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What's Changed — And What Hasn't — For Rape Cases In India


It can be a struggle for women and girls to stay safe in India. The horrific case of a gang rape on a bus led to increased prison terms and fast-tracked trials for rapists. But in the past month, there have been new, similarly brutal attacks, and Indians are worrying if anything has actually improved. A warning - there are graphic details in this story. We're going to hear now from NPR's Lauren Frayer from Mumbai.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Our top story - a young woman was allegedly gang raped in a moving bus.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Seven years ago, the fatal gang rape of a college student on a New Delhi bus jolted Indians into panic over sexual violence in their country.

MADHUMITA PANDEY: You know, everybody was asking, who would do such a horrendous crime?

FRAYER: Madhumita Pandey tried to answer that question by interviewing 122 convicted rapists behind bars. Her findings became her Ph.D. in criminology. She now lectures at a university in England. Pandey says the men were mostly uneducated but polite. They expressed respect for women in their own families.

PANDEY: They could say things like, my mother is like a goddess. She means the world to me. And in the same breath, they could say things about the victim like, she provoked me, or, she asked for it. She was someone who was characterless.

FRAYER: They showed little remorse and no understanding of consent, Pandey says. When I asked her if any of the men had had sex ed in school, she said...

PANDEY: Well, Lauren, I never received sex education. I don't know why there's such a taboo around sex in our country, and I...

FRAYER: Sex ed is still banned in many Indian states. Four years ago, sexual harassment education became mandatory in all colleges, so you've got 19- and 20-year-olds starting with the very basics.

UNIDENTIFIED PROFESSOR: For a boy, it is the penis. Penis - (speaking Hindi).


FRAYER: One of the instructors leading this new training is Altamash Khan. He works for a group called Men Against Violence and Abuse, which specializes in teaching boys not just about anatomy but about patriarchal values that run deep in India and may fuel sexual violence.

ALTAMASH KHAN: It's a spectrum of violence. So you begin with catcalling. You see films wherein it's OK to harass a woman, and you will see eventually, the woman falls in love with the man, you know, because this whole idea of the dominance, you being the protector of someone.

FRAYER: If you see women as so precious that they need protecting, you probably don't see them as equals. But Khan says he sees progress.

KHAN: Boys come to me, say that - you know, sir, this was something which was new to us. No one ever talked to us about this.

FRAYER: And yet, when you turn on the news here...


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Another shocking case has emerged. A woman was burnt alive.

FRAYER: It's an almost-daily, prurient litany of rape. India actually logs about a quarter of the annual rapes reported in the U.S., even though it's got four times as many people. Most rape is believed to go unreported here. And even though the victims on the news are usually urban and educated, most victims are believed to be poor women who know their attackers.


FRAYER: We're in the narrow alleyways of Dharavi, Mumbai's biggest slum area. We've got to step around children playing and salespeople at work, a box of chickens. And we're with a group of women going door-to-door with some leaflets. What does the leaflet say, exactly?

UNIDENTIFIED SOCIAL WORKER: We have our contact address and what work we are doing.

FRAYER: They're social workers, knocking on doors and talking to women about domestic violence.



FRAYER: Behind one door is a wife sitting cross-legged in a dank little room next to her husband. She jumps up, gestures discreetly. She's a victim, she whispers. The women squeeze her hand and tell her to sneak over to their office later if she can. Social worker Nayreen Daruwalla explains that many women in this neighborhood were child brides. How do you even define rape or consent in that context? I ask her.

NAYREEN DARUWALLA: There is no question of consent. She is my wife. She is my property, so I have the right to just use her. This is the thinking.

FRAYER: Until that thinking slowly changes, bolstered by new training in colleges and door-to-door campaigns in slums like this, sexual violence will persist across India, she says.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Mumbai.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.