This chapter explores the circumstances leading up to the brutal murder of a young adult woman, Jyoti Singh in a public bus by five men. The sheer brutality of the murder was enough for the courts to award death sentence to the offenders except for the youngest amongst them on grounds of his being a juvenile. The murder and rape of the young woman, named as Nirbhaya by the media in order to protect her privacy, shook the nation so much so that activists demanded a change in the age of juvenile so that offenders as brutal as the young boy in this case could be executed as well. The chapter argues that the brutality meted out to Nirbhaya was the extreme manifestation of the ways masculinity is being sought, conceptualised, ritualised, and deployed in the public sphere.
The Nirbhaya case is perhaps the extreme manifestation of women being abducted in cars and molested and brutalised, of women being raped by taxi and auto drivers; the motif is common, public space, public transport, and women unrelated and unknown to the offenders. Women’s safety in the roads has become a major issue in cities across India. Offence against women is thus located in the way the public space is structured in these cities, the offenders being drivers of public transport, women being young and working. The offence is a way of ‘teaching working women a lesson’, of male hate against the autonomy and assertion of women. Women are being hemmed in, intimidated, and prevented from abounding the public space through such demonstrative offences. The Nirbhaya case also brought forward the sheer indifference of the authorities to issues which women face despite the fact that young and working women are emerging as a major social force. The cities where such offences have taken place are Delhi, Kolkata, and Bangalore. These cities too must have something in common, where such violences are made possible or mentalities leading to such violences are produced. Under which circumstances do cities produce conditions of male violence in the public sphere against women unknown and unrelated to them?