Cities, Nation and Rape


Nabanita Roy


After an easy search, I entered the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) website, the Indian government agency responsible for collecting and analyzing crime data, and landed up finding a downloadable pdf, reading 'Crime in India-2017 Statistics'. And the date at once seemed very contemporary and relevant for understanding the pattern of crime, particularly against women.

To the backdrop of my search was the need to find some statistical record of crimes against women in India. With Priyanka Reddy's rape and murder in Hyderabad and the nationwide protests against the heinous crime, I had to understand why some 'rape victims' only spur discourses on Indian rape culture or the toxic masculinity of Indian men, whereas the rape and murder of 19-year-old Jaba Roy from Dinajpur on September this year, head dismembered, discarded in public space or the rape and murder of 10-year Khushboo Parveen from Falakata in the following month, were never accommodated as subjects of the mainstream discourses to define the rape culture.

Priya Virmani in her article 'Why is the rape crisis in rural India passing under the radar?' mentions that despite the rape and murder of Jisha, a Dalit girl, bearing "chilling similarity to the Nirbhaya case... was followed by an eerie silence" adding that "India can't afford to be geographically selective if it is to tackle these shocking crimes". Simor Denyer in his 'In rural India, rapes are common, but justice for victims is not' writes while referring to the gangrape of a teenage girl in Haryana, that, "Thousands of Indians have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest the rape of a young woman on a moving bus in New Delhi. But in rural areas just a few hours' drives from India's capital, where police and activists say rapes are common and increasing, such incidents draw scarcely any attention, let alone outrage". 

One might ask were not these crimes heinous enough to agitate the masses or impact the laws/policies/politics involving women? Were the crime scenes way outside the center, the city, to never qualify as news at all? Or is there a subject called 'real rape' with a steady pattern that qualifies as rape in the language of sensational media? Does Indian national media speak only in some languages, or what are the qualifiers of being national news? How do they succeed in engendering a nationalist outrage which becomes both personal as much as political for the common people? 

One common engagement that emerges out of these questions is the city and the city-centric knowledge system that informs the production of national discourses. One might even stretch it further to argue the city and the city-centric knowledge system informs the production of post-colonial national discourses as it is a very post-colonial way of mapping crimes through cities. To validate such a claim, one has to consider the ways and methods of reporting any crime in India and understand how crimes get recorded in India. 

As I kept scrolling through the content of the 'Crime in India-2017 Statistics', there was a very clear pattern discernable to map the crime rates, that of the State/Union Territories crime rates followed by crime rates in the metropolitan cities. Crime against women was thus contained within these two categories, State/Union territory, and metropolitan cities. Quite inevitably the question arises, does State or Union territory include all the rural spaces and 'non-metropolitan' spaces? And why is the category 'Crime in Metropolitan Cities' given precedence over other places? Do only Metropolitan spaces qualify as Indian? Should Jaba Roy, Khushboo Parveen, Adivasis in the remote tea estates of Alipurduar and Naxalbari be conflated as numbers only? 

Sudhir Krishnaswamy, Shishir Bail and Rohan Kothari in their working paper titled 'Urban-Rural Incidence of Rape in India: Myths and Social Science Evidence' talks about this drawback, "A major drawback of data provided by the NCRB is that it does not classify data according to its urban or rural origin." The megacities constituting only "13.3 percent of the population of the country" falls short of even the urban population which is closer to 31.1 percent of the national population as mentioned in the paper. The paper draws home the fact that there is no clear trend of a direct relationship between the rate of urbanization and the rate of reported rape incidence in any of these states contradictory to the claims of leaders like Mohan Bhagwat who justified rape in post-Nirbhaya context, as an onslaught of "westernization" and that rapes occur in urban India, not rural Bharat. Kiran Bedi, retired IPS officer, in the Indian Express article retorted vehemently to such rhetoric saying, "The ground reality is when does the rape victim report her crime, when there is a police station available, when there is sensitive officer to report the crime, when the family takes you to report the crime, when there is a doctor to examine you, when she knows the accused will not be bailed out and will not harass her... these facilities just do not exist in ''Bharat''. These exist in India, i.e., in Delhi, in Mumbai." Both of these arguments, where Mohan Bhagwat visions "Bharat" as a prelapsarian paradisiacal space of gender equality and Kiran Bedi's "Bharat" a structurally oppressed space cutting down voices of resistance, hints at a schism between Bharat and India that still exists in-text and at a representational mode. Does, therefore, the schism also hint at a representational disparity what Binalaxmi Nepram in her Tedx Talk 'Responding to Rising Armed Conflict in South Asia' trenchantly marks that National Media is limited to Delhi NCR "where their OV vans can reach". 

Tripline on 'Mapping Indian Cities by a number of rape cases per 1,00,000 women-2012' which draws on NCRB for its cartographical analysis, visually marks the disparity between privileged cities and the muted spaces. And secondly the rational process of conflating the bodies into numbers. These visible red stains dotting the Indian metropolitan cities become signs of a lacerated nation, within the discourse of development and women empowerment. While the other spaces perform only as a backdrop to contextualize the city.


A staggering amount of data floods media, corroborating numbers, degrees and types of crimes, of violence, abuse particular to any state that is either ranked up or down in the list. A hotchpotch of data confuses our minds. Yet at the very center of these posts or news, state surveillance, monitoring, inspection, and its failure are focused as areas of interest and knowledge. Revealing such data with a metaphoric claim to justify the diseased state with red stains, the victims coalesce into data tables to justify such claims only. The violence is simply rounded off in numbers. Barring few names/subjects most rape victims simply act as the signifiers of other larger numbers, her body becomes a numerical addition to the records that define the heath of a state only. Also, the Open Government Data (OGD) platform boasts only of excel sheets, incoherent java extensions that display state subjects as victims, suspects and culprits. Can Jaba, Khusboo, and other muted digits ever transcend the simulated boxes? Perhaps they will remain galvanized in it. 

But why such an outrage? Can media representation culminate in deliberating on justice and reduce crimes against women? Perhaps with representations, or critical engagements, violence perpetrated against women will not end but it could ensure a speedy access to justice. Rape victims in India who received adequate coverage both in digital and print media, being represented as national bodies, deliberated through different modes or shows, allowed them to have quicker access to justice through mass surveillance of the events. The public gaze in a way accelerates the long drawn shabby justice system into an episodic phenomenon, where countless viewers/soldiers meditate on the progress report. 

The pattern to record crimes by agencies and reporting them by the mainstream media are complementary. One feeds the other consisting of lacunae and spectral presences of voices that have been painted white in maps and diagrams. Priyanka Reddy, Nirbhaya, Asifa cannot stand for others, cities cannot stand for the villages/suburbs. Each victim is entitled to their share of justice, their experiences to be contextualized within the broader discourses of crime against women. Each of them has names to be remembered. Or else, if we are to go by the idea that justice delayed/silenced is justice denied, then denial is but the poetics of absence to be spurned into tales of demons that hide inside tamarind trees which grandmothers will whisper every night.






Nabanita Roy is a guest faculty in the Department of Law, North Bengal University.

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