Towards the end of 2012, one of the most disturbing stories that came out of India and became the biggest global story is the news of the gang rape of an Indian girl (she was coined the name Nirbhaya or fearless for her strength and courage) on a bus. The details of the rape were so brutal that it gave me nightmares for days. What followed was an uproar- women, men all over India were on the streets protesting justice. Anyone and everyone said their piece, and now that the dust has settled I wanted pen my thoughts.
- Firstly, a lot of articles claimed India has an epidemic of attacks against women- that there is something fundamentally wrong with the country. But I believe rape isn’t just an India problem- it happens everywhere. This post here explains that view better than I ever could. Link: Rape is not just India’s problem. I do recognize that statistics cannot be taken at face value because something like 65% of all rapes and assaults are not reported. But as an Indian, accusations of a mindset issue with Indian men riles me up- there is more to the story than a simple statement like “Indian society is messed up”.
- But I do admit that you do feel more unsafe and unsettled walking in India than anywhere else. In one talk show I watched right after the incident, the host asked the crowd how many women were assaulted or molested in a public bus and almost everyone in the audience had their hand up. Everywhere women go, they are inundated with cat calls, vulgar songs from Bollywood movies, and obscene gestures. In crowded public places, women have to have their guards up against mean groping and pushing up against you. Most Indian women have a defense mechanisms- from walking fast, to avoiding eye contact, to using handbags and umbrellas as weapons. But the question then is ” can’t a society protect a woman in a public place?”. Isn’t the first step of a civilized society is safety of a woman in public?
- I guess the next question is to say why do the Indian men act so reprehensibly in public? I can only hypothesize but my theory is women and men are raised very differently in some parts of India. Boys will eventually take care of the parents while girls are married away to another family, so there is preferential treatment to their eventual protector. They get more of a share with everything from the food, to the clothes they get, everything is different. I have seen it in educated families in urban cities. The boys have been raised looking at themselves as better than their sisters. But in the current age, when women are also working and supporting the family, shouldn’t their role in the family be equal to that of their brother in the family?
- Boys and girls are also raised without much interaction- they don’t play together, don’t go to the same schools, and by the time they are in college, they lose the social skills to interact. The only version of women that the boys imagine is probably inspired out of movies. It is my theory that by just having friends of the opposite sex, you don’t view every woman as someone you want to fantasize about- they can be your friends, people you can play sports with or study with. The interaction is more relaxed and there isn’t all this tension.
- A big part of the problem is also the role Bollywood movies and TV serials play in brainwashing the youth. There are dozens of movies in Bollywood where the girl says no, and the boy harasses her continuously until she says yes. That becomes every boy’s fantasy! Women are pigeonholed into the traditional girl with values or the modern girl that needs to be taught a lesson by a boy to become traditional. The modern girl has no value or morals, and is therefore typecasted as easy. Any doubts- watch movies like Cocktail. Such movies and shows rile me up so much! And there are so many movies that show rape as a punishment to take revenge or for some other ridiculous reason, but emphasize the fact that the woman is left helpless and is often forced to marry her rapist. Again, are you kidding me? It is 2013, can we please get real? Can the media take responsibility for the world it is depicting? There has to be some sort of moral compass that even media should follow because for India, it is their aspirational life in the big screen.
- The idiotic politicians and self-proclaimed gurus tend to blame women, for being out late, or for being out with anyone apart from their father or husband, to wearing western clothes. I would love to ignore these nonsensical comments and say no one is going to buy their crap, but a big part of the problem is such troublemakers do have a following that believe every word coming out of their ridiculous mouths. Any woman, whether she is wearing a burkha or a bikini has felt harassment. So clothes cannot be the issue. And if you are telling us that we live in a society where women cannot even walk out in the evening, then we are not a free country.
- To me, another part of the issue is that no one is will to help a woman in danger. The victim and her friend were lying by the side of the road for half an hour but no one stopped to help. There have been instances when someone acted fresh with me on a bus, and most people stand back- rarely few women support you and help you fight back. But for the most part, you are on your own. People are afraid to help because they will dragged into court cases and want to avoid any such inconvenience. But isn’t that a big problem? Any man has a wife/sister/mother who deals with this everyday so wouldn’t they want someone to help them?
- I agree that we need to strengthen the judiciary and police protection in the country. A woman should feel safe to go to a police station and report her case without feeling pressured or judged and there should be an expedited process to address these issues. But I believe that just demanding death penalty to rapists dilutes the issues. It is too simplistic a solution- for every rapist to be hanged, every rape case must go through the judiciary process without delays so the rapists cannot intimidate the victim, the victims need to feel safe reporting such crimes, and there should not be any grounds for pardons. There are too many dependencies on systems that already seem broken. Besides, we should be focusing on making sure this doesn’t happen again.
Let us talk about rape in it’s entirety- solving it isn’t going to be a bandaid solution. It needs a systematic change. Let us channel this awakening for it to lead to something more meaningful, so we don’t need another Nirbhaya to wake us all up.