As the world gets ready to bid the old year an honourable goodbye and usher in the New Year with love and hope, India is in the grip of a pain. A 23-year old paramedic student suffers brutal rape and passes away, not without putting up a brave fight. In the few days that she was in the hospital undergoing intensive care after her intestines had to be medically severed following the incident, she had in signs and writing told her mother, “I want to live.” The incident has struck the nerve of a growing middle class India for whom freedom is still an elusive word.
Far in Melbourne, the rippling effect of the country’s shock was felt. Indians turned up in numbers to offer their condolences for the girl who became a symbol of resistance to the oppression of women in such a short time. People called for immediate punishment to the perpetrators of the crime – the five men and one juvenile who are now locked in Tihar Jail and a remand home. Indians in Australia showed their solidarity to an incident that has shaken the country like never before.
I cannot totally take my mind off the horror. Delhi was home to me for more than 15 years and the news convulses me in much the same way it is convulsing India right now. The brutality of the rape was so shocking; not that people have decent and crime-free existence in the western world, but the frequency of rape in Delhi beats any other place in the country. It is not my assumption; it is what the National Crime Records Bureau states. In fact, going by its reports, a rape takes place every 20 minutes in India.
It was in Motibagh, Delhi, some years ago that a north-eastern call centre employee was raped after she went out to have tea at a dhaba after work in the wee hours of the morning. Of course, the victim was blamed for wearing skimpy clothes and going out at such an odd hour. In the recent case, the girl’s boyfriend has also been derided for hopping into the bus at 9:30 pm instead of taking a taxi. True, prevention is better than cure but how long will Indian women live in peril? You are worried about being home at a particular time, you are worried about dressing up appropriately, you are worried about hanging out with boys more than girls, you are worried about having to find the right husband at a right age, the list could go on.
I remember meeting a distant relative many years back. She was coming to live and work in Delhi after having lived in different parts of India under the shadow of her father who was serving in the army. She shocked me by saying she could not cut her long hair as her father thought only ‘fast women’ had short hair. It is a different story that she later on went against the wishes of her father and eloped with a man outside the community but it is the mindset of the father I still have problems trying to fathom. If a supposedly educated army officer has such pre-conceived notions about women, what must be the mindsets of those small time businessmen and agricultural Jat men, labourers and slum dwellers dotting the landscape between Munirka and Mahipalpur (the stretch where the latest crime took place)? The men who are landlords to hundreds of northeastern students, the men who own these buses and tempos, the men who wear their manhood in their sleeves. No wonder a certain Panchayat leader of this ilk stated that consuming food such as chowmein leads to rape. But more importantly was another ludicrous statement from a celebrated woman politician of the country who said that rapes occur because of free mingling between men and women.
Every time an incident of this nature occurs in India, the blame game begins. Policemen for not doing their jobs, politicians for being self-serving asses, judiciary for being lackadaisical, parents for being irresponsible and so on while at the same time hundreds of TV channels scurry for the silliest of sound bytes. And then the noise abates. The case is pushed into the periphery, the accused out on bail. Same old story, nothing changes. That is the scariest part. Rape occurs because it is abetted by a mindset that feeds into a static but libidinous system.
I can say with certainty that I have had my share of crossing paths with deranged men in Delhi. They pass lewd comments, they cannot walk without trying to grope you, they are constantly adjusting themselves and they rape you with their eyes. It is not my experience alone, it is a story shared among women of Delhi, a city gripped by a degenerating mindset among its many men. It is a no brainer that the northern belt treat its women as nonentities, hence any atrocity against them is committed with impunity. And there is a gender bias for everything including rape. It is always the girl’s fault because she was out with a boy or at a wrong time.
It is time we started pushing for change in mindsets and the small steps can begin at home. Like someone said, rape is not so much about law enforcement, it is about mindsets. I totally second that. If every family begins to value the girl child, arm her with education to be financially independent and give her the right to choose her own spouse — that will bring some semblance of change. Only when girls will be respected for being girls and boys for being boys without segregating roles can we aspire to become an egalitarian society. It is laudable that the government has just announced a new scheme aimed at building character of adolescent boys and changing their mindsets towards women. This is legitimate given that we live in such a male dominated society. But no amount of formal teaching can equate the lessons imparted at homes, within the close confines of the family.
In the death of Nirbhaya (one of her given names) as she was referred to, let’s hope that women and girls in Delhi and the rest of India will be able to get a taste of freedom and security of being a girl ‘inside the womb and outside’.
By Indira Laisram