RUNNING WITH THE WOLVES
Urban alienation, peer pressure, the power of being in a pack. As the Mumbai gang rape of August 22 shows, men in groups often turn into sexual predators.
Ahead turns. A young woman and a man are seen walking up the desolate railway track near Mahalaxmi station in Mumbai. Dusk gathers as the duo hovers near the abandoned ruin of Shakti textile mills. Watchful eyes follow their every move. Knowing smiles and winks go back and forth. predatory gleam flickers in five pairs of eyes. The air bristles with excitement. A bidi is snuffed out. The last dregs of beer are downed. And five men come together as one. The pack is ready to hunt again.
They are the men from hell: Vijay Jadhav, 19, Siraj Rehman, 24, Chand Babu Sattar Shaikh, 19, Salim Ansari, 27, and Qasim Bangali, 21, the five accused in the brutal gang rape of a 22year- old photojournalist in Mumbai on August 22. This was not their first sexual assault on a lone woman, but this time destiny caught up with them. Within three days of the crime, all five were arrested: Each sporting a black scarf to conceal his face from TV cameras, each stooping down as if to hide a secret. And each forced the nation to confront its most perverted secret: Gang rape.
“They don’t even remember her face,” says Dr S. M. Patil, chief surgeon of the Mumbai Police hospital at Nagpada and medical examiner of the five accused. Ever since the gang rape in Mumbai occurred, Patil, along with a team of forensic analysts specially flown in from Gandhinagar, Gujarat, has been trying to find out what went through their heads as they forced themselves on the young woman. They may not remember anything about her but they show no remorse. “It’s typical of gang rape,” he says.
“One must separate rape from gang rape,” says Dipankar Gupta, former professor of sociology at JNU. A single person raping a single woman with a knife at her throat is one thing. But groups of boys getting together, for a ‘ boys’ night out’, and having fun at the expense of a lone wounded woman is something else, he explains. “It’s a global problem but prevalent most in India and South Africa.” South Africa even has a term for recreational gang rape, “jackrolling,” with a 2010 study reporting 7 per cent of men participating in it for “fun”. In America, campus gang rapes are shrouded in a culture of silence, while gang rapes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square have taken the sheen off the Arab Spring.
The nation staggered on December 16, 2012, when a 23- year- old paramedic student was gang- raped and severely injured on a bus in Delhi. With massive protests breaking out, India’s rape laws were tightened. Yet, just eight months later, the nation is reeling again. And there are striking similarities between the two cases: A man and a woman are caught in an island of seclusion amidst big- city bustle; a group of young men catch up with them; he is beaten and tied up; and she is assaulted by the group until she is unconscious and near death. The victim of the Delhi gang rape succumbed to injuries from the attack. The survivor of the Mumbai gang rape last week lives to tell her story.
The story is sordid. It brings to light a spiralling crime graph: How groups of men sexually attack a lone
Gang rapes hide complex issues of class, gender, space and time. It is not so much about sex as about power. It is about forcing a woman do to something against her own wishes.
woman, aiding and abetting each other in the act, and deriving thrill from her suffering. Although rape is the fastest- growing crime in the country— 873 per cent between 1971 and 2011—‘ gang rape’ does not figure in National Crime Records Bureau data either as a category or in numbers. “We need data, we need profiles of offenders. But there is nothing in India,” says K. Chockalingam, professor of criminology and victimology at the National Law School of India University in Bangalore.
But just consider 2013: In January, a 29- year- old was abducted from a bus and raped by seven men in Amritsar. In February, a 24- year- old was raped in a car in Delhi by four men. In March, news of a Swiss national, 39, gang- raped while on a camping trip with her husband in Madhya Pradesh, hit the headlines. In April, the body of a gang- raped college student was found in Belgaum, Karnataka. In June, two cases made news: A medical student in Manipal and a US tourist, 20, near Manali. In July, a 24- year- old lodged an FIR in Muzaffarnagar against her brothersin- law for gang- raping her on khap diktats. The same month, a nun, 28, was abducted and raped by three youths in Ganjam, Odisha. A few weeks back, in Haryana, a woman constable was gang- raped in a moving train. The story is being repeated across the country.
“Most of these are not so much about sex as about power,” says Mangesh Kulkarni of University of Pune, who specialises in politics of masculinity. “Power can be understood only when exercised. That is, if you have the ability to force another person to do something against their will.” Gang rapes also hide complex issues of class, gender, space and time. In both Delhi and Mumbai, the men were slum- dwellers while the victims were independent young women, visibly above their station in life. Both were out at a time and space— 9.30 in the evening in Delhi
and an abandoned mill in Mumbai— that are ‘ off limits’ to women in a traditional sense. “For a lot of men, sexuality comes to define how they view themselves,” adds Kulkarni. Typically in groups, the business of being macho is not to impress women, but other men— the peer group. “The woman’s body is then a tool, an object, perhaps like a pornographic clip that men often watch together and around which they test and display their manhood,” he says. Who the woman is doesn’t matter so long as the act generates a sense of family and a vision of masculinity.
“Gang rape is typically a crime where the participants contribute to bringing each other’s inhibitions down,” says psychiatrist Dr Sanjay Chugh of Delhi. “Each time they don’t get caught they start thinking all women are afraid of going public.” Accused Vijay Jadhav allegedly told the police that they had committed similar crimes earlier on four rag- pickers at the same spot. Every time, they used video clips to intimidate and silence the victims. Is gang rape premeditated or does it happen by chance? “It can be both but essential ingredients need to come together,” says Chockalingam. “If a group of men, with a history of committing gang rape, finds themselves at a dark, isolated spot, where there is a woman who is new to the place and where there is no patrolling or hardly any people around, they will definitely see an opportunity.”
“Stray dogs, when in a pack, are truly to be feared,” points out Kulkarni. “It is peer pressure and one- upmanship that lead to greater violence in a pack.” The role of pack leader is usually assumed by one who is most insecure, directs aggression and can do anything to maintain status. Who was the leader in Mumbai? The police point a finger at Mohamed Kasim Hafiz Sheikh alias Bangali. He was the most violent, accosting the girl twice. He dictated strategy, conjured aliases as fake railway police officers, and had the ‘ privilege’ of first attack. A compulsive risk- taker, Bangali went gambling while on the run, with Rs 900 in his pocket. Losing it all, he merged with the crowd at a hospital just seven minutes away from where the rape survivor was recuperating.
In neuroscience, there is something evolutionary in human behaviour. “There is this concept of the ‘ new brain’ and the ‘ old brain’,” says Sumantra Chattarji, professor of neurobiology at the National Council of Biological Sciences in Bangalore. And pack behaviour is explained by the ‘ old
Earlier, the migrant worker could earn a decent salary and provide for his family. Now, jobs are often on contract with uncertain income.
brain’, the primitive parts of the human brain geared to sex, aggression, territoriality as well as attachment, anger and fear. The ‘ new brain’ is the massive grey matter that envelopes the ‘ old brain’ and is the seat of language and abstract thinking. “In extreme brutality, it is possible that networks in the ‘ new brain’ are hijacked by the old brain,” he says. “But
biology is just part of the story. Man is not just an animal. We are influenced as much by our environments.”
And it is environment that sociologists blame for the rise of gang rape. To Dipankar Gupta, the root of the problem is bound up with the fastchanging economic environment. Even a few decades back, every government unit had room for migrant workers, thronging cities in search of jobs. “That old style of employment may have been inefficient but it served an unintended social role.” The hardworking migrant worker could earn a decent salary and pension, access affordable housing, keep his family together and get children educated. “Now, instead, we have contract workers.” They have no security, no roof over their head, no family support and as they are thrown together with each other by circumstance, they indulge in reckless behaviour and do not think about repercussions. “They have no one to answer to and no one to go back to. It’s an inflammable lot.”
The Mumbai survivor knows what it means to be with people who negotiate wildly with life. She gambled with death inside those 14 acres of ruin— with stumbling walls, manhigh bushes, dark- dank mess of buildings, dried- up wells crawling with snakes— and has now managed to put her brutal captors behind bars. “They had told me, ‘ Nahi
chhorenge’ ( We won’t let you be.) They took my photos and threatened me not to go to the police. What if they come after me?” On August 23, this is what she had told Nirmala Samant Prabhavalkar, member of National Commission for Women and former mayor of Mumbai, as she lay on the hospital bed. Her fears have been put to rest for now by the Mumbai Police. But can the nation begin to confront the crisis of masculinity that assails the lives of its women?