Gang rape: The angry young men of 'new India'

"I did not struggle, because I thought if I did they would kill me," she says. Four days after the gang rape in Gurgaon — and endless speculation about the morals and character of the victim — she has finally spoken out in the Times of India. [Read the story here]

The details of the trauma are in turn nightmarish, sad and enraging. Remember the call that the helpful cop made to her mobile? Well, here's her side of it (Vineeta is not her real name):

They took Vineeta to Rajiv Nagar in Old Gurgaon, where their friend was waiting in his room in the first floor of a house. The staircase was from inside the house. "But one of them covered my mouth with his hand and I could not shout. When a call came on my mobile which was with one of the men, he said I was with a friend and that he would drop me home. I tried to snatch the phone and managed to shout 'please save me.' But they took the phone away from me and slapped me several times."

 

Representational image. Reuters

How must it feel, to have a policeman call your phone — at that moment when you know you are doomed and are yet hoping for a miracle — and do nothing to save you?

But more revealing than the crime are the details of her life. Vineeta is in many ways the 'new Indian,' trying to find a foothold in the booming economy driven by aspirational demand. A failed marriage has left to fend for herself and her three-year old son. "He hasn't been here for a while," she tells Tanushree Roy Chowdhury, who insightfully notes, "The apparently failed marriage is another thing she seems to have reconciled to. That's the kind of life she has been living: pretty much everything in her life seems to have had a mediocre beginning and unhappy ending. Education, marriage, work..."

She tried to earn money as a 'help' at the Sahara nightclub where — contrary to what the nightclub owner told Firstpost — management would hire these women as a way to get around Gurgaon's 'couples only' rule. They never showed up in the employment register, but the money was decent. She gave it up for a while but went back again: "But I have to make a living, so finally I went there on Monday with my 15-year-old brother as my escort and asked for work. They said okay. You see, the pub needs women to get men in."

A big mistake, we can all declare with the wisdom of hindsight. But to do so is to deny the reality that Vineeta is as much a part of the new India of malls, pubs, restaurants, and clubs as any of us — the India we all partake, even revel in, one way or another. This booming consumer economy is manned by innumerable young women who are forging new lives outside the home, be it as sales clerks, call centre workers, or nightclub "helpers." And they pay the price in terms of their safety.

Vineeta is no different from Rinku Das, call centre worker in Kolkata, whose 16-year-old brother was killed last year trying to save her from a gang of drunken men. At the time, my Firstpost colleague, Sandip Roy wrote:

The shadow of the tragedy of Rinku and Rajib Das touches our house too. Our cook, a young woman, lives in the same small town where the perpetrators accosted Rinku. A single mother separated from her husband, she lives alone, her little boy in a boarding school. She, too, takes the local train to work in Kolkata every morning. At the end of the day, she gets off at the same station and takes the same ‘tease and hit trail’ home. “Everyone knows it’s a bad road,” she says. “But what can you do? You have to work.”

And for all the horror of the gang rape, Vineeta's dilemma too remains the same. Asked if she'll go back to work, she replies, "No, not in a while. But I have to earn a living."

India has changed, the women have changed, both out of choice and necessity. But what the continuing epidemic of rapes reveals is that some men have not. That's the main thrust of a perceptive op-ed piece by Srijana Mitra also in this morning's TOI (They're really on a roll today!). Mitra turns the spotlight back on the attackers, seven young men from Rohtak with not much education but a lot of money to spend. So why did they rape Vineeta?

Mitra offers a lengthy answer worthy of serious consideration [Read it in its entirety here]:

While one part of Gurgaon thus got sewn into a global economy of software companies, financial organisations and technical groups — the district's cluster of malls, multinationals and BPOs nicknamed India's 'Millennium City' — another part remained cloistered in rural hamlets, awash suddenly in big money, with no deeper education or wider sensitisation about what caused its arrival. The money existed uncomfortably alongside highly conservative social attitudes — expressing themselves, as historian Nonica Dutta describes, in veiling women and providing khap justice to infringers.

But this increasing gap between the two Gurgaons — or rather, two Indias — made these young men, awash in new money increasingly angry:

The fury came from a new feeling of inferiority, backed but not assuaged by weapons and other stimulants. This resentment was directed towards those seen as audacious interlopers, arriving on what was once their land... It is angry incomprehension at this situation which causes men to feel less than that — and desperate to assert the opposite. Such fury often directs itself into a manhood that can be yelled out collectively — hence, the gang-rape, the ultimate weapon of pack sexuality, frenziedly asserting dominance on someone it believes weaker than itself.

Vineeta, in the mind of these men, was asking for it: as a woman out at nightclub, an outsider who didn't belong, an uppity city girl who was willing to take their money but would never be sexually available to them. And its an attitude shared by the Gurgaon policemen who come from the same world as the accused rapists.

It's easy to acknowledge "unequal development" in terms money, to speak of malnourished children, suicidal farmers or displaced tribals. But it is far more difficult for us to recognise the lopsided evolution of our culture which uneasily straddles two worlds — its contradictions subsidised by the bodies of women.