Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented: Elie Wiesel
We, as a nation stood mute witness to the ghastly crimes against women, which was a veritable assault on our democratic credentials and our Constitution that grants safety of life and liberty as a Fundamental Right. As always, after the silence and indifference that enables such crimes in the first place, we are quick to denounce it as an outrage perpetrated by the filthy criminal underbelly of our post-modernised society. On second thoughts, we dissect the crime in the safety of our homes and ask the pertinent questions of what kind of women they were? Did they dress appropriately; follow the time honoured tradition of being accompanied by a responsible male at a respectable hour? Our moral horror at the crime gives way to prurient judgements. Eventually, we forget the episode till something more horrendous shakes us up.
This three-step reaction of snow-balling protests and knee jerk reactions followed by doubts and discomfort ends in a conscious forgetfulness. It is this attitude that has prevented us from taking meaningful legal and policing measures much less moral remapping of the Indian mind that is trapped in irreverence and illegitimate pride in a cultural heritage that apparently worships women.
The truth is we have lost our moral compass and myths have been busted. In what way did a harmless senior citizen, an innocent little girl and an educated young woman provoke a powerful criminal intent on the clean slates of the Indian male minds? How did these atrocious crimes also take place in rural heartlands and respectable flats in residential areas and not near pubs and modern hangouts alone? And when did fruit sellers and newspaper boys become drunken jobless criminals?
Crimes like these come as a rude knock on our political tin ears. There is a growing phalanx of men, young and old, educated and illiterate, employed and jobless, who are the perpetrators of anything from cheap jibes to tasteless humour by the roadsides, sexually explicit insults and harassment at public and domestic spaces and outright molestation, rape and murder targeting women. In all the cases, the criminals are men - individual or in a group and the hapless victims usually women of all age groups and children (both boys and girls).
We need to wake up to the fact that something is wrong in the way we bring up our children in the Indian family tradition. I am not hesitant to admit that the quintessential Indian male child is the centre of the family’s expectations and his female counterpart the bearer of honour and tradition. The Indian son is unbelievably pampered by material comforts often taking the lion’s share of the family income and time for his education, health and general well-being. The Indian daughter often is the service provider, the labourer who willingly or unwillingly gives her rightful share of health and wealth to fatten the macho brother who will eventually earn for the entire family in the future. Even in the middle class families that educate their girls, there is a time when young women are asked to sacrifice their education for a quick job to supplement the family income, their job, eventually for an arranged marriage to honour the family tradition. The Indian son, in the meanwhile, huffs and puffs and scrapes through his degree, toils through his well paid job and possibly a foreign education and an easy income-generating marriage model that will considerably widen the choice of how he will settle.
We have pre-determined roles for men and women and we are averse to even scratching the roots of such an unfavourable system. We will see more girls in schools and more women in work places, but leading a conditional compromised life of bearing honour without respect. And we will see more and more boys, spoilt and indifferent easily climbing the ladders of success and respectability without responsibility. And the odd grotesque Indian male criminal will repeatedly rape our collective conscience and ravish the feminine dignity as we descend into a Dickensian world of “a grimy impoverished society”.