It is in educational institutions where extra effort must be made to inculcate in students respect for women, for what they are.

A disgusting event has had a tragic end. The nation hangs its head in shame over the trauma and death of a 23-year-old woman so brutally gang-raped and beaten to pulp. As politicians and law enforcement officials mull over the next step, the larger India must ask itself a simple question — are we going to allow this disgust to continue and tragically so?

Some are calling for instant justice — take the rapists out, hang them and then ask questions. But the most sober in society are calling naturally for tougher laws that mandate the death penalty for a convicted offender. The temptation for quick retribution — the lynch mob style — should not take away or ignore the fact that as the world’s largest democracy, we are a nation of laws, however slow justice may be delivered. That sets us apart from banana republics.

Inexplicable terms

What took place in Delhi was horrific and the reaction in the capital city and in the rest of the nation was almost spontaneous. The force of the protests was such that the media started “reporting” rapes from the four corners of India, making the point that what took place in Delhi is what is taking place in India as a whole.

Reports pertaining to ‘rapes,’ ‘incest’ and any form of harassment were always silenced eventually due to the two terms that we generally use when we have no explanations — culture and politics.

Even in the midst of the horrific outrage in Delhi, sick minds continued to have their way — how else could you account for a woman journalist being groped as she was trying to cover the massive protests at Jantar Mantar? Or, what could we make out of a police official’s refrain in Chennai that action could not be taken against a molester just because he happened to be the brother-in-law of a judicial officer? What do we make out of India?

The physical and emotional pain suffered by Nirbhaya (not her real name) and her family is something that many women across India feel silently and almost on a daily basis and much of it under the guise of “culture.” It is atrocious to say that there is something called a “cultural context” to rape, and worse to make the point that the issue is best put to rest as there is a “culture” to contend with. There can be nothing more cowardly than invoking culture so as not to discuss or deal with a sensitive issue pertaining to women.

The hoopla over the tragedy will continue for some time — as long as the media keep it afloat or until such time some other issue makes the front page.

And in the meantime, politicians cutting across party lines will try to take advantage of the situation by making the point that he or she or this party or that party alone was responsible for the tougher rape law. Those tougher laws, including the death penalty, are not going to make Nirbhaya rest in peace.

Nirbhaya’s soul will rest in peace only if the larger aspect of rapes, sexual assault and harassment is addressed meaningfully so as to change society without losing track of the culture of India. What even educated people forget is that sexual discrimination has not only to do with employment figures — it has everything to do with how women are treated, be it in an office or elsewhere. And how sensitive are officials in authority to genuine complaints?

More often than not, persons who complain are harassed, abused or warned to drop the charges or face the consequences. Only when women are respected for what they are, rather than for what they wear, will we see the dawn of a better society. Even today one group still blames the Delhi victim and her friend for going to a late-night movie and for boarding a private bus. Why should it always be a moral science lesson for the girl, and not the guy? Isn’t it a shame that people still believe that the girl tempts the person to rape her?

So what is the answer? It is in educational institutions where extra effort must be made to inculcate in students respect for women, for what they are. This is not going to be easy in a society where women are looked down upon as the “weaker” sex, if not inferior to men. But a beginning must be made.

Placing a rope over the neck or castrating the culprits is not going to be the only effective deterrent. Sensitising people to the issue is the way to go about. Institutions of higher learning must take upon themselves to enlighten students on the rightful place of women in society and in the process highlight the troublesome issues — sexual discrimination, harassment, assault and rape.

“She” was always a pain in the neck, unwelcome even before she was born, a constant nag to the family as she had to be watched. If things go wrong, it is always because of “her” — if the home is unkept, food is bad, children are spoiled brats or a marriage is broken. It is time for the subaltern to speak. The voice might be feeble, trembling and muffled — after all this is the voice of the community that has been silenced for centuries. A community that was given birth to and raised for the sole reason to make “the other half happy” — bitter it might sound but undoubtedly the truth.

(The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, SRM University, Chennai. Email: arul.archana25 @gmail.com)

More In: Open Page | Opinion