Nearly two-and-a-half years on from the brutal gang rape of 23-year-old student Jyoti Singh on a bus in Delhi, it seems India’s ‘rape problem’ has become a permanent fixture in the Western media. And little wonder. That crime has become a grim cause célèbre for Western feminists and campaigners keen to present it as evidence of India’s depravity. As they see it, India is little more than a country of perverts.
Now, a BBC documentary on the Delhi gang rape, India’s Daughter, has reinforced this impression. Not that the Indian government has helped matters. By banning the documentary, it has prompted even more intense finger-wagging from the West. India is turning a blind eye to its ‘rape problem’, critics say, and it is quashing free speech. According to the Daily Telegraph: ‘India is in denial about its rape culture, which the BBC film exposes.’
In fact, if you were to scan Western news sites, you would be left in little doubt that India is in the grip of a rape epidemic, with potential rapists on the prowl across the country. But there is one problem with this view of India: it is simply not true.
In 2012, for example, the Indian government put the number of rape cases reported at 24,915. This accounts for less than 0.00005 per cent of the Indian male population — it is, statistically speaking, insignificant. To further complicate matters, rape in India is not a straightforward category. This is revealed by a detailed six-month study of all 583 cases of alleged rape that came up before district courts in Delhi in 2013 (carried out by the Hindu): ‘One-fifth of the cases were wound up because the complainant did not appear or turned hostile. Of the cases fully tried, over 40 per cent dealt with consensual sex, usually involving the elopement of a young couple and the girl’s parents subsequently charging the boy with rape. Another 25 per cent dealt with “breach of promise to marry”. Of the 162 remaining cases, men preying on young children in slums was the most common type of offence.’ And of these 162, the accused was known to the complainant in all but 12 cases. Yes, it is a small sample, but it does show that the idea of rapacious Indian men roaming the street looking for women to attack remains just that: an idea.
Indeed, much of what is reported and recorded as rape needs to be contextualised. In India, sex outside of marriage is still not culturally acceptable or widespread (although that is changing). What this means is that consensual sex on a false promise / pretext of marriage is often reported as rape and then recorded by the police as such. In November 2014, the Mumbai police commissioner reported that 71.9 per cent of rapes reported that year were related to consensual sex that did not lead to marriage. In India, it is perfectly legitimate to pursue such cases.