Cultural critique after Nirbhaya: Indian and foreign media commentators negotiate critique of culture and masculinity following the 2012 Delhi rape

Arjun Rajkhowa


In December 2012, when a 23-year-old woman was raped by six assailants inside a bus in Delhi, India, large-scale protests erupted in Delhi and across the country. The issue of violence against women came to dominate the political public sphere in an unprecedented manner. Protests continued through the month of January 2013, and intense public pressure for legal reform as well as for swift delivery of justice in this case precipitated changes in the law as well as the establishment of “fast-track courts” for sexual crimes. Both Indian media and international media covered the case extensively, and scrutiny of the links between masculinity, culture and violence constituted an important theme of media commentary. This paper, which has an exploratory analytical orientation, focuses on three aspects of the media commentary surrounding the case. First, I survey and delineate the different ways in which commentators in mainstream print and online media in India addressed the links between masculinity, culture, misogyny and violence against women; then, I survey foreign mainstream media commentary on the case and explore some of the fissures and conflicts that emerged therein (particularly around the link between culture and violence against women, and feminism); and finally, I conclude by delineating the strain of diffidence and antagonism in Indian politicians’ and media commentators’ criticisms of the BBC documentary India’s Daughter.  My aim here is two-fold: to demonstrate that Indian media commentators adequately addressed the role that masculinity and culture play in violence against women; and to demonstrate that western commentators’ critiques highlighting the same links between culture and violence were met with discomfort and diffidence on the part of both other western commentators and Indian commentators. I argue that while it is useful to interrogate some of the rhetorical and discursive strategies deployed in discussions of culture and gender-based violence – and while I acknowledge the epistemological underpinnings of scepticism of cultural critique – it is nevertheless important to recognise the usefulness of such critique (as a political tool for Indian journalists, activists and scholars engaging with the problem of violence against women, and as a framework for media commentary for journalists and scholars globally), and to recognise the importance of contending with a social problem in all its complexity, without undermining productive modes of analysis.


Nirbhaya; 2012 Delhi rape; Indian media; foreign media; culture; critique; masculinity; misogyny

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