Protestors in New Delhi hold a vigil after a woman was raped in February. Rajat Gupta/EPA
A ten-year-old girl was recently denied an abortion by the Supreme Court of India. She was a victim of rape, which she alleges was perpetrated by her uncle several times over a period of seven months. Her pregnancy was discovered after she complained of stomach ache and was taken to the hospital, but in late July the court decided it was too late in the pregnancy for her to have an abortion.
Such cases of sexual violence in India have been a key topic of discussion since the brutal gang rape of a student on a bus in Delhi made headlines around the world in 2012. Popularly referred to as Nirbhaya (meaning “fearless one” in Hindi), the victim didn’t survive her internal injuries caused during the attack. In May 2017, India’s Supreme Court upheld the verdict of capital punishment for the four men convicted of rape in this case.
Following this incident in December 2012, I got the opportunity to conduct research in Tihar Central Jail at New Delhi which later developed into my PhD research. As one of the first studies to take into account the perspectives of convicted rapists in India, my aim was to understand the attitudes these men have towards their victims and how this thinking contributes to the endemic sexual violence that women experience in the country.
Over the course of the last three years, I have been able to talk with more than 100 convicted sex offenders. There is one particular story – participant 49 – that I have decided to share.
This 23-year-old convict had not completed primary school and was working as a temple cleaner. He was imprisoned in 2010 for raping a five-year-old girl. He described his victim as a small beggar girl who provoked him while he was busy with his duties. When I asked him to elaborate on how she “provoked” him, he said, “she was touching me inappropriately so I thought I’ll teach her a lesson”. He added: “Her mother is also like this, she too has a questionable character.” Victim blaming is a commonly found phenomenon in the narratives of sex offenders and this case was not any different.
What disturbed me more than the vivid details of his description of the attack was the fact that he thought he could make up for his crime by marrying the girl after his release.
Results of two questionnaires he completed before I spoke to him also showed his attitudes towards women. He completed the Attitude Towards Women Questionnaire and scored lowly, indicating conservative or traditional attitudes towards women. His results for the Multicultural Masculinity Ideology Scale highlighted lack of sexual responsibility along with low sensitivity. He also ranked high on the toughness factor, indicating he had internalised cultural norms on how men should act and what defines a “man or manliness”.