Even all the highs that a shopping spree gives me this festive time here cannot totally take my mind off the horror.  The news about the 23-year old paramedic student who was gang raped in a moving bus in south Delhi, the area that was home to me for a good fifteen years, convulses me in much the same way it is convulsing India right now. The brutality of the rape is so shocking; the victim has practically no intestines left after an iron rod was inserted into her. 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. 

Living outside India, I am prouder being a woman. The discrimination is not blatant and the support system is tremendous. In fact, I joke with some of my single woman friends that it is best to live in a western world when one is past the marital age in India because nobody questions your single status. It was a sentiment echoed by a ‘single’ friend who travelled to Germany and enjoyed anonymity and freedom because she was not met with questions such as “Are you married?” What is more, single mothers in Australia get all the facilities from the government to support themselves. Even in case of rape and such like, there are many active forums such as Sexual Assault Services who provide women with counselling and other support strategies to get on with their lives. Also with a speedy judiciary and effective policemen, no one is above the law. I cannot imagine how the life of the paramedic 23-year old victim will pan out but let’s hope she is given the privacy and honour to continue living her life as just another normal individual, not as the debauched one.


Simply Curious said...

When I look around me, I see not just Delhi,India that has spiralled out of control, but also, every place in the world. In the US, one hears of rampant firing incidents that take place just anywhere without any rhyme or reason. I see victims of war and violence and politics everywhere and whereas I agree that girls are not safe in Delhi but, I know it is also true everywhere in India. Only difference is that more complaints are filed in Delhi than anywhere else in India. Try filing a simple theft report in Bombay and you'll know what I'm saying plus add the social stigma angle and see where I'm coming from.
The root of the issue as you have rightly pointed out is in treating and educating the boys and girls as equals and then not segragating normal tasks and chores on the basis of gender.
Respect has to come from inside and respecting women should be a normal part of a family's routine and you know as well as I, that it is just not the case. We also need to protect our children from the predators who come in the guise of relatives and molest them. I am sure that we all know of such cases inside every household yet, how many are reported?
The change has to come from a macro level, micro-management of rapes and other abuses against women and children as a social evil or teaching boys to be deferential to women as a subject to be taught in school would not help.
The penny needs to fall from your end and mine and unfortunately we both do not have sons to teach what is right or daughters to love and protect. But, we certainly have nephews and neices and cousins who are still in school and colleges, we have young men and women who work in our teams and who live in our environment. It is time we taught them what we know will make them better and more tolerable human beings.
One thing that I had always thought was wrong in our culture is the supression of any discussion that is sexual in nature and the other is the recent Bollywood onslaught of Item Numbers. It is unpardonable what our TV is bringing into our drawing rooms every night. We need to irradicate the use of women as a sexual object on media and educate our youth otherwise. It may be too late already but, if we still keep hoping that someone else will do it for us then, nothing will be able to save our girls and us...

BT said...

Rape happens everywhere in India but when you hear of gang rape it always usually is Delhi. I have never lived there but I hear from people all the time that it's not a safe place for women especially north east women.I know rape is a crime regardless of where you are from but why all this brouhaha now when so many north east women have met similar fate. How come the media never seems to notice when people of the north east experience similar heinous crime being committed on them ? One word - Fucking Blatant Racism, that's why ?

Indira said...

shoma - you are so right! unfortunately we have a knee jerk reaction to everything!
BT racism is instrinsic to indian society and yet we continuously keep pointing our fingers to others without cleaning our own backyards. as for the media, the less said the better

Anonymous said...

Honestly though, I sometimes just feel so humiliated to be an Indian. Not because I'm a girl: but because so much segregation goes one, and it's not that I won't try to just it; it's because that even thought I might try, no one will listen. I live in America now, and I'd rather just convince my parents to become American citizens. And blaming the girl? What? Are you mental? Don't tell you daughters that they should be more careful, tell your sons to respect women. I'm scared if I go to India, I have to bare all this. I'm scared of how my brothers will grow up in this atmosphere and how they will turn out. But do you want to know what the worst part is? That even though we suffer this much, it is the next generation, your daughters, your nieces, and the girls who come from the next generation who will suffer the worst. I use to love India; now I'm not sure where I stand.

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