By Vijay Darda | 30-12-2012
As I write this, information is streaming in that the 23-year old physiotherapy student who was brutally gang-raped by half a dozen men in a moving bus and then dumped on the road has been airlifted to Singapore for treatment. She is a brave-heart. She has demonstrated extraordinary tenacity and will to live after such a murderous attack.
I am writing this piece after a pretty long time. I thought I would take a sabbatical. But then this incident which shook the nation did not allow me to rest. And this restlessness has resulted in expressing my innermost feelings.
Rapes, gang-rapes, and the subsequent murderous attacks on the targeted women are not a rare occurrence in our country. Indeed, abuse of women in various degrees and scaling up to rape and murder can be safely described as something that is ingrained in the DNA of our society. Perhaps, the oldest instance is the disrobing of Draupadi in the court of King Dhritrashtra for the faults of her five husbands as all the wisemen in the royal court stood by as mute spectators. She was protected by the divine intervention of Lord Krishna, but ordinary women when exposed to such abuse in various forms cannot invoke such shelter. Once the male species is in the grip of the animalistic passion then nothing seems to restrain him. The victim simply suffers, and has to survive with the trauma and the stigma.
The tragedy of this crime inflicted upon a hapless victim is compounded several times over by the entire range of insensitive response from the rest of the society. “Nangee ghumogi to rape to hoga hi”- this callous remark from a middle-aged Delhi cop to a young fully clad girl (shivering under the intense cold wave conditions) on the violent Sunday is certainly not the last word from a mindset that actually holds the victim responsible for having ‘invited’ the assault.
But that is not the only dimension of a complex, historical attitudinal subjugation of the female sex in our country. Men even in high places, and in supposedly enlightened environs have always inflicted their own brand of ‘proprietorship’ over women. Then the killing of the female foetuses, the burning of brides, and forced menial labour even in marriage or for that matter the currency of the expression ‘rape in marriage’ in legal parlance are all facets that provide an eloquent commentary on the abuse of women. It is shocking that all these elements of anti-women behaviour persist, even as the goddesses are worshipped, and the women get lip-service for being the better halves in the man-woman partnership.
So, while I am in full sympathy with those who demand stricter laws for rape culprits, I do remain skeptical about the efficacy of laws to remedy a situation that has much deeper roots in our societal and personal behaviour. I strongly endorse the viewpoint that the entire system – the political executive, the administrative bureaucracy and the criminal justice apparatus have all collectively failed our women. If you point one finger at anyone of these, then do not forget that the remaining ones are pointed towards you as well. In this collective crime, let not anyone have the luxury of believing that his hands are clean.
Whereas a deeply malignant approach towards women is an integral part of a male-dominated society like ours, in the 21st century, the entire apparatus has not been able to come to terms with the emergence of a middle-class whose aspirations and abilities simply resent such attitudes, and is not prepared to take things lying down. The youth by its nature is rebellious, and unwilling to accept the diktats of those who sit in authority. It is also deeply aware of all the nuances of political responses, and does not want that any element should ‘exploit’ this angst. There is an element of prosperity in this middle-class that was missing in the 80s and 70s when the student unions used to agitate over hikes in tuition fees or the rates of monthly bus passes. These agitations also kept the cops on their toes.
But now for both the political class and the cops handling such agitations it is quite an alien proposition. For the last two years, the city of Delhi has witnessed a singular incapability on the part of the rulers to come up with any mature response to street agitations. The peculiarity of the Delhi state where the police is not under the state government adds another controversial dimension to this already complex governance. Similarly, the ‘off-the-cuff’ remarks of senior Union ministers also betray a shocking insensitivity to the feelings of the people, especially those bearing the brunt of unrestrained police violence on the streets.
There is no easy way out of this tragic situation. Nor can we have any quick-fix remedy to stop crimes against women. It is a mammoth task that requires a dedicated effort from all sides, and multiple solutions. The most important component would be a sustained effort to instil an innate respect among all men for women. The surest remedy is to reserve 50 per cent of all jobs in the country for women – in both government and private sector.
While enacting laws, we must also take into account the experience of the working of other laws for women. For instance, bride burning or anti-dowry provisions have mixed results.
As a media professional, I also feel that there is a greater need to exercise restraint in such matters. We should not forget that the media projected messiahs of 2011 – Anna Hazare, Baba Ramdev, and Arvind Kejriwal – all of whom owe their public profile to the high decibel media exposure have neither achieved their goals, nor remained true to their cause. For all of them, the issues they raised were with the objective of achieving their own political gains. There has to be an appreciation of the news of the day, and its projection as some kind of future game-changer or a battle of second independence within minutes of its taking place. Hype has no place in any sane public discourse. Like a distorted social attitude it also sullies the sanctity of a meaningful dialogue and debate in a democratic society.
This unfortunate rape case has seen a rare convergence of anger across the entire country. That it took place at all is a reflection of our collective failure. But then a mature society learns from its failures, and then converts the situation into an opportunity to improve itself. Here is one such opportunity when the national mood of anger and hurt can be harnessed to take steps that would improve the status of women in our country. The question is whether we would rise to the occasion, or allow this case to become yet another bit of crime statistic.