I am still too shocked for an exercise like this. Yet, as a mother of a 21-year- old girl who moves all alone in a city and teacher to young girls, I must perforce give expression to thoughts that crowd my cloudy mind before it slips into numbness. The Delhi incident is neither an isolated one nor the first of its kind. We, in Kerala, have still not got over the trauma of the incident in which a young girl was thrown out of a moving train and brutally raped. As these courageous women Rest In Peace, our peace is in pieces. But this is not the time to protest for a minute and then return home. The moment has come to take some drastic steps towards ensuring the safety of women.
I remember reading a refrain in the Phantom comic books — “ Old jungle saying: a heavily bejewelled woman can walk the Denkali jungle even at midnight without fear and unescorted, for she is watched over by jungle eyes.” Even as a child I loved reading that bit over and over again. Scholars speculate that the Denkali jungle fantasised by Lee Falk is very close to India. Truly enough, we are a nation that can boast of women political leaders and warriors. But why are they still an exception? The average woman, on the road or at home, is still the most vulnerable being.
Convention, whether stipulated by society or religion, requires a woman to be modest, charming and graceful. But no religion or social stipulation has exhorted her against defending herself. Let me draw a tale from our ancient storehouse.
Once upon a time there lived a snake that harassed people. It bit little children, the young, and even old men and women. One day, a holy man happened to pass that way. The villagers appealed to him to save them from the venomous snake. The holy man apprehended the snake and exhorted it not to harass the villagers lest it be cursed. At which the snake pleaded to him that it be spared and promised him that it would never again harass the villagers.
The snake kept its word. It moved away at the sight of people and kept its distance from them. The people were relieved. Soon, they became unafraid of the snake. They began to tease, beat and torture it. The village boys dragged it and tossed it around with a stick.
When the holy man passed the village again, he called on the snake to see if it had kept his promise. He found it battered, very near death. The snake told him that this was the way the villagers had treated it ever since it stopped biting them. At this, the holy man told the snake: “I told you not to bite. But did I tell you not to hiss? Not to defend yourself?”
Self-defence is the birthright of all living creatures. At this point in time, when the state and society have failed us lets think of something that is more realistic. Let’s not ask what the state can do for us, but what we can do for ourselves. Equip girls with self-defence skills, be it judo, karate or even kalaripayattu. Courses in self-defence must be introduced as obligatory right from school. It must feature as a core course in higher education. Children must be given practical tips on how to defend themselves at a very young age. As it is, our system of higher education is not one of the most applauded. Let’s begin by introducing changes that will incorporate exercises that help us in our day-to-day life.
But grooming for the future should begin at home. It is time we seriously reviewed our parenting styles that are heavily gender-defined. Boys and girls must be brought up to respect each other. The seeds for future solidarity and co-existence should be sown very young in the minds of children.
Above all, there should happen an intrinsic change in the social perspective that sees women as objects and commodities. It is time we gave the wake-up call to some of those wonderful laws made in favour of women and ensured that they are implemented.
For example, despite legal prohibition, dowry has acquired an alarming social status and sanction. Religious and social conventions that are anti-women must be vehemently condemned. The surname need not necessarily be that of the father. Society should be purged of such patriarchal elements. Let’s immortalise these young women whose lives were brutally cut short by initiating and implementing changes that ensure the safety and well-being of women.
(The writer’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org)