Four faces stare blankly out at the camera, their expressions unreadable. They are the faces of men who are indistinguishable from the other millions who flock to the cities of India each year in search of work, in a vast country where the rapid pace of modernization has exposed a huge divide between the rich and the poor. The faces of the men in the photographs reveal no signs of anger, no pain, not even a glimpse of bewilderment- or even of guilt. For the men in these photographs are the rapists in the case that has transfixed India and galvanized her into action against the constant injustices being perpetrated on her female citizens; injustices which are rooted in the country’s culture.
The rape numbers in India are extraordinarily high, but it was the depravity of the case that has shocked and angered the country. The details of the case have become horribly familiar to those who have encountered it in the global media. Last December in Delhi, a 23 year old physiotherapist and her male companion were returning from an evening at a cinema when they were tricked into boarding an off-duty bus. As the bus rushed through the city streets, the men on the bus raped and assaulted the girl before stripping naked both the girl and her companion and throwing them into the street. The girl was half-conscious; the men had assaulted her with an iron rod, then used their hands to pull her internal organs from her body. She died two weeks later in a Singapore hospital.
The revelations of the case have resulted in angry protests across India, and a new demand for respect for women. On the day of the judgement this week, the police presence in Delhi was unprecedented, with the riot police lining the road to the court. Throughout the day the crowd thronged around the barricaded court, waiting anxiously and calling for the death penalty. When the news of the verdict was announced, the crowd cheered, chanting victoriously. Inside the court, one of the condemned broke down and cried, while the three other men began shouting for pardon. The judge was in no mood for mercy; though the men deny all the charges of kidnapping, rape, murder and destruction of evidence. The prosecution alleged that the availability of CCTV footage, mobile phone records, DNA evidence and the marks on the woman’s body firmly place the men at the scene. Announcing his decision, the judge Yogesh Khanna stated, ‘These are the times when gruesome crimes against women have become rampant. Society needs to be shown that there will be no tolerance.’
Yet who are these men? The Indian public has become fascinated with their motives for the crime, with their lives, and with their place in Indian society. One of the rapists, Ram Singh died in Tihar jail in March. Police state that he killed himself, but his family alleges murder. Another accused is a juvenile, already in detention. They worked as bus drivers, as fruit sellers, and as gym instructors. Only one had a school education. The men all lived in the slum colonies of Delhi, after their families had moved from their villages in search of work and a better life. They had this in common with the victim, a hard working student whose parents struggled to raise their family out of poverty.
Named ‘Fearless’ and ‘India’s Daughter’, the victim has become a symbol of India’s mistreated women. Due to the high number of aborted female fetuses and female babies killed following birth, India’s sex ratio is alarmingly skewed. Throughout their lives, Indian women, whether single or married, suffer harassment, discrimination, violence and rape. The case has provoked an outpouring of protest against this treatment. Yet, even at the Delhi rape protests in December, men who had joined the women protesters were found to be harassing them. These crimes are occurring in a country where senior government ministers are women, as are a number of business leaders. A greater record number of young women are being educated and going out to work than ever before. It isn’t hard to conclude that such success on the part of women has inflamed jealousy and resentment on the part of men like Ram Singh and his associates; semi-skilled, barely educated young men in a teeming city where they have no hope of gaining a part in any of India’s burgeoning success.
Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the death sentence, the conversation about the treatment of India’s women has been initiated and is likely to continue. In the meantime, however, the men are expected to appeal. Four faces stare out, reflecting the collective guilt of India, now recognized not for its beauty, but as an international capital of rape.
Written By: Alexandra Singer