New Delhi: He watched girls defecate in open toilets in his neighbourhood; covertly observing them aroused him sexually. He repeatedly watched Hindi movies that were about obsession and had explicit sexual assault scenes. He was 5 ft 7’ with an average build, a light brown complexion, slightly curly hair, and liked innocent-looking girls. He loved Raj Babbar in the movie Insaaf ka Tarazu, (Scales of Justice) in which the actor plays a rapist, and copied his crooked smile.

When he was 32 and married, he raped a 15-year-old girl in the lower middle-class neighbourhood in which he lived. His victim became one more addition to India’s dubious record—one woman gets raped every 20 minutes and one child in every 76 minutes. And he himself, who did not want to be identified given the nature of the crime he committed, was caught, convicted and is presently serving his sentence in Tihar Jail—located in the western suburbs of Delhi.

This person fits the stereotype, perpetuated by the brutal 16 December 2012 gang-rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student who died a fortnight later, of belonging to the so-called bottom of the pyramid. Mint’s research, including several visits to Tihar jail and interviews with some of those serving sentences for rape, and experts shows that this is far from the truth: the rape of non-partners is not peculiar to any economic class or demography—poor or rich, young, middle-aged or old.

Rape isn’t just difficult to predict, but, as psychologists argue, also difficult to comprehend. Broadly, experts maintain that rape can be attributed to issues related to social mores, gender and masculinity.

The crime

“The people who rape can belong to any section of the society. They don’t think they will get women in any other way. Normally, men look at a woman, like her, start wooing her, (try to) build a relationship. Emotional intimacy is missing in these men. It is meaningless for them," says psychologist Rajat Mitra, who studies sexual offenders and has interviewed more than 242 rapists in Central Jail No.4 of Tihar jail for five years.

In an interview with Mitra, the man with Babbar’s smile recalled his obsession with his victim and how sex with his own wife had ceased to be enjoyable.

Ever since he set eyes on the teenage girl, he had started fantasizing. Whenever their paths crossed, he would try to read her emotions, seeing things that only he could.

“While going past me, she stopped for a second. Something within her arrested her feet. It was me, who else could it be," he said.

Jealousy possessed him when he saw her talking to a boy from the neighbourhood; he was so incensed that he even thought of accosting her, but dropped the idea. Instead of striking a conversation, he sought her attention by flashing. In one instance, she was accompanied by her friend. Both giggled nervously when he flashed himself and he promptly assumed that it was because they were sexually attracted to him. “I thought somewhere her love for me was dormant and would soon come out," the rapist said.

Gradually he came to believe that the other men in the neighbourhood were a threat to his growing affection for the teenager. It only got him more agitated. Wooing and loving her was not an option in his mind. According to him, a man-woman relationship can only commence in physical union. If it was not consensual, then he would force himself upon her.

“How did you develop such a belief?" asked Mitra in one of his sessions with the rapist.

“I don’t know," he said. “Bus ho gaya (It just happened)", he said. “Thaan liya ke ek baar physical relationship ban jaye, to baki asaan ho jayega (I thought if I have a physical relationship with her, she will automatically be mine)... At that time, I was thinking of her day and night," he said.

“It was during Navratra (a Hindu festival) that I saw her dressed nicely one day. She looked very beautiful. I knew this was my chance," he added.

“Chance for what?" Mitra asked. “Chance to make her my own," he replied.

During Navratra, he followed her home one day, knowing her family would be away. “She didn’t scream or shout when I did it to her. She was absolutely quiet...like a lamb," he said.

The police report said that the teenager had severe bleeding in her private parts. He raped her violently. He had beaten her harshly, while raping.

He said he didn’t threaten her. “I just told her that I want her and won’t go without doing it. She didn’t resist…showed that she did indeed love me," he said.

But he has no regrets. He doesn’t believe he raped her. He has made himself believe that he did it to her because she invited him to do so. His memory of the act is fragmented…only certain parts are clear in his mind. In fact, very vividly. Mitra says this is true of almost all rapists. “They remember certain parts of the act and keep replaying those in the mind again and again," says Mitra.

Why?

As details about the brutal 16 December Delhi gang-rape spread, so did the opinion that rapists are mentally ill. However, there is no scientific theory to show how or if at all the brain of a rapist is any different.

The manual says diagnosing rape as a mental disorder is an improper use of psychiatric diagnosis and promotes the abuse of psychiatric commitment to further what would otherwise be an unconstitutional form of preventive detention.

According to clinical psychologist Pulkit Sharma, the act of rape has more to do with the person’s personality than anything biological. Arguing similarly, Kanpur-based psychiatrist Unnati Kumar says there are certain personalities that are more prone to such kind of offences such as people with bipolar or borderline personality disorders in which the capability to handle emotions and controlling them is very weak.

“Rape is a complex phenomenon which is expressed due to many factors ranging from the development of an individual, his environment, his personality, his coping style," says Kumar.

Most rapists do not accept that they have committed the crime.

“These men have a strong sense of entitlement. They are generally narcissists, sadists and lack empathy. They think they have a demand—a need, and it is supreme to others," says Sharma. Part of this, he explains, could be because many Indian men grow up believing they are superior to women.

“In Indian society, it is fed into the boy’s mind that he is superior."

A Tihar jail staffer, who did not want to be identified, said that many of the rapists doing their time in jail openly claim that women are inferior to men.

Some rape when they are socially disenfranchised, unable to gain access to women either because of their looks, lack of wealth, behaviour, or due to their innate inability to form close relationships. Some rape because they are psychologically ill while others rape because they can’t be aroused by consensual sex.

However, Mitra says there is no direct correlation between child abuse and a person becoming a rapist. “A lot of children face abuse and do not grow up into becoming rapists," argues Mitra.

Khadijah Faruqui, a lawyer and activist who is a consultant for the 181 service, a helpline that was launched in the wake of the 16 December 2012 murder and gang-rape, says rape is never a sexual act but a tool to crush someone’s ego.

“There is a whole lot of a market to attain sexual pleasure without indulging in criminality. Most rapists rape women to gain pleasure of superiority, gain pleasure of patriarchy. They want to keep proving their masculinity," she says.

American feminist and author Susan Brownmiller’s book Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape says that rape has little to do with desire and everything to do with domination. She claims rape is a much more frequent occurrence than previously acknowledged and it was not the obscure behaviour of a very occasional person with severe mental illness; it’s a common occurrence due to the inequality in gender power.

Living in denial

Rapists mostly have no feelings of guilt—they blame their victims or deny the crime. Their crime gives them a high throughout their lives. The guilt, if any, is because they are caught and have to languish in the prisons.

Central Jail No. 5. in Tihar currently accommodates 900 inmates, of which almost 150 are rape convicts—of differing social class, levels of literacy, marital status and demography. If there is one common thread, it is their universal contempt for women.

The superintendent of Jail No. 5, Harish Tyagi, says none of the rapists have ever shown any signs of guilt. Whoever did, committed suicide. “You hear them talk, look at many of them and think that they will rape as soon as they leave the jail," Tyagi says.

He insists he didn’t rape her and that the victim was just like his daughter. In fact, he doesn’t even want to talk about her. He agreed to speak to Mint because he said he wanted to prove his innocence. He rejects the findings of the medical report which established his crime.

The day Mint spoke to him, he was wearing a white, fake Adidas crew neck T-shirt, baggy trousers, and black slippers. The deeply etched wrinkles on his forehead, sunken cheeks, salt and pepper hair, grey moustache and beard and receding hairline, made him look older.

“These days, even if you just look at a girl, she can accuse you of raping her. When I was arrested, police asked for money. I had nothing to give. They falsely implicated me... I want to see my children again. I want to live my life like before. I want to get out of here," the rapist says, speaking with a strong lilt in his voice.

Without any trace of guilt whatsoever, he makes out a convincing case about his innocence. He talks about his children and how his 12-year-old son is targeted for being the son of a rapist. Breaking down frequently, he reiterates his claim of innocence.

Mitra is not surprised; according to him, rapists are very clever and manipulative people.

Profiling a rapist

Unlike what everyone imagines, rapists do not have a distinct identity. Worse, more often than not, a rapist could be the victim’s neighbour or even a relative.

Another Tihar inmate, whom Mint spoke to, raped his neighbour’s wife in Delhi when he was 25 years old. He had moved to Delhi, leaving behind his wife after a year of their marriage to live in a small apartment inhabited by almost eight people, including one woman—the victim.

Again, like the second convict, he maintains innocence and claims he was framed. Without alluding to the incident or the victim, he describes all the goings on in the house that day.

To a query whether he thought the girl was beautiful, he says, “Yes, very."

But then quickly adds that the sole purpose of his coming to Delhi was to earn a living and that he focused on his work and never ever looked at a woman.

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