When Al Jazeera learned that videos of women and girls being raped were on sale in India, we had to decide how to investigate and tell such a sensitive story.
Uttar Pradesh, India – In this industrial northern state, you can buy footage of a woman being raped for the price of a cheap meal.
Al Jazeera found several videos that appeared to depict rape for sale across the state. They cost from Rs 20 to Rs 200 (30 cents to $3) and are transmitted to a customer’s mobile phone in a matter of seconds.
The faces of the women are visible in these films. Their voices are clear. The attacks on them are brutal.
In Meerut, a city in western Uttar Pradesh, an area mostly known for the manufacturing of sporting goods, local contacts indicated that the movie files, marketed as “rape videos”, were available in nearby villages.
With shopkeepers cautious about selling them to non-locals, one local man in the village of Incholi – roughly 15km from Meerut – agreed to buy one and show it to Al Jazeera.
Shahnawaz, who declined to use his real name, said that the videos are not generally made with the intention of being sold on the open market. Still, he’s heard a lot about them.
|Rape videos for sale in India|
“They make it to blackmail the victims [of rape] … so that they don’t go and file a complaint in the nearest police station,” Shawnawaz explained.
Sometimes, he said, the videos are stolen from the perpetrator’s phone when he takes his device to a shop for repairs. The stolen footage is then sold to anyone who asks for it.
Most shopkeepers are careful to sell the videos only to locals, and generally deny any knowledge of them. Some, however, agreed to share explicit videos, including rape clips, with Al Jazeera.
One of them admitted that he had many such “local films”, as the videos are euphemistically referred to. There are watchwords in the trade – akin to a secret handshake – that let the sellers know that a customer seeks rape videos – as opposed to other pornography, which the kiosks also sell.
Once a rape video reaches one dealer, it spreads like wildfire, through applications such as WhatsApp, to other parts of the country. In fact, “WhatsApp sex videos” is one term used for rape videos in this part of the country.
In the village of Saharanpur in western Uttar Pradesh, one man who readily admitted that he frequently purchases pornography – particularly videos of rape – told Al Jazeera that he buys them from other nearby villages.
The videos he buys at shops and kiosks come mainly from other customers who sell the footage to the shopkeepers, he explained. He has a collection of these films on his laptop and described the rape footage as “pornography”.
He watches the videos, he said, because they give him “peace of mind”.
While customers seem to be savvy to the availability of the latest rape video, local police appear to be oblivious.
When Al Jazeera contacted the Deputy Inspector General of Police for Saharanpur Range, J K Shahi, he said he did not know what a rape video was.
“Rape video … ye kya hota hai (Rape video, what is this)?” he asked.
One can only wonder what would have happened to these victims whose videos are being sold in the market. I don't doubt that many of them might have resorted to committing suicide.
Upon being informed, he said that if provided with the video, he would take action.
The Inspector General of Police for Meerut Range, Ajay Anand, told Al Jazeera that he was too new to the job to know anything about the videos.
“I have been posted here recently. Hence I don’t have any idea of these rape videos being sold in the market,” he said.
“I am not in a position to comment. I don’t know the authenticity of these rape videos. I need to see them first before making any comment.”
Al Jazeera was able to buy several of the videos with relative ease from different locations.
A senior leader of the Bhartiya Janta Party, Sanjeev Balyan – who is also a member of parliament for Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh – said that he believes the government’s insensitivity towards women is a major factor in the rise of sexual violence in the country.
“In my constituency, I have heard about such videos being sold but police have taken no concrete action to stop this social malice. This proves how insensitive this government is towards the safety of women and their dignity,” he said.
“In states like Uttar Pradesh, there is no supremacy of rule and order. Police act at the orders of politicians; even local politicians have an influence on police forces,” he added.
The videos Al Jazeera saw were deeply disturbing, and included what appeared to be a minor. One woman begged her rapists to stop, saying that her only recourse would be suicide. Another begged her assailants to at least stop recording the attack.
Anti-rape activists said the making of such videos is largely a display of dominance.
Mangla Verma, a Delhi High Court lawyer, who also works with the Human Rights Law Network, explained: “Rape is seen as an assertion of power by a man over a woman. It is in this process that he films the act, showing that he can not only commit rape, but also record the same and circulate it among others.”
“This is how patriarchy works,” she added.
While it is difficult to confirm that all of the videos show footage of actual rape rather than emulating rape, their presence on the market is particularly troubling given the prevalence of sexual assault in the country.
“This reflects a culture of rape in this country. Rapes are not just being committed but also glorified through [the] sale of such videos. It is shameful that such a market exists right under the nose of the governments and there are buyers of such videos,” said Brinda Karat, a former member of parliament in Rajyasabha and also a Politbureau member of the Communist Party of India.
“The state machinery has completely failed to curb it. It is ironical [sic] that … a country where there are governments which are sending people to jail for possessing bottles of alcohol is so insensitive towards such crimes committed against women.”
Indeed, despite introducing stringent laws to curb crime against women after the high-profile 2012 gang rape case, crimes against women continue to rise.
According to the National Crime Record Bureau of India, in 2014 a total of 337,992 incidents of violence against women were recorded, showing an increase of 9 percent over the previous year.
In 2015, the number of rape cases declined by 5.6 percent to 34,651 reported cases, down from 36,735 in 2014. However, other sexual offences, such as sexual harassment, stalking, voyeurism and “assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty”, increased by 2.5 percent.
The news that such rape videos are being sold is of particular concern to victims of the crime, who fear that they will further perpetuate violence against women.
Sixteen-year-old Shikha (not her real name) is a victim of rape. She told Al Jazeera: “It is obnoxious to know that now such videos are being sold. I can only imagine the ordeal of those victims who have been filmed while being raped.”
After she was raped in her village in March 2015, Shikha endured “shaming” by her classmates and had to drop out of school.
Her family pressed charges against her alleged rapist, who is currently incarcerated, awaiting trial.
“[The videos] will bolster the morale of the perpetrators who would now know that they cannot only commit such crimes with complete impunity, but also circulate the video of the crime,” she said.
“I can only imagine what the women have to go through … one can only wonder what would have happened to these victims whose videos are being sold in the market,” said Shaikha.
“I don’t doubt that many of them might have resorted to committing suicide.”