Anti-rape Protests Do Not Give Me Hope
December 24, 2012
The Delhi rape case is the tipping point about women’s safety in India. Or is it?
I spent the last one week (December 16-December 23, 2012) reading - blogs, Facebook and twitter messages, newspaper edits, analysis and searing comments on message boards. I wanted to write much earlier, give vent to the frustration, anger and disgust that I, like millions of others felt, but somehow words failed me. What more can I write that hasn’t been written? What more can I say than what is being already said?
Indeed, this rape of a 23-year-old in a moving bus could have been just another news story, just another statistic on Delhi’s extra-ordinarily long crime chart. Then we heard the details – the graphic, gory details. And something snapped. It couldn’t go on.
It must NOT go on. As I write this piece, I am watching on TV, police trying to quell protestors at India Gate, Delhi with water cannons and tear gas. The last two days (December 22nd and December 23rd 2012) have been special. Never before has a gang rape evoked such massive protests. You can see the rage in the eyes of the students, the housewives, the little girls and heartwarmingly, the men.
So has this case been the proverbial tipping point? Will we see something finally ‘happen’? Will Delhi and the rest of India be a marginally safer place for women? Will they finally stop blaming women for everything bad that happens to us?
The idealist and romantic in me wants to say yes. The realist and cynic within me says No.
Flashback to July this year. A shocked nation watched in horror the group molestation ON CAMERA of a young girl in Guwahati. That incident too led to similar outrage, followed by the same edits, tweets, analyses, empty promises. 2012 began with molestation, ended with a brutal gang rape. Nothing has changed. Open the newspaper and it’s the same story repeated every single day. This is not to say that PLUs (people like us) are not more aware, more agitated, more disgusted. This is just to say, the more things change, the more they remain the same. When the TV cameras go away, so does the outrage.
Now, flashback to 2011. Belonging to the much-derided middle-class that has always been criticized for not taking a firm stand, not voting, not protesting against injustice etc., one assumed that nothing would ever change. However, the Anna Hazare movement provided a brief glimpse of hope. Perhaps for the first time, the middle class stepped out of the comfort of their living rooms and voiced their anger. Nearly 18 months on, the movement is practically dead, the principal characters are directionless and scams are tumbling out with more regularity than ever before. There is little difference in ground realities.
But the biggest reason for my skepticism is the social attitude – the way we are. After the Guwahati incident, the debates and opinions were clearly divided into two categories. One, the conservative loonies who felt the girl deserved what she got and the other group were the liberals – who felt revolted at what happened and believed the culprits must be punished never mind what the girl was doing at that hour.
All of it pointed to one bitter truth – India is largely, majorly, primarily a country of woman-haters. Do NOT get deluded by the messages on social media, the bloggers, the youngsters’ voices on TV … They are the visible but ineffective minority who don’t really make up the country. The large, vocal majority (of which the people who run the ‘system’ are a part of), still believe in subservience of women. Knowingly or unknowingly, they still perpetuate age-old prejudices. And it’s true not just of the semi-literate, aspirational small towner but so-called educated, super aspirational, wanting-to-be-global urbanite.
A small example. Three years ago, the gang rape of a young exchange student from the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) created shockwaves in Mumbai. I used to work in Mumbai Mirror, a tabloid of the Times of India group and had reported on it. Naturally, there was a lot of discussion about it in office. Once, during lunch hour, a fellow female journalist (who held a high position in a financial daily) said, “What a sad incident. But the girl was at fault too. Why did she have to go out with these boys?” She wasn’t being insensitive but those words just brought out the deep-rooted belief that the onus of rape lies on the woman. So it’s a woman who has to be careful. If this is the attitude of a highly-qualified, urban journalist, why blame the unclejis and auntyis who are forever doling out ‘advice’ on what women should and should not be?
I couldn’t help but wonder about the girl in this Delhi gang rape. Instead of a 23-year-old bright student, out with a male friend at a reasonable time of the night (9.15pm is NOT too late in a metro!), what if her ‘victim profile’ had not been right? What if she was a divorcee, out alone, at say, midnight, not coming out of a movie theatre but a pub wearing a smart, western outfit? Would there have been this much outpouring of sympathy? Or would we have again got into a debate of ‘she deserved it’ vis-à-vis ‘she did not’?
As for the protests that have engulfed the capital, one really doesn’t know what form it will take given that hooliganism and vandalism has overtaken genuine protesters. Somehow, they are evoking a certain sense of déjà vu instead of hope.
As an Indian woman, desperately clutching for a few rays of hope, strangely, the only direction I turn to are men. In those protests and articles, are many, many male voices who support the right of women to be themselves. The men who not see women as a piece of meat but as individuals in their own right, with the right to live the life they want to. We need THEIR voices to be heard. Heard aloud.
Simply because, rape is not a woman’s problem. It’s a man’s problem. So men better speak out. Will that happen? Or will it be business as usual? Will this new year’s eve pass by without an incident of eve-teasing, harassment or rape in our metros (the last few years have been horrible, just google it). Your guess is as good as mine.
Photo credit: salon.com