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Ground Zero

The Speeding Car

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Rape in a moving car that froze the city
A division bench of justices Reva Khetrapal and Pratibha Rani of the Delhi High Court today upheld the death penalty awarded to four convicts in the December 16, 2012 gang rape and murder case of a 23-year-old girl.

The trial court on September 13, 2013 awarded the death sentence to Mukesh (26), Akshay Thakur (28), Pawan Gupta (19) and Vinay Sharma (20).

The victim, she was given many names, was brutally gang-raped by six men in a moving bus after overpowering the male companion. They were dumped by the road side to die on a cold December night. She died thirteen days later in Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital where she was airlifted for specialized treatment.

This rape and murder case became an ugly symbol of sexual violence against women; gave Delhi the dubious distinction of being the ‘Rape Capital’.

There was widespread public outcry; thousands of people came out on the streets. Moving vehicles have been the site of some of urban India’s most brazen rapes like this one.

Speeding car gives rapists a sense of impunity. The vehicle’s cabin enclosure—especially if it has tinted windows—gives them the illusion of being in a sort of free-for-all zone beyond the reach of law.

Renowned sociologist Patricia Uberoi describes the vehicle’s engine power transforms as a domineering metal that resonates with the psyche of rapists. Just as speed has its thrill, so to a demented mind does sexual assault.

“A moving car is neither a public space nor private sphere,” says Uberoi, “[It is] a liminal space where people can shed their duality for a while and do things they would not otherwise do.”

In gang rape cases, Crime Psychologist Rajat Mitra told me, at least one of the rapists is not a first-timer. He invariably is the initiator, plots the assault and is first one to rape. He uses force to subdue the victim. Once the traumatised victim gives up resistance, her mind having gone numb under the assault, the others take turns.

This case set in paranoia: all unknown men on the street were seen as potential rapists.

I asked Uberoi: Do you think all men are potential rapist?

Uberoi minced no words. Men—though most of them will never rape—ventilate views and show attitudes in public that contribute to the creation of spaces, time and situations that are dangerous for women. They foster attitudes that legitimise rape or violence against women.

Then she rephrases my question and answers: If you ask me, ‘Do men contribute to gender asymmetry?’ My answer is ‘yes’.”