By now, the details of that horrible night are well known. A young woman, 23, had just completed a four-year study program and was about to begin an internship when she ventured out one December night to see a movie at a local Delhi cineplex with a male friend. Her family had high hopes for her. If anyone had the gumption and pluck to escape the three-bedroom basement apartment where she had been raised without running water — it was her.
Those dreams were shattered that night in late 2012. After leaving the movie theater, she and her male friend hailed a private bus, where they encountered a pack of five drunk men on the lookout for sex, reported The Washington Post’s Annie Gowen.
The male friend put up a struggle, but it was no use. The men raped and beat the woman, tossing her from the bus with injuries so devastating she died within weeks. The shocking nature of the case convulsed India, ushering in death sentences for the rapists, changes to Indian criminal law and a painful reckoning for a country long bedeviled by gang rape.
But even years later, questions have persisted. What could possibly have driven those men to do what they did? What capacity for barbarity did they tap to commit so heinous an attack? What kind of monsters do such a thing?
The answer, according to a filmmaker who spent two years on the case, is in fact more chilling than what she expected. The men, she said, weren’t monsters. They were ordinary, unrepentant and illustrative of a misogynistic culture that entraps some young Indian men.
“It would be easier to process the heinous crime if the perpetrators were monsters, and just the rotten apples in the barrel, aberrant in nature,” Leslee Udwin wrote for the BBC, which will air her documentary on Sunday. “… For me the truth couldn’t be further from this — and perhaps their hanging will even mask the real problem, which is that these men are not the disease, they are the symptoms.”
And among the most symptomatic was the driver of the bus, Mukesh Singh, one of the five convicted of the crime, who granted a lengthy interview to Udwin from prison. He denies that he took part in the rape, but nonetheless recalled it in granular detail. In the 16-hour interview, he maintained the rape wasn’t his or the other rapists’ fault — but the victim’s. She was out too late and was asking for trouble.
“A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night,” he told Udwin. “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20 percent of girls are good.”
The woman’s mistake, he said: She fought back. “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back,” he said. “She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’ and only hit the boy. … The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her. Before, they would rape and say, ‘Leave her, she won’t tell anyone.’ Now when they rape, especially the criminal types, they will just kill the girl. Death.”
The comments, while deeply disturbing and misogynistic, are also representative of a pervasive cultural problem. This culture of misogyny isn’t something that lurks in the shadows, argued author Sonia Faleiro in the New York Times, but is overt and open. It is present when state officials like Mulayam Singh Yadav explain rape as “boys will be boys.” And it is present when other politicians blame rape on cellphones and women going out at night.
Laws against rape “have been ineffective in the face of a patriarchal and misogynistic culture,” Faleiro wrote. “It is a culture that believes that the worst aspect of rape is the defilement of the victim, who will no longer be able to find a man to marry her — and that the solution is to marry the rapist.”
Even when pressed on those positions, Udwin found attorneys who defended the six rapists who attacked the 23-year-old woman who wouldn’t back down. The woman, not the men, were to blame for what happened that night.
“In our society, we never allow our girls to come out from the house after 6:30 or 7:30 or 8:30 in the evening with any unknown person,” attorney ML Sharma said. “You are talking about man and woman as friends. Sorry, that doesn’t have any place in our society. We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.”
More from Morning Mix today: