Patriarchy, popular culture, unemployment: Why Haryana is India’s rape capital
Haryana is India’s richest large state by per capita incomes. It wins the largest number of India’s medals, almost half of all, despite having just about 2% of its population. Haryana also comes up tops on a score it would rather not: It has the highest number of gang rapes in India.
National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data shows in 2016, Haryana registered one gang rape every two days. The number of rapes was at 1,187 – which is more than three a day.
Haryana Police data accessed by ThePrint shows that already 70 cases of gang rapes have been filed in the state until 31 May, 2018. Of these, 33 are under investigation and 18 in the trial stage. Last year was no different, with 176 cases of gang rape being registered.
If that is enough to declare an epidemic, then Haryana – the launchpad of the BJP’s ambitious Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme – should have declared one some time ago.
Just a cursory Google search throws up stories of gang-rapes registered from different parts of the state almost every week, if not more frequently.
So, why has Haryana become so dangerous for its women?
With some of the worst sex ratios in the country, a deep-rooted system of khap panchayats and innumerable honour killings, Haryana has never been known for its gender sensitivity or equality. Add to this easy access to pornography, unemployment, scores of unmarried men and substance abuse, and the problem is an obvious one.
Patriarchy meets popular culture
With more girls venturing out of their homes for education, work and sport, developing friendships with boys and seeking to assert themselves, a new trend of “use and throw” seems to have emerged, says Jagmati Sangwan, state vice-president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association.
“There is also desire at a certain age, but since marriages are still largely determined by considerations of caste endogamy, village exogamy, etc. men look at these women as objects of fun, with no intention of marrying them,” says Sangwan.
Caste endogamy refers to the practice of marrying within the same caste while village exogamy is the practice of finding a bride or a groom outside one’s own village.
It is important to remember that this exposure is taking place in a society which still has warped notions of chastity and honour, says advocate Lal Bahadur Khowal who has appeared for several rape victims.
Across villages and districts, smartphones, which provide easy access to pornography, are seen as a huge culprit. Since relationships with girls are developed only “for fun”, they are objects that can be shared with friends.
“A lot of cases of gang rape happen when one of the accused is known to the victim, and he then calls his friends to join in the act,” says Rohtak SP Jashandeep Singh Randhawa. “There are also cases in which there was a failed relationship, an extra-marital affair or live-in.”
His argument is corroborated by national data that shows in 94 per cent cases of rape of women and children, the accused is known to the victim.
Unemployment plus alcohol: A toxic mix
Moreover, in many cases, the men are unemployed, says Sangwan. With nothing to do all day, they gravitate towards alcohol, drug abuse and tend to attack girls who they feel are increasingly competing with them in the job market.
“They are not always uneducated…a lot of them are engineers who were promised the moon by private colleges that mushroomed across the state, but didn’t get packages of more than ₹15,000-18,000,” she says.
Although Haryana is among one of India’s well-off states, its unemployment rate is among the highest in the country at 15.3%, shows Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy data.
In Mewat’s Nuh, for example, where a 17-year old was allegedly gang raped last month, unemployment among young boys is rampant, say villagers.
“None of the men (accused) are educated or employed,” says the victim’s father. “They are the dabang of the village…they have a lot of money and can buy anyone they wish…they drink all day, but nobody can dare say anything to them.”
Across the district, one can see young men huddled on charpoys gambling or just playing cards.
“Eighty per cent of the boys in this village are into gambling,” says a 45-year-old who has sent two of his daughters to study in Gujarat. “They are safer there than here.”
Alcohol — cheaply available and consumed almost only by men — adds to the problems.
“A village might not have a medical shop, but every village has a theka (liquor vend),” says Paro Mishra, an assistant professor of sociology at Banasthali University in Rajasthan’s Tonk district, who has done extensive fieldwork in Haryana.
Police officers who ThePrint spoke to also mention the increasing menace of drug abuse. “You will see massive drug abuse by men, especially younger ones or those who cross the marriageable age and don’t get married,” says Rohtak SP Randhawa.
No brides for men
The state’s skewed sex ratio, which has given rise to the problem of “missing brides” and chade, or over-aged bachelors, is a major factor in the growing instances of sexual violence against women, says Mishra.
According to the 2011 census data, Haryana’s child sex ratio at birth was 834 girls per 1,000 boys and the overall sex ratio was 879.
“In Haryana, the marriage market has been heavily imbalanced…especially at the bottom of the hierarchy. If a man is unemployed and landless, he is finding it increasingly difficult to find a bride,” she says.
“During my fieldwork, a lot of times such men were referred to by villagers as chhutta saand (untamed bulls), who will molest any woman they see,” says Mishra.
The state government has, at least on paper, made attempts to make the state safer for girls. Besides Beti Bachao Beti Padhao, Haryana also started ‘Operation Durga’ in 2015, its own version of Uttar Pradesh’s anti-Romeo squads, and opened women’s police stations in every district.
But in a state where there is a solid nexus between politicians and khap panchayats, any real change remains elusive, says advocate Khowal.
“I have been involved in cases where girls have turned hostile because of khap pressure or the police has withdrawn cases against the accused because of them,” he says.
Worse still, in a state that should be dealing with crimes against women with alarming urgency, the police claim to approach gender crimes with “a pinch of salt”.
Haryana’s top cop, DGP B.S. Sandhu, who blames the rise in gang rapes on the “erosion of social values”, also expresses some doubt about the veracity of these cases.
“Thirty per cent of rape cases are false, the cancellation rate is very high…There are gangs that are working to extort money,” he says.
In 2018, of the 70 cases that were registered until 31 May, 19 have been cancelled. In 2016 and 2017, as many as 120 cases were cancelled in all.
Contrast this with the conviction rates. For the cases registered in 2016, only nine saw convictions, while there were 48 acquittals. For 2017, there have been only two convictions and 16 acquittals.
“Investigating teams have been clearly instructed that they should focus on gathering scientific evidence so that even if the victim backs out, conviction is ensured,” said Haryana’s ADGP law and order A.S. Chawla, who also heads the cell for prevention of crime against women.
Forensic labs have also been told that reports on evidence gathered in rape cases have to be dealt with on priority and expedited.
“Investigation in gang rape cases has to be complete within one month of lodging of FIR,” he adds. Yet, investigation in 11 cases registered in 2017 is still on.
(With inputs from Chitleen Sethi. This story was published in special arrangement with ThePrint)