Page last updated at 18:37 GMT, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Social divide sparks India violence

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Delhi

Shopping mall in Delhi
There is now a growing gap between urban and rural India

The recent alleged gang-rape of a Delhi college student, the latest in a series of assaults on women, has led to an outcry in the Indian capital.

The victim was allegedly attacked by a group of teenagers returning from a cricket match after they discovered her sitting inside a car with a male friend.

The incident took place in Noida, an upmarket Delhi suburb dotted with glitzy shopping malls and software companies, fuelled by India's economic boom.

The police have since arrested 11 young men who belong to village, one of several rural settlements on the edge of the suburb.

Contrasting worlds

While women's groups and the general public have voiced their shock over the incident, the villagers have reacted angrily, saying those arrested are innocent.

It is a classic clash of two cultures drawn together economically but still divided culturally.

Gadi Chaukhandi village
Attitudes in Gadi Chaukhandi village remain conservative

Noida police say they have strong evidence to indict the young men and there is little doubt in their mind that they were involved.

"We have certain clues, mobile phone records, DNA evidence, cricket bats that were used in the assault - this led us to the main accused," says Noida police superintendent AK Tripathi.

"After interrogating him we came to know that there were 10 other people who were involved. So we arrested them."

Just a short drive from the police station lies the village of Gadi Chaukhandi, from where the police arrested the teenagers.

Locals tell me that 20 years ago, the area was covered by jungle and farmland.

Now a six-lane highway runs through it, connecting it to the city and bridging two vastly contrasting worlds.

Proximity to the city has brought the villagers wealth - they live in large houses, built of brick and marble with large cars parked in the driveway.

'Instant millionaires'

But outside the opulent houses - time appears to have stood still. Buffaloes graze as children play in the dirt tracks that pass for roads. Women still use hand pumps to draw water.

It is a story that can be replicated in any part of Delhi or, for that matter, India.

"As the city grew, large numbers of people who were farmers sold their land to large developers and instantly became millionaires," says sociologist Sanjay Srivastava.

People in Delhi
Some middle class people in Delhi say they no longer feel safe

"What that has meant is that they have large amounts of money which they spend on acquisitions but many of the social attitudes haven't changed."

It is this that leads to a perception of the attack on the college student that is in complete contrast with the world outside.

"We respect our women," village elder Ranbir Yadav tells me.

"But we also have our traditions," he adds, gesticulating at a young woman who hurries away from us with her face averted, her head covered. As he explains, unmarried women in the village cannot travel unescorted or reveal their face to men.

As the villagers sit around, their sense of anger is pronounced.

"All the boys are innocent," one man tells me. "They did not rape anyone but yes, they may have beaten the couple up."

"All these city kids, they come here to have a good time," another villager says.

"Every evening they drive up here in their vehicles and drink and have sex. What was that couple doing here? Why don't the police take action against them?"

It's a point of view that appears to be at odds with a cosmopolitan, modern urban culture that Delhi or urban India represents.

But Sanjay Srivastava says the reality is much more complex.

"Part of this conflict is not just a social conflict, people saying city girls are bad, but also an anger at city people for what is often seen as an exploitative relationship between the village and the city," he says.

Intense anger

Fifteen minutes from Gadi Chaukhandi is the Great India Mall.

This is where young college students come to hang out. It is where the victim and her friend had spent some time before apparently driving out into the countryside.

The mood here too is one of intense anger - directed at the villagers.

A group of college girls are animated as they voice their opinion at a brightly-lit cafe.

"Whatever we do, it's our choice and our life. If we make out in public and people see us it's our problem. Who are you to punish us?" asks one angry teenager.

"Our privacy is what is important to us - not what the villagers think. They are not literate and do not know what a modern society is all about," says another.

But disturbingly, the other concern being voiced is a sense of insecurity and lack of confidence in the system.

One woman tells me that she no longer feels safe in Delhi.

Her male friend says he's decided to take matters into his own hands.

"As a matter of fact I keep a hockey stick in my car. Maybe a month later I'll keep a licensed pistol. Self defence is the key to survival here, sadly."

This growing insecurity is only increasing the divide between the two Indias - rural and urban.

The country's rapid economic progress has created plenty of wealth - across the board. But the social and cultural gap is sowing the seeds of a conflict that often explodes into violence.

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