Rape Of Five-Year-Old Incites Rage In India

The brutal rape of a five-year-old girl in India has caused public outcry there, and led to the arrest of two men. Host Michel Martin explores what the case says about how India handles sexual assault cases. She speaks with Anand Giridharadas, a columnist at The New York Times.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, you've probably heard about worries that the U.S. is falling behind in the so-called stem fields. That's science, technology, engineering and math. We'll hear from two students who are racing ahead and, in fact, even got to show off their skills in rocket science at the White House. That conversation is in just a few minutes.

But, first, we have a very different story, a horrific story, in fact, out of India that's reignited outrage and soul-searching about sexual violence in that country. And this is probably a good time to tell you that this conversation might not be appropriate for all listeners. That's because we're going to talk about a five-year-old girl who remains hospitalized after being kidnapped, brutally raped and tortured earlier this month.

Two men have been arrested and charged in this case, but the case has also sparked protests and reopened questions about the safety of women and the overall treatment of women and girls that had been raised after another infamous rape case in December.

We wanted to talk more about this, so we've called Anand Giridharadas. He's a columnist for The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune and the author of "India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation's Remaking."

Welcome back. Thanks so much for joining us once again.

ANAND GIRIDHARADAS: It's good to be here.

MARTIN: I understand that a lot of the outrage in this case is directed at the police. Why is that?

GIRIDHARADAS: What you have in this case with the five-year-old - there's another report after that of a similar incident with a four-year-old, and then, of course, the incident you mentioned with a woman in her 20s in December, who eventually died. What many of them seem to have in common is, first of all, just the perpetrator or perpetrators themselves committing this horrible act. But then the story, actually, and the dysfunction doesn't end there. There's whether or not police are willing to record crimes.

In one of these cases of these little girls, apparently, the police were trying to encourage the family to take a very small amount of money and keep silent. But then the concentric circles go beyond that to, in December, the 23-year-old young woman and her male friend were lying on the side of the road for, I think, 45 minutes, and no commuters on a busy road stopped to help them. No rickshaw taxis were willing to take them.

And then the biggest concentric circle around all of this enabling, it is people themselves. At some level, there's a lot of outrage in India right now about, how could this happen? How could this happen? But I think one of the things we know about rape and other crimes against women is that they tend to take place in contexts where there are larger and subtler problems in how people conceive of women and their place in the society.

MARTIN: Why would the police be trying to encourage the parents not to pursue criminal charges? And I also understand that they initially didn't want to investigate the case at all.

GIRIDHARADAS: Sometimes, there are statistical issues, so police don't want particular kinds of cases reported on their books. We know, around the world, with rape, a significant number of rapes everywhere are not reported. But it could also be, in a culture that's patriarchal and traditional, that the police are kind of saying, you know what? Let's not make a big deal about this. Let's not bring dishonor on your family. Let's not bring dishonor on this village. This is a pretty horrific way of thinking, but it goes to a larger context in which this stuff is allowed to happen.

MARTIN: We are told that the authorities say that the number of reported sexual assaults against children has risen exponentially since December, which is when that earlier case that we talked about happened, and also have talked about on this program, where this terrible crime where this young woman was gang-raped traveling on a bus, and she later died of her injuries.

Is the feeling that people are now more willing to come forward, or is there a feeling that something is going on here, where there is an escalation in the incidence or the prevalence of this kind of crime?

GIRIDHARADAS: You probably have some mix of the two. It's very clear that the woman who died in the December incident became a national hero in India and attracted this amazing amount of energy and support and love of a, you know, huge part of the country. And so you can imagine that that would have led some people who didn't have the courage before to report something, because they a hero who - you know, who had gone before them in this kind of gruesome way.

And it's very hard to untangle the causes of these things, but it's also the case that you often have the men involved in these incidents as part of this kind of urban male underclass - although it's not only urban - that is kind of alienated in this new India, often doesn't have enough work, often uprooted from the places where they come from in a city by themselves, living with a bunch of other guys. Their family's far away, struggling, seeing these malls and cars sprout all around them and drive all around them, and not really having access to that new India.

And there's a certain unprocessed rage that is clearly lurking beneath the surface of this supposedly growing economy. And I think what happens in these instances, to some degree, is some of this rage and repressed anger and frustration visiting itself on innocent people.

And we know, around the world, including in our own Boston situation very recently, that underemployed, adrift young men are just about as toxic a social situation as you can conjure.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, according to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, overall, foreign tourism has dropped almost 25 percent in the last three months. The number of women tourists visiting the country has gone down by 35 percent. Is the understanding that this is, in part, related to that terrible incident in December, that this is, in part, alienating foreign tourists that's contributing to this? And, if so, how is that information being received in India? Do people feel that this is affecting kind of the overall, you know, economy, because of this impact on tourism?

GIRIDHARADAS: I mean, it would certainly affect the economy to have a drop in tourism, but I think, at some level, the tendency in India right now is to look at too many things through the lens of what things do to the economy. And I think the more important question is: What kind of society does India want to be? There's been a lot of talk of growth and India shining and India rising in bricks and, you know, buying all those iPods stocked with Indian music for people at Davos a few years ago, and that's kind of been the narrative.

At some level, I think what some of these cases highlight is a good, decent society is more than 8 percent GDP growth. India has to really - and I think it's starting to happen with some of the protests and anger and soul-searching, as you called it, around this case, that there's a real choice about what kind of society India wants to be, whatever level of income it manages to eke out.

MARTIN: Anand Giridharadas is a columnist for The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. He was kind enough to join us from New York.

Anand, thank you for speaking with us. Once again, I'm sorry that we're speaking about such a difficult case, but thank you for joining us.

GIRIDHARADAS: Well, thank you.

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