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.

India Today - - THE BIG STORY - By Da­mayanti Datta

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?

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