In the week when the trial of five men charged with the fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old woman has begun, Indians in other parts of the country are giving their candid thought to the shocking news that came from New Delhi. Here in the tropical state of Kerala, over 2,000 kilometers southwest of the capital, locals try to distance themselves from the events up north.
"Rape is typical in the mentality of men from northern India," Namratha, a 26-year-old journalist from Goa, told Metro. "Historically, they [men] were always fighting with enemies and think they can get a woman when they want, that she is just an item.”
"I think that women in Kerala are much safer than in the north. We don’t have illiteracy problems, people are better educated," says Sambasivarao, a 57-year-old businessman. We chat outside the Mother and Child Hospital in Kerala's major port city of Kochi, where anxious mothers are vaccinating their children against polio.
Yet Sambasivarao is optimistic some change will come out of the rape case. "After the protests and media hype that raised the rape issue, the situation will improve. Until now, rapists were treated unpunished; they bribed police and walked free. But after the trial they ought to get the death penalty."
But not everyone shares this businessman's confidence. "After the media hysteria, everything will return back to the way things were," says Nitha Ak. The 28-year-old nurse goes on to explain that "alcoholism is a major engine for rape", adding that widescale impunity does not make life easy for women.
Others suggest a lifestyle alien to traditional Indian culture as the spark to rape. “What causes it is a taboo associated with sex and new technologies,” Police Sergeant K. P. Babu tells Metro, who recently arrested a man accused of rape. "Today, students in schools are watching porn on mobile phones. It’s crazy!"
But these reported cases are probably just the tip of the iceberg. "Women are afraid to report rapes, they don’t want their husband and family to know it," Babu says.
Gang rape trial