In the fifth part of personal accounts on harassment and violence in the Capital’s streets, Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar explores the world of men who exploit women and are mostly unrepentant even after their guilt is proved.....

His hand went out menacingly. The man riding pillion on a motorcycle had spotted a girl in a white T-shirt and jeans and followed his urge. But then he withdrew realising that the rider was not aware of his intent and just a little ahead there was congestion on the road. The escape route was thus blocked. So the girl was spared a hit. It all happened in broad daylight this past Saturday on National Highway 24 just a few kilometres from the Delhi-U.P. border.

But the man did not let go altogether. A leer and a gentle remark were in place according to him. Surprisingly, while motorists all around noticed his actions and many even felt like running him over, the girl simply walked off oblivious of what she might have undergone.

Some years ago it was a similar scene but a different theatre. At a bus stop in Hauz Khas a man resorted to a similar antic. Only this time, he was spotted by a woman in a car. “I must have slapped and punched him numerous times and then my driver and others also joined in,” recalled well-known documentary maker Lavlin Thadani who subsequently also made a film titled Rape Compounded to probe the psyche behind such irrational actions while exploring the agony of the victims.

Dr. Thadani, who managed to enter the precincts of Tihar Jail and interview several rape convicts there, said a few things struck her. “I felt all of them were correctly held guilty and barring one, none of them was repentant. And this one person had raped and throttled a two-year-old and almost lost his mental balance following the incident.’’

As for the rest, she said: “All of them remain in denial in the beginning, but on some prodding they open up and reveal how and why they acted in such brutal fashion.” She said the explanations are no less reprehensible than the action itself. A look at the statements of some of the convicts, who were not named because they were contesting their convictions in court, revealed a disturbing trend.

“It is no rape unless six or seven people are involved,” said a convict, a father of two girls. It was only when he was asked if he would feel the same way if one of them were to be the victim that some sort of realisation dawned on him.

Another convict revealed that he had confined a teenaged girl in his house for three months and repeatedly assaulted her; his laughter only accentuated his crime.

Some convicts, like a boy from Bihar, admitted that they faced societal pressure. “My uncle said he would have got me released had I committed a murder, but here I had brought shame to the family.”

But he went on to add that it is the girls who invite such action and the manner in which working boys lead a sex-deprived life in the city had much to do with such crimes.

Dr. Thadani said she was surprised there were no “rich boys” in jail for rapes. “Probably they buy out the victims or their freedom. They also tend to seek someone from their own class and such girls often keep silent. And if a poor girl is victimised the silence is bought. As it is, only one in 100 rape cases ever gets reported.”

On who the culprits usually target, Dr. Thadani said it was mostly the women they felt were the most vulnerable and would keep mum. “I was looking for some rape victims for a film when a member of a visiting camera crew from abroad offered to give me an interview. I was shocked but it turned out the girl, who hailed from Punjab, was repeatedly assaulted by a servant for four or five years. It all started when she was just nine, and she kept mum because he threatened to subject her two younger sisters to the same treatment.”

Leading psychologist and director of NGO Sanchetan Rajat Mitra has interviewed over a thousand rape convicts and says that in over 90 per cent of the cases, the rapists are known to the victims. As per Dr. Mitra, who conducted a study in Tihar Jail, the way most cases go unreported or end in acquittal only emboldens sex offenders.

Even after committing the crime, many offenders do not change their ways. If the victim goes and reports the case, they hound and threaten her. Among the worst are gang-rapes. The mob mentality is not confined to hounding victims. Big groups of boys and men moving around in vehicles have taken to just picking women off the road. Be it the Dhaula Kuan rape case in which a criminal gang randomly picked a call centre employee in the middle of the night or the Noida gang-rape in which a cricket team returning from a game just pounced on a couple, beat up the boy and brutalised the girl, such instances are increasing at an alarming pace.

As for the answers, counsellors, police and activists believe the girls should learn self-defence techniques; avoid dark and desolate places; dress “properly” or even avoid strangers. But the danger of sexual crimes and rape lurks everywhere – it is all in the mind.

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