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A wounded nation seeks answers

Post the most shocking incident of a heinous sexual assault in a moving bus in Delhi, a stunned nation introspects. In the midst of widespread expressions of anger on the streets, a number of ugly realities - brushed under the carpet for too long - are, for perhaps the first time, being openly discussed.

delhi Updated: Dec 23, 2012 02:01 IST
HT Correspondents

Some crimes are too gory to even imagine - like the one the national capital woke up to on Monday.

If movements have triggers, the gang rape of a girl in a moving bus - an unnamed 23-year-old who battles against the odds to live - has become a symbol of crimes against women in the country and has forced a pained and anguished nation to seek answers.

In the midst of widespread expressions of anger on the streets, a number of ugly realities - brushed under the carpet for too long - are, for perhaps the first time, being openly discussed.

Law and order, judicial reforms, punishments meted out to offenders and patriarchal Indian mindsets are being addressed in the public domain.

But despite the heated exchanges between citizen and state, between political parties, between friends and colleagues or in the home, there is no doubt that now is the time to act. India has had enough.


1. WHY do rapes happen? And why do groups of men attack a woman?

According to psychologists, gang rape is a manifestation of certain psychodynamics in a patriarchal society - factors such as false appraisal of masculinity, peer approval, boredom, joblessness combined together can lead to such sort of psychopathic gang behaviour.

Police records make no any distinction between rape and gang-rape, so no official stats are available. Gang rape is seen as a part of "negative group dynamics".

Sociologist, Shiv Viswanathan, calling this phenomenon an urban malaise, says, "Gang rape, not terrorism, is the ultimate terror in metros."

Viswanathan explains, "Usually gang rapists belong to two sects of society - either rich or powerful or the poor and unemployed. And it's in the big cities that the divide between both builds misplaced anger." - Zofeen Maqsood

2. WHY has it come to this? And is the problem even bigger than we know of?
According to statistics, in 2002, New York City reported 1,468 cases of rape, London reported 2,731 cases, Delhi had 383 reported cases of rape this year. This, however, may be misleading as a large number of cases in India go unreported.

A patriarchal culture where "a woman is seen as a source who can bring potential shame to the family," is responsible, says Nirmala Venkatesh, former member of National Commission of Women.

"It is because of this fear that many women chose to bear the trauma silently," she adds.

Lawyer Pinky Anand however points out that social stigma is global.

According to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, in US 54% of sexual assaults are not reported to police and about 97% of rapists never spend a day in jail.

Anand says, "Add to it delayed trials, hostile witnesses and justice is often delayed or denied.''

Experts also feel the apathy shown at various levels in society that further discourage a girl from gaining the courage to report. - ZM


3. WHY are people feeling so helpless and angry, even though it's 'yet another case'?
While doctors wage a war to save the 23-year-old victim, the incident has triggered mass protests across the nation.

"This violent incident is being viewed as a result of the state's complete indifference toward its citizens. The widespread protests could be an attempt to activate the state from its moral lethargy," says Radhika Chopra, a DU professor of sociology.

The girl, who was brutally battered by six men, had to be put on ventilator and doctors were forced to remove almost her entire intestines.

"A couple brutally assaulted at a decent evening hour and in the heart of the city forced people to speak up," says Anand Kumar, sociology professor at, JNU.

"It has crossed a threshold. This has shaken the conscience of the country," says Dr Sandeep Vohra, psychiatrist at Apollo hospital. - FS

4. WHY even lowly criminals and murderers look down on the rape accused?
Mukesh Singh, 30, among the accused men arrested for the gangrape, was greeted with expletives and jeering by jail inmates on Wednesday. (5 other accused are in a police lockup and yet to be sent to the jail by a court).

Singh could even get assaulted physically by co-inmates.

"A rape accused is ostracized, not given work or position of responsibility by co-inmates or even jail authorities," says retired IPS officer BK Gupta, former Delhi police commissioner.

Singh is among 1,200 other rape accused and convicts in Tihar, who constitute up to 10 per cent of Tihar's population of 12,000.

"A rapist is deemed filthy and at the bottom of the pile as per this hierarchy as he's seen to have targeted a vulnerable girl, part of somebody's family," said the source, adding: "Even a murderer cares about his family." Rape accused fear co-inmates in the US and some European countries too. Jails there segregate them. - Abhishek Sharan

5. IS the incident our Sandy Hook in terms of the shockwaves? And how do we explain it?
When a gunman walked into the Sandy Hook elementary school in the US earlier this month and shot 22 children dead, it shocked the entire world and led to the US rethinking their gun laws.

The Delhi gang-rape has been as shocking. Besides the anger and helplessness, the gory nature of the crime makes it difficult to explain to children.

"How will you explain it to kids when even adults find it difficult to hear about this heinous crime? The only way is not to go into the gory details but to give a good sense of the crime and its consequences," says Dr Samir Parikh, psychiatrist, Fortis Healthcare.

"Schools can be helpful in communicating such issues to children. You need to allow a child to vent out his feelings," adds Dr Parikh. - Furquan Siddiqui

6. WHY were male politicians silent, leaving women MPs to make emotional speeches?
While the country argued over issues raised - who should take responsibility? Why was security so lax? - Male MPs were relatively mum on the issue, leaving the female MPs to make emotional speeches.

But this, says Rajya Sabha MP Mani Shankar Aiyar, is not reflective of "any lack of concern on the part of the male MPs."

He says: "Especially on an issue like this, it's more appropriate that instead of me, Renuka Chaudhury should speak."

But Kamal Mitra Chenoy, professor of political theory at JNU, says: "It's a patriarchal thing," and he adds "On women's issues, men MPs can be extremely ill-mannered. In fact, few MPs have spoken about it even on TV." - Samar Khurshid

7. WHY is a woman's voice - and her vote - not being heard in the country? http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2012/12/23-12-12-pg-12c.jpg

In elections, appeals are often made to caste/religion vote banks but gender issues are not prominent. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, professor of political theory at JNU, says the reason is that patriarchy and masculinity are very strong.

"The perception of traditional gender roles still exists. Women are seen as commodities, not independent thinkers."

Sociologist Amit Sharma says: "Even though there has been a demographic change in women, men do not see them as equal."

Kavita Krishnan, Secretary AIPWA, says, "No dominant political party is willing to challenge patriarchal attitudes." - SK

8. WHY was there such lax security to begin with?
While Police has come under criticism, there has been talk of forces been underemployed. With shortage of staff, the police move from one crisis to another.

The plan to deploy men at the bus stop started last year, but it stopped midway and only after the gangrape, the police decided to conduct a fresh survey. There is also a staff necessity. If there are ten personnel at a station, eight would be present in the day. This means only two are available for night duty.

The night staff too patrol only till 2am. This is why there is hardly any police presence after midnight. Authorities have pledged to change this. - Faizan Haider