Garga Chatterjee | Agency: DNA | Sunday, December 23, 2012

There should be no doubt at this point — Delhi is the rape capital of South Asia. No amount of regular manicuring of Lutyens lawns and NewDelhi-Gurgaon-style faux ‘cosmopolitanism’ can take away that fact. The rape capital epithet comes from simple numbers. Delhi is comparable in population size to Kolkata and Mumbai. If rape were to be considered a ‘natural’ human pathology, the number of rapes would be proportional to the number of humans. The thing is, when it comes to cities within the territory of the Indian Union, it is not.

The numbers speak for themselves. Let us take the National Crime Records Bureau figures for 2011. The number of registered cases of rape were as follows — Mumbai (221), Kolkata (46), Chennai (76), Bangalore (97) and Hyderabad (59). If one adds them up, the number comes to 499. Add Lucknow (38), Patna (27) and Coimbatore (9). The total comes to 573. This is one more than 572, the number of rapes reported in Delhi in 2011. This is not to say that the 46 rapes in Kolkata are somehow ‘normal’. But number and scale matters. There is clearly something wrong about Delhi and we can ignore that at our own peril.

From bus drivers to poor male labourers, the middle-class/upper-middle-class of Delhi has willy-nilly implicated all but itself. It is important to note the nature of prescriptions of rape prevention. These include profiling people who drive buses and the sort — a veiled reference to some imagined class bias in rapes. That gives away the underlying assumption — poor men rape not-so-poor women. There is no evidence to show that this is indeed the case, but the high decibel propaganda war in the elite-controlled media could care less about evidence, especially when it imagines itself to be the victim, as a class.

Rape is as much about power and impunity as it is about sexual violence. Nowhere in the subcontinent are power and impunity engaged in an embrace as tightly as they are in Delhi. There is empirical evidence from various parts of the world that affluent people are more likely to rape with impunity than those less so. Nowhere in the subcontinent is affluence so closely related with power than in Delhi. What are the implications of this for the rest of us?

Since 1990 and especially so in the previous decade, the central government has built up Delhi, showering it with goods, subsidies and helping make it an employment destination for the rest of the Indian Union. Other cities haven’t received this help — cities where women are less likely to be raped. Delhi and its surrounds are showered with money that Delhi does not produce. It is peppered with infrastructure that India’s provinces have toiled hard to pay for.

It is lavished with highly funded universities, art and cultural centres, museums that are designed to sap talent from India’s provinces and handicap the development of autonomous trajectories of excellence beyond Delhi. Revenues extracted from India’s provinces are lavished in and around Delhi by making good roads, snazzy flyovers, water supply infrastructure, urban beautification projects, new institutes and universities, big budget rapid transport systems like the metro and numerous other things that India’s impoverished wastelands as well as other towns and cities can only dream of.

All this results in investment and employment opportunities — it is not the other way around. Most people from other states are in Delhi not because they necessarily love it, but because the artificial imbalance that central policies have created between Delhi and other cities makes this an inevitable aspiration destination. This has resulted in a staggering internal drain of young people to Delhi — not by choice as in the case of Mumbai, but largely by braving potential adversities for women.

The elite of Delhi and the regional elites who wish to see their children in Delhi in perpetuity have, by dint of their grip on the central government, made a ‘world-class city’ for themselves. By choosing to do this at a location where power, impunity and rape-rates are the highest among cities, it has conspired against the rest of the Union, specifically against women.

Women should not have to choose between a lesser likelihood of being raped and creating a better life from themselves. The inordinate subsidisation of the rape capital by the central government has to stop. Women then will not have to come to Delhi to further their aspirations and dreams. They can then choose to boycott Delhi and still have a life that they aspire to. This requires a cutting down to size of the imperious rape capital. Cutting down to size should not raise eyebrows in a nation-state that vows by democracy. It is called distributive justice.

Garga Chatterjee is a postdoctoral scholar, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.