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Mumbai assault sparks fresh protests in India
Jim Middleton speaks with sociologist Shilpa Phadke from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai about recent rape cases that have sparked widespread outrage in India.

Indians have again taken to the streets to protest for tougher action against rapists after the gang rape of a 23-year-old woman photographer in Mumbai.

The photojournalist has been discharged from hospital and five suspects are in custody.

The case has stark parallels with the fatal gang-rape of a student in New Delhi late last year; a crime which ignited nationwide protests and led to a toughening of the laws against rape.

Shilpa Phadke is a sociologist at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai and was the co-writer the book 'Why loiter?: Women and risk on Mumbai streets'.

JIM MIDDLETON: Shilpa Phadke, welcome to the program.

There was huge outcry in India last year after that terrible and fatal rape case in New Delhi. Laws were tightened but still it keeps happening, most recently with this case in Mumbai. Why is that?

SHILPA PHADKE, TATA INSTITUTE OF SOCIAL SCIENCES: You'll find actually that periodically, there has been a hue and cry over various incidents of sexual assault and rape. And you'll find a sort of a pattern in them. Largely when low class men attack middle or upper class women you find that the media response, civil society response, and there's a peculiar pattern to this.

We recently had other instances of rape where a woman, police woman in Jharkhand, was raped, that hasn't been in the media. And so there's a very clear pattern to this. Civil society and the media appears to be far more interested in instances where lower class men attack middle class women.

JIM MIDDLETON: What is it that is behind these various syndromes that you've described?

SHILPA PHADKE: Communities and families seem to be almost as concerned that their daughters will fall in love with the wrong kind of men as they are about their daughters being attacked against their will, if you know what I mean, that consent is not the only issue here. They're also very, very anxious that their daughters shouldn't consort with the wrong kind of men.

And this kind of division, also there's been increasingly - and this is true not just of India but other countries as well - increasingly post globalisation, a vilification of poor people and poor men in particular.

JIM MIDDLETON: Let's talk about Mumbai itself for a moment. It is a city which has a reputation for being safer than other centres in India, clearly not as safe as its citizens might like to think. Why do you think that is?

SHILPA PHADKE: Mumbai in many ways is a much more accessible city than other cities because we've had a long history of public transport. So we have buses that work, we have a suburban rail network that works, and women have been using this network for many, many decades. And so there is, I mean despite the attacks in public space, Mumbai continues to be an accessible city.

I wouldn't use the word safe because I don't know if any city in the world is safe. And what we've been arguing is that what we need to look for really is not safety, which inevitably comes with all kinds of conditions, mostly about women being respectable, but for women to have the right to take risks are. That is that, not that something should happen to me in public space, but when I'm in public space if something does happen to me, nobody should question my right to be there.

JIM MIDDLETON: What does it say about a society, and India is far from the only country with a rape problem, but what does it say about a society that the perpetrators in this case, who have allegedly admitted to taking part in other rapes, that they told the police they thought they could get away with it because they'd videotaped the victims.

SHILPA PHADKE: It is really hard to get convictions for rape. The other thing is that there has been, and we found this in our research as well, that woman are often willing to risk their safety but not their reputations. And so there's a huge, if you like, sort of investment in your reputation, in your honour.

So I think what these men have been playing on is this idea that we'll put these clips on the net and so then this is a stigma, which is why often rape is an underreported crime.

JIM MIDDLETON: What needs to be done then? Clearly making these laws stronger and public protest is not enough; what's to be done?

SHILPA PHADKE: It's not as if the law is perfect, but if the law can be made to work, it's not terrible law either. What we do need to do is to make the law work. We do need to have far more convictions. But we also need to focus on kinds of civil society issues.

What is different about this particularly incident, the once in Mumbai. is that the young woman survived, and you will have seen reports in the media of her saying that rape is not the end of life, that she wants to go back. And i think we need to also focus on these narratives.

The other thing we need to address is sheer access to public spaces, because every time something like this happens it's suggested that women are better off inside their homes. And this is really I think the greatest is - this is something that we immediate to feel far more than we needs to fear attacks.

JIM MIDDLETON: Obviously it's also got to take a change in the attitudes of some Indian men at least to understand that it's simply not on to violate women's bodies?

SHILPA PHADKE: I think what we need to do is … Of course, there is the question of men who attack women, but there's also the question of a larger debate in civil society. And we do need to address a larger sexist culture that we have in civilian society where women, professional women for instance, whether in India or in Australia or elsewhere in the world are expected to, for instance, take sexist jokes in their stride.

Since I'm not a psychologist, I'm not sure how to answer a question of how do we convince men that they should not violate women. But I think part of this also has to see do with a culture where it's unacceptable to talk about sexuality, where there is a large amount of moral policing. And civil society needs to address a larger sexist culture.

JIM MIDDLETON: Shilpa Phadke, thank you.

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