Why young Indian men rationalize rape as something expected

By Gethin Chamberlain  /  The observer, BAGA, India

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 - Page 9

“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.

Sometimes the women lead the men on, those around the table said. Sometimes men are frustrated that women who have earlier flirted with them then ignore their advances. This is not how they themselves behave, but this is what happens, they said.

“The Indian girls who come here, they don’t behave, maybe there are some boys and the rape happens,” Shretha said. “But sometimes they are not behaving sexy, not talking to the boys, and the boys are angrier and they think ‘I’ll rape.’”

“If they find them in a blind place, they are going to combine together with friends and they are going to rape them. If they [the women] talk nicely, they are OK. If they behave rudely, then they [the men] are going to be angry,” he said.

However, the idea that women are second-class citizens in India is out of date, they said. Everyone is equal now, with women going out to work and making money too.

“Before, for many years, girls were neglected, boys got opportunities. Girls did not get opportunities, but now it is equal. It is a new generation, no difference between girls and boys,” Shretha said.

The trouble is, they claimed, that this new assertiveness among women is causing confusion for the men.

“The main thing is the bank balance. Women are in love with the bank balance,” Gonzales said.

“And a nice shiny car. Then everything is OK,” Salgaonkar said.

“You should not blame the boys every time,” Banaulikar said.

“If you have four girls, sometimes one is a prostitute type,” Avinash Harmalkar said.

“The others don’t know their friend is a prostitute. It is common in college life,” he said.

“And what do you think of them then?” Salgaonkar asked. “You may think all four are prostitutes.”

Such attitudes are not unusual in India. After the Delhi rape prompted nationwide protests, Abhijit Mukherjee, the son of Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, himself a member of parliament with the ruling Congress party, dismissed protesters as “dented and painted women.”

Religious guru Asaram Bapu also suggested that the victim was not blameless, asking: “Can one hand clap?”

Maybe if there were more prostitutes, there would be fewer problems for young women, the men said.

“It keeps men happy,” Gonzales said. “In Bombay, there are 20 places that I go sometimes, especially to fuck. There are hundreds of places there. In Goa there are no places like that. And when we see the goras [whites] being sexy and showing their bodies off, the Goan people react badly. And even Bombay girls now are coming here in bikinis. When you are drinking, you know, you are out of control.”

One answer, the men said, would be for the women’s families to be stricter with them, preventing them going out at night. That is the traditional Indian solution to keeping girls safe.

“In Indian culture, our generation has grown up with respect for families,” Gonzales said.

“That’s why we are scared of our parents. We behave as we are told to behave. Mum and Dad shout ‘do this, do that’ and we listen. But in the next generation everything has changed,” he said.

“Parents should stop the girls going out late at night,” Harmalkar said.

“They should not allow it. Parents should set them free to live their own life, but parents should be strict about late nights, then this kind of crime will not happen,” he added.

None of the men could understand why Jyoti Singh and her boyfriend had taken a bus in Delhi alone at night, the bus on which they were attacked.

“At nighttime no one goes in the bus, the seats are empty,” Salgaonkar said.

“You don’t go as a single boyfriend and girlfriend in a late bus at 8.30pm. At that time anything can happen, because no one is in the bus,” Avinash Harmalkar said.

As for men who assault women on crowded buses, which happens frequently, they do so because they have the safety of numbers, he said, and because they do not understand that what they are doing is wrong.

“They can’t have a girlfriend. If they had a girlfriend they wouldn’t act like this. In fact, if they had a sister they would not do this,” Salgaonkar said.

It was not the rape itself that provoked such anger, but the violence, he said.

“The boys who raped her also violated her with a steel rod. It was a violent act. If it was only sex, they would not have been so angry,” he said.

No one around the table had a simple solution, though Banaulikar said that the only way to stop rape was to keep young people busy and off the streets.

“In my job I am always busy,” he said. “I don’t have time to do these things. If you keep them busy, you can stop them. It is the jobless men who are doing these things.

“If they see others doing this stuff, they copy them, because they are away from their families. It is the same for the girls. In the daytime she is a good girl, but no one knows what she does at night, and she persuades her friends to do the same,” he said.

Parents should teach the difference between right and wrong, they said, and also schools.

However, it was also clear that the modernization of India was exacting a price, with a growing discrepancy between different groups over issues of morality.

“College life is different,” Avinash Harmalkar said.

“Anything can happen there. Girls and boys know everything about sex. The girls go from boy to boy. That is why girls are going bad,” he added.

“The girl has to tell the boy that after they get married they will have sex, but not before. However, then some girls flirt. If you have a nice car or a bike, then girls want to be with you,” Salgaonkar said.

“Some girls are doing things for money. They use the boy and then throw them away. So some boys are taking revenge,” Banaulikar added.

“These things are not going to stop. Sex is common. If someone wants to have sex, no one can stop them. And if you do not want to have sex, people will say you are not a man.” he said.

Last week, the lower house of parliament passed new rape laws, which include the death penalty for the most extreme cases and introduced punishments for stalking and assaulting women.

However, this all-male conversation by the sea in Goa ended on a note that did not offer much hope for the thousands of women campaigning on the streets and in the towns of India for an end to sexual violence.

“Nothing will be changed,” Avinash Harmalkar said. “Only if the world ends will anything change,” he added.