Friday, January 18, 2013

A Month Down The Line

            In her brief tryst with the world, she acquired many sobriquets. Some called her Damini, some Amanat and others Nirbhaya. As was revealed by her grieving father, her name, actually, was Jyoti. Well, more apt. While receding into eternal darkness, while being embraced by death, she lit a flame which illuminated many.

            A month since the heinous incident, and it makes sense to ask where is it that we have arrived. Protesting multitudes have gone hoarse shouting slogans. The injuries incurred during an unwarranted state response have now been healed. Perpetrators have been nabbed and shunned not just by the public, but by their co-inmates. A deluge of insensitive comments by people in power have been issued to make a mockery of the composite, vibrant culture we show off to the world. Debates on death penalty and chemical castration have mellowed down, but not before they acquired a more nuanced character. Some parents have gone paranoid with safety concerns; others have opened themselves up more to the world and refused to bow down to fear. A committee has been constituted to suggest reforms for greater gender parity and safety. Fast track courts have been established. In the backdrop of all this, a family has been silently weeping for the loss of that brave child, who loved buying new clothes, and who was the promise of light in their life.

            A few days into the protest, a gentle female friend of mine left me a text. She had a concern. While she thought that the protests were okay, she wanted to convince me that it was, after all, the girl’s mistake that she was in that circumstance. It took me a nano second to take umbrage. Callous, barbaric, incredible, pathetic and downright preposterous comments about rape, adequately reflective of our incorrigible patriarchal mind-set, had been emanating from the mouths of almost all in whose face a microphone was thrust. These were the high and the mighty of our society. However, behind closed doors of humble, nondescript houses, in our very generation which has catalysed this movement against rape, there did exist similar ideologies. My friend was but one example. I wanted to shout at her. I was at pain to understand how does a woman not understand the pain, the agony, and the rights of another woman. A moment more, and I did realize, that all this is reflective of the very disease which has conditioned us. Women, before they challenge men to grant them equality, have to liberate themselves from their own subjugated psyches, their own complexes when pitted against the perceived superior males.
            This article was intended to evaluate how a month of protesting, debating and displaying our anger has altered our environment. The sceptics shall be quick to guffaw and dismiss this collective anger as frivolous, transitory and inconsequential. The believers shall offer a version in absolute contradiction. However, what happened in Delhi on that fateful night has not left anyone of us untouched. We have our takes on it, and it is important that we accommodate the perspectives of each other in a collective understanding of the incident and its aftermath. That is the only way we truly learn.

            So, have these protests stopped rapes? No. They did not. They couldn’t have; because, no matter how motivated a group of young protesters, it is still not sufficient to weed out what has been a part of our society since centuries. Yes, rape has been a part of our society. There have been Kings known for their penchant for ‘deflowering’ maidens. Why? Because a woman’s body has been seen as something to be conquered, controlled. So, when not fighting wars, these Maharajas would love sorting out virgins and violating their honour, and, interestingly, even keeping souvenirs from their conquests – which could be a stained bedsheet or a nose-ring (worn primarily by virgins). It is understood by most now, that there is nothing sexual about rape. It is more of a measure for ‘disciplining’ the weaker sex, of showing them their place. Yes, the rapes have not stopped, but this understanding has been put their in the open. A month down the line, we have grown up a little.

            The most instant response to this incident of rape were deafening cries of a quick and definitive death penalty for the convicts. Did that happen? No. It did not. I do not know if it will, and I don’t care if it does. The government, the media and the judiciary took note. Emotions and rationalities collided. And today, even though the debate rages on, it is perfectly understood that perhaps death penalty is not the solution to this problem. If anything, it will worsen the situation at hand. A rapist might be tempted to kill his prey, in an attempt to dispose off evidence and the conviction rate for rapes, which is an abysmal 26% now, might fall to as low as 2%.

            There is no clear cut solution to the problem at hand, but if any, our only chance lies in working at the very roots. The feeling of superiority is infused in the male since his early childhood, when he is treated preferentially over his deprived sister. He knows he can shout at his mother and get away. The same treatment, unfortunately, is carried forward to schools. Girls are singled out in schools to ‘behave’ themselves when seen in male company. The feeling of being exclusive of each other’s environment is inculcated at the step when a teacher attempts to segregate the sitting pattern to create a clear line between girls and boys. Sex education is still a far fetched dream in most educational set ups. The chapter on reproduction is taught like a forbidden secret – to be heard and forgotten – no questions asked. I do not know how can it be done, but boys and girls are not taught to be comfortable with their bodies at the very age when it is changing and is perhaps the single biggest source of anxiety for them. Many of you might have had parents who shed light on these topics, but trust me, most girls discover the meaning of word ‘periods’ in hauntingly embarrassing situations in schools.

            How is all this relevant to the rape talk? Well, if not this, then what is? When a passing car stopped by me, passed comments at me and wanted give me lift lest my ‘gora badan’ be tired of walking the distance at home, I knew I would not tell my parents about it. The reason is simple enough. It is ‘my’ freedom that would have been curtailed, while that car would have roamed free. ‘I’ would have been the person bearing the brunt of someone else’s perversion. These are ideas ingrained in us. A girl in class fourth was being inappropriately touched by her classmate, and she felt not anger, but guilt at his invasion. Why? Who taught her to be guilty? She suffered in silence till she fell sick. Why could she not talk to anyone about it? She knew something was wrong, but what, she had no clue. Perhaps if her teachers or parents had been better sensitized by counselling, or whatever means, it might not have been a dent for life on her psyche. Sensitization. Of parents, peers, police, judiciary, of everyone. It is a long term solution, but perhaps our only bet. What has to be weeded out lies deep within the mind like a tumour. A noose around the neck will just not do the trick.

            At the end, I cannot help but quote Dushyant Kumar in what seems like the most perfect context –

“Sirf hungama khada karna mera maqsad nahi
Meri koshish hai ke soorat badalni chahiye
Mere seene mein nahi toh tere seene mein sahi
Ho kaheen bhi aag lekin aag jalni chahiye.”


  1. Reading this article made me think "yahi toh hai wo jo mere mann mein tha". You have given voice to my anguish.
    Why is it that when men seek to humiliate a woman, they "soil" her and rape her, and it is her body that is now unclean and dirty. Why does nobody say that the man has dirtied himself and brought shame to his own name? Or do men not hold their bodies as sacred to themselves as women do? Because I can't think of any other reason

    1. The reason is long and complex and perhaps not even necessary. The point is that all this needs to change. I recently started working with an organization to give more voice to my convictions. Lets hope the path is elevating from here, and that we do not have to move through depressions again.

      Thanks for leaving behind a sympathetic note!

  2. Saumya, in the past one month, I've been reading posts by so many people, but your post aptly describes the scenario. Quoting your words only 'All this is reflective of the very disease which has conditioned us', and certainly 'aag jalte rehni chahiye'. But how to send the message in the brains of those who relly need to change their mindset. Those who are reading it, writing about it and talking about are (perhaps) the ones who do not need a change in the mindset. And those who aren't, basically need it. This bimodalism concerns me. Hope we could bring that change!
    @ Archika, I agree. In fact, we need not ask 'why', rather we should must those people exactly the same.

    1. Spread the word. Allow no nonsense to take place in your immediate surroundings. Speak up for what is wrong. Empower the women of your house. Allow no man to treat them as inferior beings. Lead not by chastising, but by become an example.

      Vow to sort out your own space, and hope that things will also change and adopt a saner course.

  3. Brilliant, Saumya! Your pen is sensitive and honest - not an easy find. Hats off.

    1. Mini ma'am, your words are a big boost for me. Thank you so much. I hope my pen always keeps pouring out stuff which I strongly feel about.