Why Is Delhi So Rapey?

Image from Tehelka.

I was reading this horrifying undercover by Tehelka, where Delhi police are essentially blaming women for getting raped. As Inspector Sunil Kumar of Delhi Police said, “First, it is my fault because I courted disaster. No rape can happen in Delhi without the girl’s provocation.” This is pretty much the attitude. But why?


Humans are sexually dimorphic, ie the men are bigger than the females. In most such species, this is because the men compete with each other over mates. Note that they’re not necessarily using violence against females, though that is sorta implied. Now, the basic logic here is something akin to a protection racket. A woman is claimed by a man who defends her against other men. You can see this in any nightclub or, say, the Ramayana. Man fights for woman against a hostile world. Go outside of that protection and you’re in trouble.

Women are the weaker sex. If you’re looking at purely individual, biological relations, it breaks down like that. But humans are much more complicated.


Humans are social animals. Thus, while men could physically subdue and fight over women, this becomes societally toxic really fast. Especially in small hunter gatherer societies, especially when sisters and daughters are involved. Hence rather than having biological violence, we get societal violence, ie violence with rules. In the modern context the state can detain and also kill you under certain conditions, but individuals cannot. In the latter day it would be whoever had the power, be they feudal lord or chief (note that this substrate still remains, ie non-institutional agents like Duminda Silva can still get away with rape and murder).

So, it’s still a protection racket, just an organized one. Women are ‘protected’ under a set of patriarchal rules, ie as daughters and wives. In countries where there aren’t other categories (student, single mother, career women) you see women getting shunted from daughter to wife fast, ie AfPak. If those rules are broken then there are societal consequences. But here is where things get fucked up. As before, the person blamed for breaking the rules is more likely to be the woman.

The idea is that the lines are here (mainly within the house), and here you have protection. Go outside of these lines, however, and there be dragons and we can’t be responsible for what happens to you. As Sub-Inspector Roop Lal in Gurgaon said “If a girl asks for a birthday party and is alone with 2-3 boys and sees they are drinking, she knows what is likely to happen. When she herself goes for such a party, she can’t complain of rape. How can you call it rape if she is sitting and drinking with them? You are a student and have brain of your own. Why are you going out with them?”


Delhi/Gurgaon has had a spate of rapes, to which the police have idiotically responded by asking for women to stay home after 8 PM. As in, to stay within the lines of the current protection racket. What I found interesting was that people protested this edict for violating labor laws, keeping women from working in call centers, restaurants, etc. Which is an economic argument.

The thing is that a patriarchal protection racket is actually an extremely inefficient way of allocating human resources. If you keep half of your population offline because you’re worried about the other half raping them, you’ve effectively crippled your workforce. Hence there are broad political and social forces that support security rather than obscurity for women. Which is why the Delhi police look so stupid in the modern day.


Hence, while you can say that women are the weaker sex, human sexuality and gender roles have always been socially mediated – towards the interests of society. While institutions like marriage and family and home are bulwarks against our rapier tendencies, there is also probably more rape within marriage and family than without. This is also an extremely inefficient way of running a modern economy. If women are educated and work you get lower birth rates, more productivity, better governance and rising incomes for all. This is obviously a social good, which is why modern societies have moved from telling women not to go outside to actually fixing the outside. While the Delhi police display somewhat normative attitudes for lawless societies, they are supposed to enforce the law. India is modernizing, and women are a big part of that.

There is a new normal where gender relations has gone from a protection racket to actual institutional protection. Because it’s better for society, it’s more adaptive, and because it’s simply morally good and true. The Delhi police would be wise to catch up.

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2012-04-11 11:23:51

I have friends in Delhi who have almost been carried away by vans in broad daylight. Most Delhi-ites would say the main reason behind rape is that a lot of the workforce comes from the rural areas where they’ve never seen women. Since they are 100 miles away from home they do whatever they want and can get away with it since the population is so large and Delhi is huge.

Most firms have decided to provide transport to women who work past 8 but recently even the drivers are raping the passengers. It’s a very messy situation.

2012-04-11 17:23:12

‘…a lot of the workforce comes from the rural areas where they’ve never seen women.’

Really? I suppose they’ve never seen mothers, sisters, aunts and cousins of the female variety.

2012-04-11 11:35:12

Kudos on a very well argued thesis Indi! This is one of the most intelligent analysis i have read about the topic.

“If women are educated and work you get lower birth rates, more productivity, better governance and rising incomes for all. This is obviously a social good, which is why modern societies have moved from telling women not to go outside to actually fixing the outside.”

That captures it perfectly!

I would posit however that “fixing the outside” requires a social transformation that the Police cannot held responsible for, nor should they ever be entrusted with that task.

May I suggest that it should rather be the responsibility of those who shape and influence culture; artists, intellectuals and media. The media is possibly the most powerful and influential tool of all, but sadly they generaly lack the sense of social responsibility and competance to be a positive and educational force in most societies accross the world. So i am not sure whether they can be trusted with the task either.

Nimal Maithripala
2012-04-11 12:59:28

Rape is horrific in whatever form or place. Unfortunately, Sri Lanka is not immune to this. The “white van ” adduction victim claimed today that he was raped in captivity. Another “white van” abduction victim Ramasamy Prabagaran claimed that he was tortured in Sri Lanka Government Custody for more than 2 years and raped with a broom. There was a Beauty Contest in Prison recently where many participants were allegedly raped by prison officials. Sadly the list is endless …

2012-04-11 17:59:31

Nimal do you have any links to articles about these claims? And I agree- rape is wrong and it’s not the woman’s fault- ever

Curious Canadian
2012-04-11 22:00:25

These animals resort to rape because they have no other outlet for their sexual needs. In the past men got married to a local village girl at 20 and got steady access to poon (within marriage).

Now you have packs of sexually frustrated single adult virgin men in their mid-late 20s roaming the streets of Delhi. Recipe for disaster.

Either guys get married off at a young age or dating/pre-marital sex becomes acceptable.

How’s the dating scene in India?

2012-04-12 02:05:40

Surely there are enough prostitutes in Delhi to satisfy normal sexual needs. I don’t think you can attribute a violent crime to just frustration.

2012-04-11 23:47:35


you’re leaving out the cultural norms/acquired schema component: Indian societies, both North and South (urban and rural,) do not condone heterosexual hand-holding and other displays of physical affection in public. This is not to say rape does not exist elsewhere but I would bet my lifetime earnings that a robust correlation can be made between to what extent the mechanisms of procreation and pleasure are acknowledged in public in a healthy manner and rape, both by familiars and strangers.

myil selvan
2012-04-13 02:36:31

Unfortunately the Police’s response is typical for countries such as India. Where they expect Women to act “Lady Like”. I think we know what that means. I’m reminded of a government minister in Uganda who once remarked, ” Since there are no homosexuals in Uganda, AIDS is spreading through heterosexual contact”. Sadly such misinformed statements seem to be frequently heard in the developing world. Why? Let’s not forget some of our own government ministers’ gaffes.

What is needed is training on related issues and above all sensitivity to the victims. Being informed will go a long way. And those who make such statements should be taken to task and asked to apologize or even handed some sort of punishment, as deterrence for the future.

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