Tue, Mar 26, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Why young Indian men rationalize rape as something expected

By Gethin Chamberlain  /  The observer, BAGA, India

“Rape is a big problem. It starts with the woman. They drive the man fucking crazy,” Papi Gonzales said.

He leans back in his chair and surveys the other young Indian men around the table in his beach bar, seeking approval. They nod in agreement, eager to make their own points.

“When the girls look sexy and the boys can’t control themselves, they are going to rape. It happens,” said Robin Shretha, one of the waiters.

Since 23-year-old Jyoti Singh, a medical student, was gang-raped on a bus in Delhi in December last year and later died in hospital from her injuries, the issue of rape has been prominent in India.

New cases are reported every day. Last week, headlines were dominated by the gang rape of a Swiss woman on a cycling holiday in Madhya Pradesh. In the same week, a British woman leapt from her hotel window in the northern city of Agra at 4am to escape the unwanted attention of the hotel manager, who was trying to get into her room.

According to government figures, a rape takes place in India every 21 minutes. The number of reported rapes rose by 9 percent in 2011 to 24,000.

Yet conviction rates are falling, down to 26 percent in 2011.

The recent cases have aroused worldwide outrage, and demonstrations led by women have filled the streets of major cities.

However, what do India’s young men think?

The Observer gathered a group in the western region of Goa, to hear their views.

They were: Abhijit Harmalkar, 28, a driver; his brother, Avinash Harmalkar, 24, a factory worker; Bhivresh Banaulikar, 26, an auditor; Brindhavan Salgaonkar, 20, a factory worker; Robin Shretha, 21, a waiter; and Papi Gonzales, 32, the owner of the bar.

One word to describe their views would be “unreconstructed.” The discussion illustrated a deep moral conservatism among Indian men, coupled with confusion about gender roles in a society where economic modernization is outstripping social attitudes.

We are getting the blame, they said, while no one is paying attention to the actions of young women who need to understand that they should not be out on their own at night.

“Our culture is different,” Abijit Harmalkar said. “Girls are not allowed outside after 6[pm] because anything can happen — rape, robbery, kidnaps. It is the mentality of some people. They are putting on short and sexy dresses, that’s why. Then men cannot control themselves.”

Banaulikar nodded.

“I have a sister. If she was out late at night then I would be worried. After 7pm I would be worried. Men can’t control themselves,” he said.

The men sit around a table in a bar overlooking the Arabian Sea. It is an idyllic scene: coconut palms edge the beaches, the sea is a deep blue, the temperature in the mid-30s. It is mid-morning, but already there are a few Western tourists wandering along the beach — the men bare-chested in shorts, many of the women in bikinis. Groups of Indian men watch the women, discreetly taking pictures with their phones. When night falls, nearby bars will be packed with young people, drinking and flirting.

This bar is only a couple of kilometers from where the body of British teenager Scarlett Keeling was found on the shore one February morning five years ago. The 15-year-old had been raped and murdered. An on-off court case against two men has dragged on for years, with no sign of reaching a conclusion. No one believes that those responsible will face justice, and there appears to be no impetus among those in authority to bring it to a conclusion. The truth is that in India there are many people who think a 15-year-old Western girl out drinking in bars in the early hours of the morning was asking for trouble.

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