India's Selective Outrage: The Tale of Two Rapes

Indians need to hold politicos who sponsor sexual violence accountable


One of the most obscene moments after the death of the gang-rape victim in New Delhi was a tweet by Narendra Modi, the governor of the Indian state of Gujarat, offering regret and condolences to the dead woman's family.

Modi, who has quelled restive minorities by allowing attackers to subject women to unspeakable horrors, has done more than any man to numb his prudish country to sexual violence. Yet he was elected to a third term last month and is the presumptive front-runner of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the main Hindu opposition party, for prime minister in next year's national elections.

So long as Indians keep rewarding politicos such as Modi, the country's collective outrage after the New Delhi case won't change the culture that makes such atrocities common in India.

The attack on the 23-year-old physiotherapy student was truly depraved. Five men and a teenager in a private bus are accused of kidnapping, beating, raping, and violating her with an iron rod—and then dumping her and her semi-conscious boyfriend on a highway, where they also allegedly tried to run her over. But as horrific as this crime was, consider what happened in Gujarat in February 2002, a few months after Modi assumed office.

Organized bands of well-armed Hindus—some from groups tied to Modi's party—fanned across the state seeking revenge against Muslims for allegedly burning a train full of Hindu pilgrims a few weeks earlier. The Hindu rioters systematically sought out and destroyed Muslim homes and businesses, killing more than 1,000 people.

Muslim women were singled out. According to many Indian and foreign sources, including a Human Rights Watch account and a report by an international research team called "Threatened Existence: A Feminist Analysis of the Genocide in Gujarat," women were stripped, gang-raped, often publicly, and finally in almost all cases burned or hacked to death.

The reason the violence reached such extremes was that the state police stood back and didn't intervene to stop the Hindu attacks and even told victims that it could not protect them. As if the bloodletting wasn't horrific enough, Modi subsequently dismantled the shelters constructed by private organizations for dispossessed Muslims, calling them "child-breeding centers."

Compared with the New Delhi rape, which has triggered a protest movement in India calling for the castration and execution of the suspects, the Gujarat rapes and pogrom elicited barely a whimper. Many Hindus either deny that the horror even occurred, or if they accept it, they claim it wasn't as grisly as media accounts suggest. And if they believe the accounts, they say Muslims had it coming. Fewer than 100 out of the thousands of accused culprits—among them only one state minister and one Bharatiya Janata Party leader—were convicted, and that was a decade later. Modi himself was exonerated.

Whatever public disgust there was against him has dissipated, given the stellar economic growth that Gujarat has seen on his watch. Business leaders and corporations, from India and overseas, turn a blind eye to Modi's role in allowing the bloodshed, and praise his economic stewardship. His business backers have already managed to get the U.K. government to reverse its long-standing ban on him and to give him a visa. Now they are trying to persuade the U.S. government to follow suit.

What accounts for the wide gulf in the Indian public response to the single crime in New Delhi and the mass crimes in Gujarat?  

On the positive side, attitudes toward women have evolved considerably since the Gujarat atrocity more than 10 years ago. Thanks to liberalization, Indian women's aspirations and opportunities have increased, especially in big cities, and they are demanding that the governing classes keep pace and create an environment in which they are free to move around safely.

After the New Delhi attack, any politician or even religious guru—no matter how revered—who suggested that women need to circumscribe their lives and choices for their own protection was condemned and lampooned, something scarcely imaginable when I was growing up in New Delhi (in a Hindu household) in the 1970s.

But the darker reality is that the young woman's rape and murder outraged the country's Hindu urban middle class because it was a random and senseless act that could have just as easily victimized their daughters. Not so with attacks on the Muslim women in Gujarat. The premeditated and programmatic violence against them meant that the broader Hindu majority was insulated from it. If the New Delhi woman's fate made every Indian feel more vulnerable, the attack on the Muslim women made Hindus at some level feel more secure.

There are other reasons for India's apathy toward Modi's misdeeds. India is a democracy and has its share of human-rights activists and watchdog groups keeping an eye on government brutality. Yet the public at large has little appreciation of the dangers associated with overly muscular government. Indians complain bitterly about government dysfunction and corruption. Yet they have little compunction about giving draconian powers to their rulers in the name of security. The upshot, tragically, is that Indians care less about state-perpetrated rape than when perpetrated by individuals.

The scale of the sexual violence in Gujarat was unprecedented in India. But smaller episodes are a matter of routine. The Indian army has been accused of using rape as a weapon to crush secessionist movements in Kashmir and Manipur. After one particularly heinous case eight years ago, Manipuri women stripped naked and stormed the army headquarters with placards plaintively protesting: "Indian Army Rapes Us."

Tolerating sexual violence for any purpose erodes the overall stigma against it, opening a moral space where tormentors can run amok. The lack of national outrage against the mass rapes perpetrated under Modi reduces their true cruelty, breaking down the psychological walls that would at least prevent nonsociopaths from going on a rampage. Hindus who turn a blind eye to the rape of Muslim women can't ultimately protect their own.

How India can restore moral boundaries is a difficult issue, but it certainly won't be solved by electing Modi to higher office—even if he were Adam Smith himself. Protesters shouldn't just seek justice against the six accused in New Delhi. Modi, too, has much to atone.

An earlier version of this column appeared in Bloomberg View.

NEXT: Synthetic Drug Ban Prompts Underground Dealers To Create New Concoctions

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Why is this garbage being posted a second time?

    1. ^^THIS^^

    2. I’m showing selective outrage that this particular article was reposted. I do not show outrage at all repostings.

      That is all.

    3. upto I saw the check which said $4493, I have faith …that…my father in law was like they say actualie receiving money parttime from their computer.. there aunts neighbour has done this 4 only about twentey months and just now repaid the mortgage on their house and bought a new Volkswagen Golf GTI. go to,

  2. As was stated the last time this article was published on, (which has mysteriously gone down the memory hole) many of the “rapes” that occurred during the Gujarat riots were proven to be as “real” as the fabricated reports of rape and other atrocities in New Orleans during Katrina.

    Again, many of the reports that Ms. Dalmia links to as support are highly biased and read like an Edward Said rant against Israel, but with the term “Zionism” replaced with “Hindutva”.

    That Ms. Dalmia is naive enough to fall for the manufactured outrage of the global Pallywood disinformation machine is bad enough, but that she would be actively participation in this campaign of blood libel is unconsciousable.

    How does one say “shame on you!” in Gujarati?

    1. You’re the linguist. All I can do is find Gujarat on an unlabeled map.

    2. The atrocities definitely did happen. I’m sure that the holocaust also happened.

      1. Did I deny the Gujarat riots occurred? Did I state that every single accusation of rape during the riots was false? No, I did not. However, many of the incidents were exaggerated by a media hungry for lurid and shocking stories and by NGO’s and other activist groups who have ideological reasons for making the violence seem worse than it was. Just as the Holocaust is historical fact, Ilsa: She-Wolf of the S.S. isn’t.

        1. so there was rape and death, but not quite as much as shikha thinks there was, so might as well not point out the hypocrisy of a politician who used a particularly vicious gangrape for political gain while being fine with a multitude of ‘lesser rapes’ for similar political reasons.

          media usually exaggerates stuff, doesn’t mean that shikha’s article was blood libel.

    1. Ah thanks!

      And as per your comment:

      Get one of those YAL chicks. Unlike the late Lucy, they seem to know how to use spell-check.

      If they got Kathryn DeLong on staff, I would become a lifetime member of the Reason Foundation.

      1. Seriously. Kathryn knows her stuff. If she replaced somebody — let’s call him Bike Digs — I wouldn’t mind.

  3. Your general idea that people overlook brutality by the state is a part of a general concept, which is that people revere their governments and overlook their faults. Consider public education. If private companies behaved this way — paying their employees a lot, not firing the bad employees, generating dismal test result — people would rightly complain and accuse the company of profiteering and such. But when the company is the government, they just overlook it. Though I think depending on how advanced the culture is, certain crimes will not be overlooked: So these type of state-sanctioned rapes would not be tolerated here.

  4. Threatened Existence: A Feminist Analysis of the Genocide in Gujarat

    sounds legit

  5. This is actually one of the downsides of immigration. It causes a “brain” drain on the country they are leaving.

    If you care about India, why not stay there and try to make it a better place? Instead you decided to come to another country that doesn’t have those problems.

    If everyone simply leaves their crappy countries, then how are these crappy countries going to get better? Writing columns from halfway around the world might make you feel better, but it accomplishes nothing else..

  6. How about this test? Can we find one nice thing to say about Earth’s largest democracy? Without that, this looks like an author with an axe to grind against India, and it’s getting old.

  7. I’m not a big fan of Dalmia, but I’m disturbed at the hate she is receiving over this.

    “She’s exaggerating the massacre and gang rape executions.”

    She’s comparing the selective outrage between the gang rape murder of ONE person and a government massacre involving systematic rape, with the report of the death of a 1000. What, not 1000? 900? 800? 100? 50?

    What’s the exact number of people who needed to be raped and/or murdered before you think she has a point?

    1. she is slightly left libertarian, and the commenters are more often right libertarian, so she is hated even if she has a good article. this is pretty much the same concept as obama using the newton massacre even though he authorized the bombing of over 160 children in drone strikes. that is a much more accepted topic here, even though it is pretty much the same thing in this article.

      1. Exactly. Because left wing and right wing, in the USA, are defined by how much value you place on the life of a Hindu. In the USA, we talk about Hindus all the time, even though we have almost none of them. A leftist counts a Hindu life near 0, a centrist around 0.5, and a rightist near 1. This is the USA’s central policy debate.

    2. WTH? Accusing a person of a crime who has been acquitted of the same crime, without providing one bit of evidence, this is par for the course? But suggesting that the acquitted might be innocent is rape advocacy?

      I suppose you are 20 and have no memory of the disaster as it unfolded. But the press around the world was up in arms about the carloads of Hindus killed bu Moslem attackers. I have no opinion on how the carloads of people died or who was responsible. But lots of people were angry. I was angry. There was NFW this was ending well and there were not enough cops in India to keep the blood of innocent Gujarati from being quieted with the blood of other innocent Gujarati.

  8. The attacks on Muslims sound bad but the reality is Muslims anywhere are a bad thing and have it coming. Muslims all over the world initiate and keep up violence, and they’re the most barbaric culture in a world full of already barbaric cultures.

    You American white-boys may not want to hear all of that, but I’ve grown up with relatives/family from the Near East and they’re pretty uniformly racist, anti-semitic, women’s-rights-ignoring, stubborn, eccentric assholes. And these are the ones who AREN’T muslim. I can’t even imagine what the muzzies and arabs are like.

    1. “Muslims all over the world initiate and keep up violence, and they’re the most barbaric culture in a world full of already barbaric cultures.”

      Uh, seems a bit of generalization going on here.

      1. Yes but EdwinNJ is no worse than Dalmia.

      2. not really, wherever there are muslims there is beef with the neighboring religions. There are few exceptions, and no other religion has this problem. There’s a saying, you’re not going to like every person in the world, however, if you hate everyone, then YOU’RE the one with the problem (the muslims are like this).

        And I’ve grown up with these bastards and I can tell you they’re barbarians. They are pretty uniformly anti-semitic, women-hating, paranoid, racist assholes. Yeah, they’re even racist. They COME HERE to a place they’ve never been before, and hate on people THEY”VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE (blacks).

  9. “You American white-boys may not want to hear all of that, but I’ve grown up with relatives/family from the Near East and they’re pretty uniformly racist, anti-semitic, women’s-rights-ignoring, stubborn, eccentric assholes”

    So it’s okay to beat, gang-rape, and then hack them to pieces?

  10. This article does not mention that Hindus started rioting after Muslims burned 60 Hindus alive in the train coach.

    1. But they were Hindu. They don’t eat enough beef. They play cricket. They keep cows as pets. They don’t eat eggs, and can’t explain why not. They believe in the wrong number of gods. It’s not like they were dogs or even snail darter. No human should have to hold in a sneeze or redirect their pee to spare the life of every Hindu. If they are burned by the carload, they should NAP right back.

      1. Nobody has to redirect his pee to save them. As this event shows, they are capable of some fierce retaliation.

  11. India is an uncivilized nation.

    1. Yeah, thanks a bunch, england!

  12. India is 4th most dangerous place in the world for women.
    It is only a little better than war-ravaged Afghanistan and Congo.

  13. If you’re proud of Modi’s accomplishments in Gujarat, take Independence from India and go build your own nation as per “Communal Award”.

  14. Gujarat is developing due to Globalization i.e FDI/FII/QIP/NRI/PIO investments ($120 billion/yr).
    Modi’s contribution is nothing but religious bigotry.

  15. Prosecute/punish Advani/Modi under National Security Act for killing thousands of innocent people in Babri/Godhra riots.

  16. Any type of hegemony will have awkward repercussions and collateral damage.

  17. If Modi is innocent he should come to a mosque on Friday without his gunmen.

  18. FORWARD CASTE (Advani,Gadkari,Jaitley,Sushma,Keshubhai) will NEVER let/accept BACKWARD CASTE Modi as Prime Minister of India.

  19. Land reforms by Jyoti Basu in West Bengal made him CM for 23 years, but not PM.
    Infrastructure development by Modi in Gujarat will make him CM for 15 years, but not PM.

  20. Gujarat is developing due to Globalization, not Modi.
    Indian Govt Budget = $172 billion/yr
    NRI remittance = $70 billion/year
    FDI = $50 billion/year

  21. How Advani/Modi are roaming freely in India and contesting in elections after taking thousands of innocent lives?

  22. Anti-Islam is a cheap tool/trick used by FORWARD CASTE people to promote their Hegemony over BC/SC/ST/MC people in India.

    90% of corrupt money ($2 trillion) is with FORWARD CASTE people and 10 of them also evaded $100 billion to Banks in India. Their population in India is less than 15%.

  23. Caste system seeds hatred among people in India. It’s only going to get worse in the future.
    “The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them.” –Einstein

  24. DEMAND for Independent Nation to Muslims/Christians/Anglo-Indians/Sikh/SC/ST people is PENDING since 4th August 1932 Round Table Conference (Communal Award).

  25. During Indo-Pak partition in 1947 all Muslim majority regions are to be merged with Pakistan.

    Indian regime betrayed and occupied both Hindu majority “Hyderabad state” and Muslim majority “Kashmir state” to promote 2 million brahmins/pundits hegemony in Jammu region.

    Now 1.2 billion people in India are suffering viz Mumbai/Pune/Delhi/Coimbatore/Hyderabad/Parliament bomb blasts, 4 cross border wars and an inevitable nuclear holocaust with Pakistan.

    Google “Kashmir_dispute#Reasons_behind_the_dispute”

  26. 2013 Happy New Year

  27. Manipuri women stripped naked and stormed the army headquarters with placards plaintively protesting: “Indian Army Rapes Us.”

  28. WTF, Hindus? You were supposed to be the laid back non-murdering religion. There needed to be at least one.

  29. What makes you think your parents/children/future generations/houses/properties are safe from sections of society whom you’ve abused for thousands of years?
    “Two eyes for an eye begets justice.” –Kanshiram

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.