Department of Rants: The 2 am rule for rapists

“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.)

18 comments

  1. This statement sounds like a blast from policemen past from here in Ireland. Whatever their personal beliefs, no senior office-holder in the police would dare to voice opinions of this sort in public now. This, small but important change, was the result of years of challenges such as that above. Keep up the good work.

  2. When Golda Meir was Prime Minister of Israel, she was asked to place a curfew on women to end a series of rapes. However, she refused, saying —"But it is the men who are attacking the women. If there is to be a curfew, let the men stay at home."

  3. Sure yes, he has erred. But how much would he be able to move the potential criminals by a speech or lecture, that you find missing? Or can't it be a precaution for women and actions in store against the rapist bastards?Or is it actually such a big mistake that he committed, to outburst at, really? Maybe not.But there's nothing much the police could do as the society stands stiff-necked. Blame them not.(kindly ignore this #wayfarer.)

  4. Well said. It is a pity that a police chief makes such statements. He should be ashamed of himself. The attitude with which assault on women is treated is one of the most shameful things about India. And hence i never hold too much truce with people who go on making claims about Indian Culture. A culture that does not know how to treat half of its population is rotten at its core.

  5. Wake up Delhi, you are, and for most of my memory have been, a sorry place for a woman. Actually, nowadays you might even be a sorry place overall.

  6. This is the kind of nonsense from a government employee that makes me wonder how things can ever change. For all the BPO/ IT-driven affluence in the country, folks still have to worry about not being out at 2am. And this jackass perpetuates and condones rapist behavior like its an involuntary thing (e.g. "oh you won't get bitten by vampires unless you're wandering in the woods after midnight. They can't help it – its in their nature"). Where are Murthy & Co. when such fundamental social change is required – to my mind, this is as much about global competitiveness (~30% of the skilled workforce is women) as about human rights and the need for womens equality. Perhaps a Megan's Law equivalent (publicly available information on residence of registered sex offenders) would help things along – after all, Indian society works through social stigma and discrimination

  7. I think that the views of the police chief are unfortunately shared by lot of persons, including women, in our communities and families.Such views are equally demeaing to men, since they imply that we are hormone driven automatons, who do not decide how we are going to behave but are being continuosly "provoked" by women wearing particular clothes or being out alone.PS: Couldn't understand why you had to specify that these views are personal. Do you need to defend your views even on your own blog? Aren't our blogs our personal spaces?

  8. brilliantly written! i hope he reads this and it serves as a nice slap on his face.u r right about delhi being a male-dominated city.this just shows the level of narrow-mindedness this country has…….And they talk of India being a developed country!

  9. Whether Toronto or Delhi, cops every where feel women have to prevent rapes and molestation by doing everything in their power.. tis a wonderful feeling to be around here… at this time.

  10. So acc to Mr Gupta who's responsibility if Women are molested/assualted/raped between 8am and 8pm? just stating the time lines as according to him that might be the only time when WOMEN like dogs are allowed out of the house

  11. Thank you for writing this piece. After hearing so many men justify this statement, your views ( as well as those of the men who have posted comments in support of them) help me believe that there is still hope for women in this country.

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