She was then beaten to death in front of her young children. The story was narrated by her daughter to a television news channel for a Hindi-language programme. But I don’t remember this story being picked up by any English-language newspaper.

Now people protest on the streets, asking for the capital to be made safer. But safe for whom? For the poor women living on the streets? For the boys and girls who sleep outdoors and who are most vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse? No. We want safety for ourselves, the middle classes. We do not want to let anything come in the way of our march towards modernity. We want to be a global superpower. It is a deep inferiority complex, and to get rid of it, we demand the world recognise us. But we have no sense of shame about the millions of poor who are our fellow citizens, and we have little idea of what social justice is.

Exposure to these incidents threatens to remove our mask of modernity as we still remain a primitive society rooted in inequality, polarised by class, caste and religion. These values have come to our door, as shrinking land holdings, lack of jobs, an ambition to be part of a “shining India” and displacement because of dam and industrial projects trigger a massive migration from villages and towns to cities.

Conservative social mores come face-to-face with rapidly changing city lifestyles. Poverty and the humiliation and indignity that come with it are harder to bear in the face of opulent displays of new wealth.

It is time we focus on these inequalities and demand justice for all. It is time to act with reason. A good way to start would be to ask ourselves, do we want to be a civilised nation, or do we want to compete with the Taliban? In many ways, they are our closest neighbours.


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India – along with many countries – lacks Rule of Law. India has laws, but they are often ignored. India has courts, but few rely on them.

Rule of Law is a state of fact and a state of mind. The calls for SAVAGE punishments for the rapists – who surely deserve severe punishment – show that Rule of Law is not deep-seated.

The US has Rule of Law, witnesseth our requiring presidents to answer for their alleged wrongg-doing. It has taken us a long time to achieve that.

Be advised, though, that in the United States, police forces have no duty to protect the average person. This is not my opinion. My opinion has no value in this matter. It is the opinion of the US Supreme Court.

This is old law. In 1856, the US Supreme Court held, in South v. Maryland (59 U.S. 396 (1856), that a private party has no right to police protection. In the modern language of a US Appellate Court: “But there is no constitutional right to be protected by the state against being murdered by criminals or madmen. It is monstrous if the state fails to protect its residents against such predators but it does not violate the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment or, we suppose, any other provision of the Constitution.” (Bowers v. Devito, 686 F.2d 616, 618 (7th Cir. 1982). This is “good law”, i.e., this decision has not been over-turned.

Not even the beneficiary of a “restraining order” or an “order of protection” acquires a right to police protection, unless a State legislature specifically so enacts. Few have. The US Supreme Court so held, in deciding Town of Castle Rock, Colorado v. Gonzales 545 U.S. 748 (2005).

Thus, even in a place with Rule of Law, we should the burden of protecting ourselves, because we recognize that event with diligent police officers and effective Courts, we cannot afford enough of either, to protect everyone, who needs protection.

A good first step for India – the World’s largest democracy by far – is to set up a Federal police force, with national reach and a court in which those arrested by that force, will be tried.

This may not sound like much. But from this kernel can grow a mighty tree: of state and local police forces, whose members are not just respected, but revered, for their investigative skills and dedication to finding out the truth of a matter. Such police officers will inspire trust. Trust begets trust, just as kindness begets kindness.

Posted by Hardliner | Report as abusive

Needless to mention that the gang rape that took place has taken the toll to degrade not only the image of the entire nation. It high lights government’s incapability to afford its citizens security because of complete break down of police and legal administration in the entire country.

Because of the fact such situation was prevailing for a long time in the country unabated inaction of the police department to control the rape situation that too in the capital leave aside the entire country.

One could easily contemplate the pathetic state of affairs of the government administration, more over two third rape cases are lying without any action the Indian Courts.

I would not like to draw down in my writing all the failures and because of the Administration of the government’s total carelessness to control rape throughout the country specially in the country’s capital, but this inaction of the police to control the situation of rampant rapes culminated in the rape of a 23 years woman whose intestine was ruptured by the intensity of the force of the rape. It is definitely a shame for the country and the of course the nation.

May be the above stated facts with respect to the recent rape case of the woman would amply ventilate the actual perception of India by the international world community of nations in existence now. It is easily understood what the people of the world would say and think about India.

Posted by KINGISKING | Report as abusive

Ms. Gupta is obviously a clear-eyed, educated woman, but in the end even she is avoiding the obvious: the war on women is a world war, whether it’s imbeciles like Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock or these punks in India. This is what a lot of men aren’t getting, especially here in the U.S. I hear white guys going on and on about the free ride Obama gets from the MSM because he’s black, then they tell another rapo joke.
It’s already taken too long, Ms. Gupta.

Posted by Bagehot | Report as abusive

Sorry, not everything is about Obama or white guys. This is about the sorry state of affairs in the capital of India. Women have been subject to all kinds of assault and like the author says most of it goes unreported or is ignored. Delhi just has a rabid culture which is reflected in ways around the country as well.

Posted by js2012 | Report as abusive

Fair enough, it’s not just the pale male that comes in for it. Nigeria, Malaysia, South Africa, the list goes on: while I tried to make a more domestic point, it really is a world war. What drove these people to attack in a “rabid” culture is just as prevalent in yours: systematic dehumanization and a natural joy in cruelty. This could happen to a woman in any neighborhood in the world. Like you said, it just goes unreported.

Posted by Bagehot | Report as abusive

This is for Bagehot. “This could happen to a woman in any neighborhood in the world.” Not so!!! Where I live, in the US northeast, any law-abiding woman can get a license to carry a pistol or revolver. That license will be issued within 14 days of the application date. No statement of need is required. No fingerprints or photograph are required. The license costs just US$10. The license is valid for four years.

Having handy a pistol won’t prevent every crime. But the possibility that the victim can kill the attacker makes some attackers think twice.

The usual response – which I don’t attribute to you – is, “The pistol will be taken from You and used to kill You.” That could be true, if the person carrying the pistol has not been trained to draw the weapon only when in imminent lethal peril, and then to shoot instantly.

Were Indian women – (a) authorised to carry pistols (and, if unable to afford them, to be be given them); and (b) were the law changed, so that use of a weapon to prevent a rape were presumptively lawful and justified – the abuse would pretty quickly end.

One or two rapists would be shot dead or wounded, and the word would spread like wildfire – from Mumbai to Kolkata to Chennai – that he who attacks a woman should be ready to leave this world.

Reliance on the Courts to deter rapes is futile. Most of the victims will die of old age, before the rapist sees the inside of a Court room.

The best way to stop this violence is for the attackers to end up in a morgue.

Posted by Hardliner | Report as abusive

Any laws will on;y be effective if the caste system is not also imbedded in the laws. Remembering the “law” hauling black people out of white only establishments not all that long ago, might put this in a different light.

Speaking of light, the one good thing about (and bad as well) of the internet, is it has shone a light on what the world hardly knew existed, as most people live tranquil and passive lives of ignorance before the world opened up their eyes and minds and hopefully, more often their hearts. Compassion and humanity are as important as new laws to protect the innocent.

Posted by youniquelikeme | Report as abusive