I've just read this article on the BBC website about the rape and murder of a young woman in Dehli three years ago. I heard about the rape at the time, but this article focuses on interviews with the men that did it and their lawyers.
The most shocking parts of the piece are the reactions of the culprits and the implication that this mindset is commonplace in that part of Indian society.
I have no insights into Indian society (I touristed around on the train system back in the late 80s with my girlfriend (now wife) but only gained a wholly surface impression). The huge backlash against this event in India clearly indicates a great many people there were also horrified and outraged by the crime. So all I'm offering are the impressions of the journalist (Leslee Udwin). (Go read the article). I've included some extracts below - after which I consider the implications.
From the article
The horrifying details of the rape had led me to expect deranged monsters. Psychopaths. The truth was far more chilling. These were ordinary, apparently normal and certainly unremarkable men.
Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus, described to me every detail of what happened during and after the incident. While prosecutors say the men took turns to drive the bus, and all took part in the rape, Singh says he stayed at the wheel throughout.
Along with three of the other attackers, Singh is now appealing against his death sentence. In 16 hours of interviews, Singh showed no remorse and kept expressing bewilderment that such a fuss was being made about this rape, when everyone was at it.
"A decent girl won't roam around at nine o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy," he said.
"Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good."
People "had a right to teach them a lesson" he suggested - and he said the woman should have put up with it.
"When being raped, she shouldn't fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they'd have dropped her off after 'doing her', and only hit the boy," he said.
Chillingly, he went on: "The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won't leave the girl like we did. They will kill her. Before, they would rape and say, 'Leave her, she won't tell anyone.' Now when they rape, especially the criminal types, they will just kill the girl. Death."
I had the long and shocking list of injuries the young woman had sustained, read out to him. I tried, really hard, to search for a glimmer of regret. There was none.
One of the men I interviewed, Gaurav, had raped a five-year-old girl. I spent three hours filming his interview as he recounted in explicit detail how he had muffled her screams with his big hand.
He was sitting throughout the interview and had a half-smile playing on his lips throughout - his nervousness in the presence of a camera, perhaps. At one point I asked him to tell me how tall she was. He stood up, and with his eerie half-smile indicated a height around his knees.
When I asked him how he could cross the line from imagining what he wanted to do, to actually doing it - given her height, her eyes, her screams - he looked at me as though I was crazy for even asking the question and said: "She was beggar girl. Her life was of no value."
(Still more astonishing and worrying are the comments of the lawyers for these men.)
So, if you read that without your jaw dropping or a tear in your eye you're more widely experienced and made of sterner stuff than I am.
I didn't write Prince of Thorns for publication. I wrote it because I enjoy writing. When, years after finishing it, I gave in and let myself be 'bullied' into sending it to a handful of agents nobody was more surprised than me to find it getting swiftly snapped up by publishers.
The inspiration for the main character, Jorg, came directly from Alex in Anthony Burgess' novel of 1962, A Clockwork Orange.
Like Alex, Jorg is young (13 when we meet him), charismatic, violent and amoral, running with a lawless crew. Like Alex, Jorg takes part in a rape (with the implication that this isn't the first). It's alluded to in a brief paragraph, shown below and whited out for those who don't want to see (though the article above makes it mild in comparison). Just highlight it to read.
The fat girl had a lot to say, just like her father. Screeched like a barn owl: hurt my ears with it. I liked the older one better. She was quiet enough. So quiet you'd give a twist here or there just to check she hadn't died of fright.
The story is told from the first person point of view and the act is not excused or forgiven but neither is it condemned - it's not unusual for the war-torn and primitive society described. Jorg is shown as a violent person who does many unforgivable things. He is the main character but he is also, by many definitions, 'evil'. The trilogy is in large part an exploration of such a person - what kind of man he grows into, how the years change him, how his past shapes him. The aim is a mature character study, showing a person who has many aspects the reader might like, a person who is interesting and involved in interesting things (or I would have few readers).
Jorg's actions are never explicitly condemned because I assume(d) that the hypothetical reader is someone like me living in an environment where everybody knows that rape and murder are horrific crimes. When writing fiction in such a setting I'm not writing a guide to life - my default is the fantasy readership found in the UK and the US, intelligent, educated, raised in a society where the ideas 'murder is terrible', 'rape is terrible', 'torture is terrible' are on a par with '1+1=2', basic unassailable facts.
As I've said - I didn't write for publication, and when I was published it was initially into English, Dutch, German, and French. I had no problem with presenting Jorg to such an audience.
I'm now published in over 20 languages and many countries. I'm not published in India or in any Indian languages but my books are sold in India in English and I've had contact with a number of Indian readers - all of whom seemed to be much like a western audience in their reaction to the work.
My work on sale in a Starmark store in Chennai (Madras)
I do acknowledge though that if Prince of Thorns were read by people who share the cultural mindset of the men described in the article - it would at best be a book that did nothing to help and at worst be a book that might even reinforce such attitudes by being misinterpreted as a work that offered tacit approval of their view of these things as everyday, trivial, and unremarkable.
Typing away at a fantasy tale ten years ago for the entertainment of a handful of fellow unpublished writers on a critique forum, I never imagined my story would be read more widely. If I had nursed an ambition to be published then I would have thought in terms of making the shelves of my local bookshop. Even if I had dreamed big and imagined being sold in Paris, London, New York, Munich... I would not have had a problem with my content.
In the past two weeks though I've been sent photographs of my work on the shelves of a bookstore in New Dehli (the city where the rape happened) and at an airport in central Vietnam (just an example of a place that is very far, in various ways, from where I live).
Having read this article - I can say that if I had had an inkling of quite how far afield this work would reach and of how vastly different the mindsets of some parts of some of those societies where it sells are ... I would have changed elements of the story.
[edit: it should be noted that I arrived at this point in-spite of attacks over the years by the highly tribal polarised and politicised elements on the internet, not because of them. Absolutely not because of them. If anything the ranting accusations, being told I'm mansplaining, or a neck-beard or a woman-hater or whatever, have been a significant obstacle to reaching this conclusion.]