When I was four years old, I was living in South Extension Market, New Delhi. One night, we’d just dropped some guests to their car and were making our way back home, when a man on a scooter suddenly appeared and tried to assault my mother. My mother managed to scare him off before he could do anything. She was nine months pregnant at the time.
This is one of my first memories. In many ways, it has shaped the way I look at things. We live in a society where chauvinism dominates the masculine mindset. As the educated middle-class, we form the minority. Even within our ranks, the section that is truly unprejudiced is limited. Every day, we are bombarded with news of more atrocities being committed against women. In every major city and town, crime rates are increasing, despite concerted police efforts.
The available statistics are astounding, albeit for contradicting reasons. Facts and figures released by various independent sources are just plain ridiculous. On an average, 18 women are being molested across the country every hour. By the time I conclude this internship, roughly 500 women will have been molested or harassed. According to articles published on azadindia.com, there were over 32000 murders, 19000 rapes, 7500 dowry deaths and 36500 molestation cases in 2006.
In 2001, my father was transferred to Hyderabad. I spent 3 of the best years of my life there, and I have only the fondest recollections of it. Yet, according to the National Crime Record Bureau, there were 24,738 cases of crimes against women, including 1,070 cases of rape, 1,564 cases of kidnapping and abduction, 613 cases of dowry death, and 11,335 cases of domestic violence in Andhra Pradesh. Hyderabad, where 1,931 cases of crimes against women were committed, clocked in as the second most unsafe city in India after Delhi, with 4,331 cases. And now, I am a resident of Delhi.
Statistics released by state governments are also misleading. Despite overwhelming evidence pointing to the contrary, the Uttar Pradesh government reported a small number of crimes perpetrated against the fairer sex. This is an existing trend, where in order to appear more organised, state governments turn a blind eye to many crimes and a deaf ear to cries for justice. The portfolios charting their progress thus show a remarkable upward trend. And the cycle goes on.
I could sit here all day and quote statistics till I’m blue in the face. I could talk about the cases that will never see light, and about the few that make it to the public eye. A 10-year old gang-raped by four men. A rape victim asking the judge to release her rapist so she can marry him and thereby re-integrate into society. There are countless instances wherein the aftermath of the incident is as debilitating as the tragedy itself. Nothing anybody can do or say is going to take away the misery that these women live with, every single day of their lives. But we can fight to secure them that which is their right: Justice. I know it sounds clichéd. Like another hack who saw a few too many photographs of victims online and read a few statistics, and goaded himself into a short-lived state of outrage. There’s too much of that going around, isn’t there. All we do is sympathise. Empathy is a far-cry, indeed. We sympathise with victims, and condemn the perpetrators. Sitting here, we look at it in black and white. We, who sit pretty in our glass houses and furrow our metaphorical brows at the pain that is awash in the world.
With no proper facilities for the comprehensive rehabilitation of victims of sex crimes, it falls upon the shoulders of the respective communities to help them settle back into society. Unfortunately, as we all know, there is no respect for a ‘fallen woman’. They are ostracised, often by members of their own families as well, especially in rural regions. With nowhere to turn to, these women slowly start to believe what they’re told: They asked for it. The fault was partly theirs, for tempting. A victim in Madhya Pradesh was not allowed to file a police complaint against her ‘alleged’ offender, because the clothes she was wearing were too provocative for him to take full responsibility. Now, we’ve all heard it sometime or the other, but never has it been truer. We are hypocrites. Hypocrites of the highest order.
The sensational case of Shiney Ahuja shocked us all. I remember reading it in the paper one morning, and doing a double take. I mean, I liked this guy. And this Hero forced himself upon an 18 year old girl, and walked away when he was done. The arrogance, and the flippancy, is extraordinary. We really can get away with murder. The papers referred to the act as ‘Shiney’s moment of madness’ or some such, and lamented that it was a great loss to the film industry. Honestly? They couldn’t have been more sensitive if they’d tried. The kind of cult following that the film industry in this country has, it’s a downright shame that there isn’t more publicity for such isues. Aamir Khan appeared in an advertisement recently, urging the public to take action against molesters and stop such travesties from occurring. There’s a very large question mark hanging over our national character, our honour, and we refuse to see it. And why? Because it means going out of our way. Because it means considering the ramifications of something beyond the purview of our own lives.
Jaago India. Jaago. Look around you. Your women are bruised, and abused. Beaten, and humiliated. Is this how you saw yourself, two thirds of a century ago? Did you envision the agony and the fear that has sunk bone deep in your daughters, and the shame that has become a part of the very earth we set foot on? Where are the men, who would protect the weak, and the helpless, and the meek? Are they sunk so deep in apathy that they cannot hear the cries of their wives and their sisters and their daughters, as they are dragged into the streets, and their lives are trampled into the dust? Why such a wretched fate for them, they who mother our children, they who teach them what life is, they who love as no other can? Is this what we have abandoned them to?
Arundhati Roy put it like no-one else could. The Great Indian Rape Trick is certainly a doozy. Thousands and thousands of performances later, we still can’t spot the sleight-of-hand.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/peeveeads/2442571538/]