“If you travel alone after 2 am and become victim of a crime, the police alone can’t be blamed. It is advisable that a relative or friend is with you at odd hours.” Delhi Police chief, BK Gupta, on crimes against women in the capital.
I’m assuming the Delhi Police chief, Mr BK Gupta, is a conscientious man who often patrols the city at 2 in the morning, remarking on the astoundingly high number of women out on the city’s streets. I’m also assuming that his Delhi is significantly different from the city we live in, where most women who work in offices and shops will try to get back home at a “decent” hour, where it can be actively dangerous for women to walk around the city after 7-8 pm, and where it’s scary taking the Metro or a bus after 9 pm, when the number of women travelling by subway seems to fall sharply.
I’m also assuming that Mr Gupta’s access to Delhi’s rising rape figures reveals a pattern none of us had suspected–the only reason for the Delhi Police chief to imply that women would be safer if they didn’t insist on wandering the city at 2 am, after all, would be if he had noticed a distinct pattern of rapes and assaults on women occurring after 2 am.
That would make us want to assume that this attempted rape of a child, which took place at 3 pm, or this case of rape, which began well before 2 am, or any of the cases of molestation and assault that happen in the Metro or on public transport during the day, are statistical outliers. The fact is that except for call-centre rapes–often crimes of opportunity, where the rapist(s) will wait for a car to drop off a BPO worker late at night–rapists don’t keep to Mr Gupta’s timings, nor do men who’re into harassing or assaulting women.
The truth is that Mr Gupta and his police force have been unable to make the capital a safe place for women, and part of the reason why the police repeatedly fail may have something to do with this attitude, this expectation that women should always take the blame. It’s our clothes that get us raped, or the fact that we’re out in public spaces, or that we have the temerity to be out without a (male) guardian: there is no parallel analysis of male behaviour in the city.
But it’s not Mr Gupta’s ridiculous premise–logically, he’s arguing that women are more often at risk of violence after 2 am–that we need to get angry about. It’s the belief behind his statements, that somehow, just by insisting on being out and about in public space, women bear the responsibility for the attacks perpetrated on them. It reinforces a powerful view of Delhi as a man’s city, with public space defined as masculine by default, women defined as interlopers and intruders as a matter of course.
It’s one thing to be told this, in harsh ways, by some idiot who’ll brush up against you on the road, or follow you back from the bus stop. It’s another thing to be told, by the police chief in your city, that if you’re out after 2 am without a male protector, you get what you deserve. You don’t see BK Gupta addressing men in this city, telling them that they should be ashamed of themselves for treating women with disrespect. You don’t see him lecturing the boys and men who’re out looking for victims, before or after 2 am, on the evils of their ways. You don’t see him saying that as the police chief of India’s capital, he has a zero-tolerance policy towards men who harass or offer any kind of violence to women.
Instead, he’s effectively endorsing the old arguments that women, somehow, ask for it, by being where they shouldn’t be, by having the temerity to travel the city without that all-important protector. The stereotype of violence against women that he’s promoting is an old one, too: a crime visited upon those who in some way transgress the norms, who call violence upon their heads by “dangerous behaviour”. This ignores the facts about rape and violence in the city, the fact that a slum dweller is at higher risk for being raped because of her unsafe surroundings and the perception that she has no means of redressal; the fact that neighbours and family relatives are often the ones who offer violence towards women; the fact that our streets can feel, to women, like battle zones, regardless of how you dress and when you’re out.
But all of this is too complex for Delhi’s police chief, who might then have to admit the truth–about the relatively low reporting of rape as a crime, the lack of seriousness with which we treat sexual assault and verbal harassment, the low conviction rate in cases of assault and rape, the unthinking aggression of many (not all) men in Delhi. He might actually have to ask his police force to change the way they treat women who are out and about at 2 am, or even at 2 pm. He might even have to change his own mind about the way he sees violence against women in this city. And if Mr Gupta can’t do this, he doesn’t really deserve to keep his job.
(The views expressed here are personal.)