English: Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Baner...


“She has two children, and so far as I know, she is separated from her husband,” Mr. Mitra said on a national television show. “What was she doing at a nightclub so late at night?”

The woman had reported being raped in a moving car by a group of men, two of whom she had met at the nightclub. Over the next week, the news media would excoriate Mr. Mitra, the West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and the police for their apparent willingness to discredit her. The men in the Kolkata case have since been arrested.

But Mr. Mitra’s willingness to suggest that the woman’s presence at a nightclub was in some way an invitation to rape, or Ms. Banerjee’s initial insistence that the victim’s story was a “fabrication,” was hardly new. In 2011, the chief of the Delhi police, B.K. Gupta, suggested that women should take their “brother or driver” along if they wanted to be out late at night.

Also last year, Dinesh Reddy, director general of the police in the state of Andhra Pradesh, said: “Fashionable dresses worn by women, even in rural areas, are among the factors leading to an increase in rape cases. The police have no control over this matter.”

The Karnataka state minister for women and child welfare, C.C. Patil, had expressed similar views, suggesting that women who work in information technology firms and call centers “ought to know how much skin to cover when leaving such workplaces.” (Mr. Patil recently resigned after he and some colleagues were discovered watching pornography on their cellphones during a session of the state legislative assembly.)

“If the woman victim can be held responsible for her dress or the late hours at which she is out, it is easier for officials to say that rape happens to women of bad character and loose morals,” said a female police officer in Delhi who asked not to be identified because she could be suspended for criticizing her department. “But that is not the reality of rape in India. Poor women are at the greatest risk of being raped. Also, most rapists are known to the victim. Dress and character have nothing to do with it.”

Data from the National Crime Records Bureau on crimes against women for 2010 record that victims knew their attackers in 97.3 percent of reported rapes.

Even accepting that the bureau defines “known to the victim” in the broadest sense, to include remote acquaintances, the figures are revealing. Parents and other close family members were involved in 1.3 percent of the cases, other relatives were involved in 6.2 percent and neighbors in 36.2 percent. As many Indian women are aware, home and neighborhood are by no means safe spaces.

For women in the state of Madhya Pradesh, caste is a far more significant factor than what clothes they wear. According to figures cited in the state assembly, 1,217 gang rapes were reported between 2003 and 2007. About 672 of the victims were from the disadvantaged Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, reflecting a statewide pattern of violence directed by upper castes against lower castes.

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