It had long been known that Delhi had a problem with sexual violence. Statistics backed up anecdotal evidence. Few of the incidents ended in charges, almost none in a trial. The conviction rate for rapes languished around the 25 per cent mark…One poll, in 2011, found that nearly one in four Indian men admitted to having committed some act of sexual violence. Two-thirds of the sample came from the capital…
Within minutes, as the bus drove along Delhi’s outer ring road in the direction of the international airport, the atmosphere darkened. “What are you doing out roaming around with a girl on her own?,” Ram Singh asked Pandey, according to the accounts given to investigators by both the juvenile and the man. “None of your business,” the young IT engineer answered. The two men faced off. Ram Singh threw a punch. Then events moved very fast. Ram Singh and the others wrestled Pandey to the floor. One shouted: “The rod, [get] the rod.” As the woman screamed for help, banging on the bus’s curtained windows, a metal bar kept in the bus was passed back. Blows rained down on the helpless man, now pinned between two seats. He was stripped. “I was trying very hard to get to her but they had me nailed down,” Pandey later told a magistrate.
As Mukesh Singh drove the bus through the heavy traffic, Thakur and Ram Singh had dragged the woman to its back seats, according to the men’s statements to police after their arrest. “They beat her and pressed a hand over her mouth and tore her clothes off,” the juvenile’s statement says. “Ram Singh first raped her, the girl kept shouting, and one by one all of us [raped her] and [Ram Singh] and the rest of us bit her body.” Medical reports reveal bite marks were found on the woman’s breasts, arms and genitals. J fought back, biting and scratching but the petite young woman had little chance. Outside the bus, the landmarks of southDelhi passed: a temple, a flyover, a busy road junction. At Mahipalpur, a scruffy collection of cheap hotels and restaurants near the airport, they turned the bus round, heading back into the city. It was 9.34 pm, according to CCTV images. The vehicle had passed through three police checkpoints, where officers from the city’s overstretched, badly paid, badly trained and badly equipped force stood supposedly keeping an eye on passing traffic.
As the bus headed back into the city, the attack continued. Ram Singh exchanged places with Mukesh who had been driving. His brother then took his turn to rape the woman. “We tried to push our [penises] into her mouth. We also tried to [sodomise] her,” the juvenile later told police. His statement, corroborated by the account given by the victim to medical staff, does not mention the assault with the iron bar the woman described. Her medical examination – and the retrieval of two blood-stained rods in the bus – confirm that it was penetration by this that caused massive damage to her genitals, uterus and intestines. “The girl was shrieking and shouting so much. Ram Singh put his hand inside her and pulled out flesh. The girl lost consciousness and started bleeding,” the juvenile told police. Her friend later described how, naked and badly injured himself, he heard the men talking. One said that he thought “she was dead”. Another, possibly Thakur, suggested throwing them out of the bus.
By this time – at exactly 9.54 pm, according to images recorded by cameras – the bus had turned around once again and had returned to Mahipalpur. The men dragged their two semi-conscious victims, by the hair according to police documents, to the rear doors of the vehicle but these were jammed shut so they pushed the couple through the front doors. An attempt appears to have been made to run them over, but Pandey, though badly injured, was able to drag the woman out of the way. The bus then disappeared into the traffic and back into the city. When they reached Ravi Das Colony, the men parked the bus down a nearby alley. With water fetched from one of the colony’s two standpipes, they sluiced it down with water to get rid of the blood, faeces and other evidence. They lit a fire, burning the clothes of the couple, except for the man’s Hush Puppies shoes, which they kept.
The six then went back to the Singh brothers’ home, where the juvenile made tea. Ram Singh divided up the results of the night’s robberies, distributing credit and bank cards, cash and mobiles, jewellery and the shoes. Gupta got a wristwatch and 1,000 rupees, the juvenile was given 1,100 rupees and a bank card. “Keep it carefully,” Ram Singh told him. “We’ll take out the money later.”There was a brief argument, overheard by neighbours. The two men, Gupta and Sharma, who lived elsewhere in the colony, went back to their houses. The others watched television and then slept, investigators say.
Mahipalpur is, like Dwarka, Trilokpuri and Ravi Das Colony itself, another place of transition, another scrawled note on the margin of the story of India’s growth. Supposedly in Delhi’s “green belt”, it had once been where sultans had hunted. Only a few decades ago it was still a small village, surrounded by scrubby, rocky hills and small pools of water where buffaloes bathed in the summer, submerged up to their necks to fight the heat. Now it is a noisy crossroads where the road toDelhi’s airport joins a six-lane highway leading to the satellite city of Gurgaon, favoured by big international companies. Scores of unlicensed cheap hotels and restaurants cater to the passing trade of late-night arrivals from overseas, commuters heading in or out of the metropolis, lorry drivers and well-off teenagers driving their fathers’ fast cars looking for a plate of chilli chicken at 5 am.
For 40 minutes after their attackers had driven away, J and her friend lay, drifting in and out of consciousness, on a narrow strip of wasteland beside a slip road of the highway. A few hundred metres away, across open ground, the sign of a French-owned budget hotel under construction shone in the darkness. On the other side of the road, beyond the flyover, was a row of hotels. Lying in the gravel, bleeding heavily, they were nonetheless visible to the traffic streaming past. Vehicles slowed, almost stopped and then accelerated away, Pandey later remembered.
Eventually, as ever in India, a small crowd gathered, though no one wanted to take responsibility for actually helping the naked and injured couple lying on the ground. Finally, according to police documents, an off-duty worker on the nearby toll highway saw the bystanders, stopped, and alerted his control room, which notified the police. A constable arrived in a patrol car, then another. One fetched a sheet from a nearby hotel to cover the couple. There was a brief discussion over which police district was responsible for dealing with the situation. Then Pandey helped J into a police car and was driven away. An hour later, a policeman called J’s father to tell him his daughter had been in an “accident” and was in a hospital in south Delhi. A friend with a motorbike took him across the city to Safdarjung hospital, one of Delhi’s biggest public medical facilities. He found her lying on a stretcher, covered by a green blanket.
“I thought she was unconscious but when I laid my hand on her forehead she opened her eyes. She was crying. I told her: ‘It’ll be alright, beta [child].'”
Doctors had been appalled at extent of the woman’s injuries. They attempted to remove the most damaged parts of her intestines and any infection, cleaning as much as possible of what was left and doing whatever else they could to keep her alive. But there was little hope, they all knew. One found her father, who had been waiting outside the operating theatre, and told him that it was unlikely his daughter would survive more than a few hours. Through the morning, police worked at tracing the white bus that Pandey, badly hurt but still conscious, had been able to describe to them. They started checking CCTV footage from the hotels clustered around Mahipalpur. One noticed a bus with the name Yadav painted on the side, which passed the crossroads twice an hour before the couple had been reported. They found its owner, who had bribed local officials after being repeatedly caught running unlicensed fleets, and got an address for Ram Singh.
At Ravi Das Colony they first saw the bus, then Singh sitting inside. He ran but was caught. His T-shirt and shoes were bloodstained. The bus had clearly been washed recently. Very quickly, Singh admitted his involvement in the attack, even producing two iron rods, covered in dry blood, from a compartment in the bus’s cabin. By the end of the week, five of the six were in custody. Mukesh Singh had been detained on his way to Karauli, where he hoped he could hide in the remote village where he had grown up. Gupta and Sharma were found at their family homes in Ravi Das Colony. Raju was picked up at the bus station where he slept. Thakur was found when he arrived at his parents’ home in remote Bihar. By then, news of the incident was not just leading every bulletin in the city, but acrossIndia.
It had long been known that Delhi had a problem with sexual violence. Statistics backed up anecdotal evidence. For years, every few days, the media reported a serious sexual assault, though usually tucked away on the metro pages and recounted in a few dry paragraphs. Every few weeks there would be an attack, often a gang-rape. Some would receive more attention. But after the expressions of concern by police officers and Delhi’s elected officials the issue would soon disappear. Few of the incidents ended in charges, almost none in a trial. The conviction rate for rapes languished around the 25 per cent mark.
According to India’s National Crime Records Bureau, registered rape cases in India had increased by almost 900 per cent over the past 40 years, to 24,206 incidents in 2011, while murder cases had gone up by only 250 per cent over 60 years, and incidences of riot had actually dropped. Delhi, with its population of 15 million, registered 572 cases of rape, compared with 239 in Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, with its bigger population, in 2011. There were just 47 reported in Kolkata.
But no one knows quite what proportion of attacks these figures represent. Some activists say one in 10 rapes are reported; others say it is probably more like one in 100. One poll, in 2011, found that nearly one in four Indian men admitted to having committed some act of sexual violence. Two-thirds of the sample came from the capital.
Then there is the daily low-level harassment in public places, simply accepted as part of life in the city. Suggestive comments and wandering hands on buses, photographing or filming with phones, being followed or even chased were, polls showed, regularly encountered by 80 per cent of women in the city. According to one survey, this molestation – euphemistically known as “Eve-teasing” – was seen as harmless by a majority of men in Delhi. An investigation by ‘Tehelka’, a campaigning magazine, found that the policemen supposed to investigate “Eve-teasing” and rape alike blamed women for “leading men on”.
A high proportion of Delhi’s police are recruited from the surrounding rural areas and the big, poor conservative states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana and Rajasthan. Their attitudes inevitably reflect those of their home communities. These are very similar to Karauli, Aurangabad, Trilokpuri and the other places where J’s attackers had grown up or spent many years. Only two months before the Delhi attack, a spate of rapes and gang-rapes in Haryana prompted some debate in the media. Local politicians attributed the wave of attacks to women behaving immodestly or the amount of junk food young men were eating. One called for the age of marital consent to be lowered. The United Nations pointed out that this would do little to counteract the rape of teenagers. These States are also the parts of India where gender imbalance owing to selective abortion is worst. Violence to women starts before birth, campaigners often say.
– The Guardian
(to be continued)