- Posted August 28, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Speaking up about sexual violence
Spate of Gang Rapes : Should India Change Its National Anthem ?
In the aftermath of the Nirbhaya gang rape case in December last year, one assumed that the nation’s conscience had been shaken, and a new wave of change had begun to set in. In his budget speech in end Feb 2013, the Finance Minister P. Chidambaram announced a 10 billion rupee Nirbhaya Fund to empower and promote safety for women. Momentarily, the Parliament also considered dedicating a new criminal-law bill to her name.
Yet, as the Mumbai incident of 22 Aug reveals, the narrative has not shifted an inch. This is indeed ‘Nirbhaya 2’ – for the similarities are striking. A woman goes out in the evening with her male acquaintance. The ‘place’ is of no consequence – could be Munirka in Delhi or Shakti Mills compound in Mumbai. As they go about their life with an air of unsuspecting innocence, they are suddenly pounced upon by opportunistic vagabonds. The man is pinned down and the woman brutalised, in turn by all. Thereafter, for the perpetrators, it is business as usual – a peaceful dinner, perhaps some entertainment on TV and a good night’s sleep.
India has an infuriating history of discrimination and ill-treatment of women. Indeed, there is a terrifying similarity of rage and violence building up in the country. On March 15, a Swiss woman, on a cycling trip with her husband, was gang raped and robbed by six men in central India. The husband was brutally beaten up. The crime model is hard to ignore. Even a male escort is no guarantee for safety.
Meanwhile, the Shakti Mill vagabonds have made a scary admission on 27 August. They had assaulted at least four women at the same location, in the past six months, and got away each time. Add such unreported incidents to the tally, well, the state of affairs keeps getting more terrifying. Deterrence and fear of law seems nonexistent, due low conviction rates of reported cases, which in any case are a tiny fraction of the total. . Even after eight months of the high profile Nirbhaya case, the verdict is still not out. Excruciatingly slow pace of judicial procedure thus becomes a contributor to escalating crime, rather than being a preventer.
A few days earlier, the dailies were buzzing with sensation after an American student, Michaela Cross, reported post traumatic stress after returning to the US from a study programme in India. She narrated her treatment in India through a CNN iReport account titled “India: The story you never want to hear”. In the report, Cross called India “a traveler’s heaven and a woman’s hell”, narrating her experiences of being “stalked, groped and abused”.
Cross’s distressing account of her three-month dwell in India, contributes to narrative of abysmal standard of women’s safety, which has ostensibly been highlighted since the Nirbhaya case. Since then, there has been a growing chorus for stronger security measures for women in India. Sadly, nothing has changed. On 23 Aug as the nation read headlines of the Shakti Mills episode in Mumbai, the irony couldn’t have been starker – for the word ‘Shakti’ is synonymous with woman power.
To properly diagnose the disease, it is important to delve into the lives of the perpetrators – an exercise that may throw light on the probable reason for such brutality against women. To be fair, sexual crimes are not the exclusive domain of slum dwellers and those from India’s upper classes can be equally cruel.
Yet, there lies a seething rage underneath the lower classes’ animal desperation. News media reports and photographs of their residences and tales of upbringing, throws up common threads – a depressing backdrop of squalor, despondency and, hopelessness; filth and abuse, liquor and drugs; menial jobs and ill-treatment. In sum, endless dissatisfaction and utter hopelessness.
Nirbhaya’s rapists were savages. So were these five vagabonds in Shakti Mills. But if there were just eleven psychopathic men for us to contend with, this mad brutality was understandable. And death by hanging would have weeded out a secluded cancer. But as a study of their life stories reveal, nothing is quite as simple.
As the liberalised economy forces millions to migrate within India, from their cultivation lands and customary livelihoods into unfriendly megalopolises, disparate realities and aspirations collide against each other, with vicious force. The glittering city with its money and power stands in dismal contrast to their poverty and rural backgrounds. The boundary that split them may be gone, but the segregation remains. Frustration, desperation and opportunistic crimes, inevitably follow.
True, many attributes of India are worth admiring. The economic miracle since 1991, a functional democracy, a civilisation culture, the most apolitical and professional armed forces in the world, Bollywood, et all. It is no doubt a great nation. Vibrant, diverse and resilient. However, try hard as we may, we cannot run away from the other reality of India – a sorry state of affairs where politicians will continue to make crores; the rich will prosper; scams will break out with regularity; and rains will leave public infrastructure and roads in disarray. The sad truth of this country stares in our faces –the poor will get poorer; slums will keep springing up in new places; and the powerful will prey upon the weak.
Thus, for the Indian woman, the message is clear. To put it in raw terms : Maam , welcome back to the Stone Age. Curse your fortune again, or do somersaults in the air, but this is indeed your tryst with destiny. Owing to a simple reason. This article has not even begun to touch upon other routine and daily occurrences in the Republic of India. Unreported stories of anonymous women abused and trafficked to different parts of the country. Sometimes, as young as five years. Subjected to acid attacks, honour killings, dishonour killings, female foeticide, deliberate malnutrition, discriminative admittance to schools and jobs. This sad narrative is never ending, in a so called rising military power, that allocates billions in Defence budget every year to buy submarines, fighter jets and missiles. Yet half its population remains defenceless.
So what are a lady’s options in this country? The first is Immigration – a one way ticket out of this mess. Or perhaps hiring bodyguards on 24 X7 duty. And if you are not educated or wealthy enough to exercise either, you can at least petition the Indian Government, with the following request. The national anthem of UK is God Save The Queen. Time we changed ours too.