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Two sides of the rape backlash

New Delhi, Dec. 31: The protests against the December 16 gang rape appear to have unwittingly led a teenaged Delhi student to commit suicide after being arrested for lewd behaviour with a girl on a bus.

Apparently unnerved by the eye-for-an-eye sentiments some of the protesters expressed, Chandrakant, 19, hanged himself at his home after receiving bail while fellow accused Sonu, 18, drank poison and is critical, police said.

An officer at Mehrauli police station said Chandrakant and Sonu had pleaded with the cops not to inform the media about their arrest.

“They were very scared that they would be beaten to death by the people protesting against the gang rape. They told us they would never again indulge in such acts,” he said.

While the tragedy is undoubtedly an unintended consequence of the protests, it’s unclear how much of the intended objective has been achieved. Almost every state in the country has recorded at least one rape since December 16 despite the national outrage, prompting a social psychiatrist to tell this newspaper: “Anger is not necessarily a social corrective.”

Dr Harish Shetty’s remark also casts a harsh light on what is suspected to be the chief provocation for the suicide: the lynch-mob mentality displayed by some of the protesters while demanding “justice” for the bus rape victim.

Some may, however, see the suicide as highlighting one change the protests may have brought about: till now, the shame and fear almost always attached to the woman victim, often driving her to suicide.

More victims could now be summoning courage to file complaints, a protester said.

“More women are coming out and reporting violence against them,” said Niharika, 18, who has been participating in the protests in Delhi since they began and believes the agitation has had an impact. “Their families are telling them that there is no shame in it. Both the media and the police are showing sensitivity towards the victims.”

“This is what we want,” she added. “It is the only way that rapes or any kind of sexual violence can stop.”

But Dr Shetty cautioned against high expectations: “Rapists don’t care about the discourse in society; they don’t obey the laws of the land. They know that the worse their crime, the lower the chances of conviction.”

Former Delhi police chief Ved Marwah said a public outcry can trigger greater police alertness and, at least temporarily, help check rapes by strangers — but it is unlikely to be a deterrent to rapes by people known to the victim.

“I believe that since the (bus) gang rape, rapes by strangers would have been fewer than those by people known to the victim,” Marwah said. “This is because of the protests and the dialogue in the social media and overall alertness shown by the administration. I think, at least for the time being, goondaism is under control.”

In at least nine of the 22 instances of rape mentioned in the chart above, the victim knew the accused: a brother, colleague, college mate, neighbour, husband’s friend....

Dr Shetty underlined the difficulties in changing deep-rooted social attitudes. “How many of the protesters would go to the police as witnesses in a rape or molestation case?” he asked. “Almost every family in this country has a victim of molestation or rape but most of the cases go unreported.”

Chandrakant’s arrest and suicide occurred on Christmas Day but the police did not reveal it till today. An officer said the teen was held along with friends Sonu and Mohit, 19 — all of them students of an industrial training institute in south Delhi — following a complaint by a girl student from the same institute.

The trio were booked under a law dealing with the offence of outraging a woman’s modesty through word, act or gesture and were released on bail the same day. If convicted, they faced a fine and/or jail for up to a year.

After returning home, Chandrakant locked himself in his room and later hanged himself from the ceiling. His suicide note says: “I am embracing death and now nobody will have to face any problem because of me.”

Sonu, who drank poison, is in hospital and “is still not out of danger”, the officer said.

Officers said the three teens’ lower middle-class families were in panic. “We are shattered by the death of our son,” Chandrakant’s father said. “Please do not reveal our identity or address, else we shall be subjected to further embarrassment by neighbours and protesters.”

In her police complaint, the girl said the trio took the same bus as her to their institute every day and had been passing lewd remarks for the past few days. They had allegedly warned her not to go to the police.

On December 24, she said, her elder brother accompanied her and when the accused taunted her again, the brother grabbed Chandrakant by his collar and dialled the police emergency number.

By the time the police arrived, the other two teens had jumped off the bus and fled. They were picked up from their homes at night.

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