There is really something wrong with the way we Indians react to any rape case. Every discussion I entered into in most middle class homes confirmed this point. Had the Delhi gang rape not been highlighted, it would certainly have been shoved into some remote corner of our collective memory only to be forgotten with time as have been thousands of cases before this.
Last week, at a dinner the talk invariably revolved round the horrifying Delhi incident. Outwardly most appeared deeply disturbed but within, ironically, there was no urgency for action and no immediacy for a solution. Most were not even convinced that this incident is the rarest of rare cases and it merits as much attention as it is getting. Such things happen every minute in every corner of the country, they said. There have been more ghastardly incidents which haven’t been brought into focus. This case has come into such prominence only because it took place in the most urban of Indian cities and the victim is an educated girl. The matter went on and on in total denial of the poignancy of the incident.
I then moved to another house and there was another standard pattern of defence. My hosts believed that the protests against every rape case which comes to the nation’s notice are politicised and NGOs and political parties are using the opportunity only to further their cause. The entire hullabaloo is nothing but an attempt to divert the public’s attention from a more pressing issue. The women’s groups are crying hoarse just to tell the world they haven’t ceased to exist. Why is it that they haven’t taken such an extreme stand on previously unknown cases? Had women been serious, the situation would have been different. The talk went off at a tangent.
Still in denial mode, some friends of mine see the agitations as merely a Delhi-students only protest and hence cannot be taken seriously. They have no clue to the realities of life and especially about public life. Their priorities are misplaced. They live in a utopia. Things don’t change in a day. Students who are not into serious professional courses have all the time for such hungama. Politicians use students as their tools and, finally, this protest too will die down and lose steam due to politics as many others have lost. Why have they not taken up a case in Rewari or Moga so seriously? Where were the mature adults and parents, teachers, lawyers and celebrities?
The discussions turn to everything but the case in hand — education, gender sensitivity, policing, falling ethics, lenient judiciary, etc. The media are accused of hyping this particular case since the ruling party has been paid for it to divert the nation’s attention from some unpopular measure taken by it recently. The protesters are always seen as stooges of the opposition just trying to create trouble for the government. The media have only to gain as they are in a win-win situation. Either way, they get enough TRPs. Who cares who’s been raped?
But let’s us admit that our first knee-jerk reaction is unfortunately to become unduly protective and suspicious and therefore restrict our daughters and sisters from moving independently. We supervise their wardrobe with renewed zeal. We keep vigil until they are back home safe. We warn them against all male species sparing none, no matter howsoever closely related he is. In the bargain, we make them insecure, confined and mistrustful. We break their spirit; we remind them of their weakness and vulnerability. I feel deeply distressed by this.
How do I tell a 12-year-old girl to be careful of her male teachers at school? How do I tell her that a congratulatory pat on the back by her uncle may be a ‘bad touch?’ How can I keep an eye on a toddler while she is carried by her grandfather?
Besides these there are a whole lot of watchmen, milkmen, bus conductors, male friends, friendly neighbours, dhobis and cousins to protect her from. Where do I begin?
(The writer is an Assistant Professor in Varanasi and can be reached at bhanumish9 @gmail.com)