India stood at the threshold of a supermarket revolution as December 2012 drew closer with a promise of bringing some huge foreign investment but for a rape – the rape which was neither the first nor would be the last in its capital city New Delhi where sexism rules the air.
In the latest incident, drunk goons driving a bus along city’s fastest driveway Ring Road picked up a girl to make her body their crime scene and beat her to near death before throwing her in bleeding state anywhere they felt like, proving the almost confirmed concern that women are not safe in capital Delhi.
Actually, cries of a teenage girl, raped by a group of men in neighbouring Haryana, were still echoing when this December 16 night horror spread like wild fire throughout the country of over one billion people who do not give freedom to their women and still consider sex a taboo.
“Sure the world did not end … weren’t we expecting something like ‘2012’ or ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ …. how disappointed we were …. but tell me … weren’t the Mayans right? Open the newspaper and you will see that the world DID end … It was the END OF HUMANITY!!! …and it did not have the dolby-surround type special effects of a Hollywood movie … it ended with sobs and cries of a 23-year-old … that fell on ears that had stopped hearing ages ago… eyes that stopped seeing ages ago … and a heart that stopped feeling… ages ago!” said Gitanjali Kaul, letting her emotions spill over her social networking page.
Soon, sheer bad luck loomed large over the face of the major ruling party Congress that was trying to recover from a strong criticism by the opposition parties over its Foreign Direct Investment policies. And for its inept handling of the latest gang rape, the entire country erupted – this time led by youth.
Most importantly, the capital Delhi faced most of the heart burn, like last time when an old man sprang from nowhere to impress the nation to wear caps that read his name – Anna Hazare – and to arrest the nation over the issue of corruption.
This time it were the youngsters – both boys and girls – who swelled India’s heart – Raisina Hill, parading its most prestigious road, royally called Rajpath, much ahead of country’s Republic Day when the country showcases its cultural diversity and military might on January 26 every year, here only.
While the rape victim battled severe injuries at a city hospital, hundreds of thousands of youth sang chorus in one voice – “We Want Justice.” Sentiments then suddenly turned fiery as their guardians, and a lot of them, backed their star children to occupy the streets to protest the bestial rape on a moving bus. The gory incident of December 16, 2012 had shaken everyone’s conscience with such outrage that it appeared the crowd would not stop for anything – not even an assurance from the government that it was duty-bound to protect its citizens.
Protesters encircled and jammed several areas of the capital leading to traffic crawls but the public did not complain this time. India’s Parliament too erupted in angry protests and condemnation with opposition leader Sushma Swaraj, herself a one-time lawyer, demanding death sentence for the rapists. “She will live her whole life as a living corpse if she survives,” Swaraj said of the victim. “Why should there not be the death penalty in such a case?”
The youth also carried such posters that well expressed the visual sensibility; for instance, “Hang The Rapists”. It appeared as if the entire young India is out, said Vishnu Vijay, a student joining the protests. “There was no one to listen to us, to attend to our demands and grievances,” he rued as the rest of India braved the cold December weather venting anger. Some even blamed the Indian cinema for the rising sexual assaults across the country and promoting the hero as a muscular body character and the heroine as sexy-glamourous-lusty girl. (Clear here to read a different view – Why does everything boil down to Bollywood?)
The charge coincided release of a much-hyped Hindi movie ‘Dabangg 2’ that screened a provocative item number – ‘Main to tanduri main to tanduri murgi hoon yaar, Gatkale saiyan alcohol se oh yeah‘ (I am roasted chicken my dear, Gulp me down with some whisky), capable of testing Indian male’s morality and sexuality. (Click here for the song.)
“How responsible is Bollywood for the poor portrayal of women on screen,” I asked veteran actor and theatre personality Om Puri, who, at the outset, burst out: “Delhi ek ghatia shehar hai‘ (Delhi is a cheap place). And so far as linking rapes with cinema is concerned, it is not that such incidents did not occur when Bollywood wasn’t there.” The actor demanded that rapists be hanged and hanged fast but as the protest demands gathered momentum, the government moved hurriedly to stamp out the youth, greeting them with water cannons, tear shells and batons.
The mood of the Indians could be gauged from the fact that, during the same period, an irate mob in country’s eastern state of Jharkhand lynched five men accused of harassing women in an area called Khunti. And (but) further east, in the state of Manipur, an actress was molested during a public performance, leading to violent protests that killed a video journalist.
In Delhi, the government said it had arrested the accused in the gang rape incident, with chief minister of the city-state Sheila Dixit assuring: “We’ll work collectively to see we make a law which is deterrent and preventive.” The prime minister Manmohan Singh also addressed the nation.
But it remains totally unclear as to how and when Indian lawmakers would decide death by hanging in such heinous crimes as the focus must now shift to speedy trial in the instant case that would not be an easy game for India’s criminal justice system. In reality, the entire system, at times, appear incompetent, corrupt and very slow.
Thus, how India responds effectively is something that is on the mind of every person, especially women for whom being harassed is an everyday experience, despite India witnessing an impressive record of women reaching the highest political echelons. Add to this, sexual assault, domestic violence, incest and teasing which are so common in the country while the injustices against women are widespread and a way of life.
According to Tula Goenka, film-maker and professor at the Syracuse University (U.S.), “It is not about justice being delivered for just one case but about changing the entire mindset of a nation which condones violence against women. This is not a problem only in Delhi but all over India. Women are usually safer away from the police than near them because they will just let the violence continue.”
Rashmin Tamhne, a practising doctor in the U.K. says, “In the present context, it amounts to collectively bringing about some fundamental changes in society’s attitude towards the ‘female gender’, starting from addressing female infanticide, and considering ALL similarly entrenched ills! Hanging those guys, howsoever satisfying in the short-term, and deploying all the outrage-generated emotions to that end, will not change anything in my view!”
The such views are echoed by Aradhana Chaturvedi, researcher and women activist, who feels that there is genuine and justified anger and anguish at the ghastly crime of gang rape but the cries of the people are mostly reactionary. “Many a times I feel as if I should disappear like Mr.India from a place that haunts. But that is not possible in reality. Hence, we all must strive to bring the long due changes in the behaviour of men towards women.”
Pooja Singhal, the youngest woman to top India’s coveted civil services examination, perhaps has the best message for the society when she says: “It seems that a GIRL in India needs to be fortunate enough to be born and not be aborted by her parents for being a girl child; fortunate enough to pass through her teens and youth without being savagely raped; fortunate enough to have a marriage without being burnt for dowry by her in-laws…what has happened to a country which so-called worships Lady Goddess Durga and Shakti.”