Last month, India woke up to a different face of its youth – protesting, demanding, putting their foot down and making it clear that it was losing patience with those in governance – following the rape and consequent death of a 23-year-old student in Delhi. The victim’s 13-day ordeal was accompanied by incessant media coverage, debates that included people from the film fraternity, politics, NGOs, other social personalities as well as youth who were part of the spontaneous movement. (I remember one night when Arnab Goswami refused to let Derek O’ Brien speak his mind on the 9 PM news – Goswami doesn’t let anyone speak of course, but that evening he was particularly intolerable – and I switched to another channel a few minutes later to find O’ Brien airing his views on a more amicable show.) Everybody had an opinion – some predicted the end of humanity, others were more aggressive in their convictions, and the rest oscillated between the plethora of theories that floated around.
Amidst this consistent bombardment of opinions, I found little that would eventually prove useful to the millions of women moving about on their own the world over. India’s judicial system is faced with the huge task of actually convicting rapists, instead of sitting on cases for decades and raising questions that simply nullify the point of turning to the judiciary for justice. But rape and even violence towards men and people of other genders are problems in the most civilized of societies.
I had a male friend from Cape Town, whose mother worked with rape victims in South Africa. He told me how women there are raped every minute and how it’s practically an epidemic. Not only that, he told me that he would never ever walk around anywhere in South Africa, but especially Johannesburg, alone once its dark because you never know what may happen.
What is key here is the fact that he simply never walked around after dark alone. It is entirely possible to fight for your rights, to fight for freedom of movement without fear. But freedom comes with the dangerous responsibility of looking after yourself. Can we do that?
When we are young, our families, schools, relatives look after us. We are their responsibility and hence not free to do as we please – from attending parties to choosing our own careers and even company. Our movements and choices are constantly supervised, and we spend our growing up years rebelling and breaking rules.
On the other hand, what governments are responsible for is overall security, as is the case in India too. As efficient as they could be, they are unable to prevent most crimes, especially rape. There are just too many people, too many kinds of crimes and too few law enforcers to monitor public and private movements even in a small city. They are slow in their responses, and uneducated in their approach towards crimes against the less privileged sections of society – women, homosexuals, the poor, the honest, those of lower castes, those of minority religions etc.
We could scream ourselves hoarse for change, but I believe that change is in no way easy to come by. In case of rape specifically, what is required at the basic level is respect for women, and for that to be inculcated in social consciousness wholly and absolutely so as to prevent future rapes, the world truly needs to end and be resurrected again. Because that would mean breaking down everything we have known, learnt and imbibed from books, life and people and starting all over again. When rape itself becomes all about a woman’s sexuality and her self-respect tied to her sexual being, what change are we talking about anyway?
In such a scenario, what do we do? As adult women, we could carry pepper sprays and knife clips, but when caught in threatening situations, how effective would they be? When not in a threatening situation per se, do we know when to use them?
It’s strange. We grow up being taught to not speak to strangers, to not be alone in unfamiliar or even vaguely familiar male company under any circumstances, to be alert at all times, communicate with elders in the instance of anything that seems out of place, and, as O’ Brien rightly mentioned during one of his appearances, understand the difference between good touch and bad touch.
We forget these things as adults. So victims agree to get into cars with unknown men, or girls agree to be ‘friends’ with guys on social networking sites they don’t know. That’s not to say that the victims deserve it, but one cannot deny errors in judgement. Maybe they thought it’s ok, they can handle the situation or they read people right. Or they thought that rape is something that can’t touch them, it happens to other people.
There is chained freedom all over the world, and women are not the only party to its cons. I personally know a lot of girls who move around at all times of the day and night in public transport and have not been victims. On a few occasions that I have traveled by Delhi Metro, women called up helplines and the Metro officials to escort men off the ladies coach. They stood up then, spoke up, instead of waiting for some law enforcer to notice these men in the coach. They decided to protect themselves. Recently, I received a prank call from some random person who knew where I worked. People laughed at how much I panicked, and they laughed even more when I went to the police. But I wasn’t taking chances; I didn’t even care about being christened darpok. And when people travel to unknown places, they’re always told to be on the safe side, not move around alone at night or accept any offers from strangers.
A professor once told me that if you are uncomfortable about something a man says or does, chances are that you’re right about your misgivings. Being alert, apprehending and paying attention to something that doesn’t seem right and holding yourself back in risky situations, however mild, is not boring. It could save your life, or in the case of women, also save you a lot of pain. Lets practice it.
[author][author_image timthumb=’on’] http://kolkatamusing.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/tania.bhattacharya.png [/author_image]This article is written by Tania, an avid traveler and chronicler.[/author]