» News » True, people have woken up. But will anything change?

True, people have woken up. But will anything change?

By Sheela Bhatt
Last updated on: December 29, 2012 19:01 IST
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Sheela Bhatt feels that in view of the wrong message percolating down in India from New Delhi, it is very necessary that the political class, instead of running down the protesters, instead of resisting the movement at Jantar Mantar for small political gains, says something with conviction.

Lots of heartfelt obituaries are pouring in since the death of the 23-year-old Delhi victim of gangrape in Singapore -- on television, on the streets and the social media.

it has moved all of us, but the real life situation on the ground is not hopeful.

The slogans, the protests, the anti-government anger, the demand to hang the culprits, the quality of arguments about policing and other issues, are unlikely to address the real issue behind the death of the victim.

Thinker and political psychologist Ashis Nandy says, "I see anger more than anguish. Surely, I see protests of people in a positive light, but I don't see politicians, bureaucrats and somewhat the media in same light. The event should be NOT used for dramatic coverage. I want to see deeper anguish and not anger of the people who want teh culprits to be boiled in oil. I wish to see pain within us, with conviction."

The rape victim's death has touched India as it had been when the Supreme Court judgment was delivered in the rape case of Mathura, a tribal girl from Chandrapur district of Maharashtra, in 1978. She was allegedly raped by two police officers on March 26, 1972, inside the police station.

When the Supreme Court acquitted the police officers, women and experts were shocked. One of the four scholars who opposed it included historian Upendra Baxi. Their open letter triggered the glorious movement for women's rights in India in 1979. That was a moment of pain and conviction. That was a well-thought out idea of Indian issues that wanted women to unite at all levels.

It also reminds us of the rape case of Bhanwari Devi who was traumatised in Rajasthan in 1992.

And, now to the shameful saga of Indian women's tragedies, is added the unnamed victim's heart-wrenching gangrape. In between these years and the unfortunate events there have been thousands and thousands of rape cases that have been muted without bringing in the desired change in the mindset of men who have raped the women of India.

All these years of more or less silent sufferings over the incidents of rape has not moved the system to favour the victims. Two days ago, we saw the suicide of a rape victim of Badshahpur village in Patiyala district. It is a glaring example adding to the shame of India.

As is the case in all rape cases, the fundamental issue is that men's mindset is not changing along with the women of India. "The basic issue is gender equality between men and women," says Sonal Shukla,  one of the activists who spearheaded the massive protests against the insensitive Supreme Court judgment and demanded the changes in rape laws among many other things.

She says, "It's good to see men and women, both, protesting on the streets in New Delhi and elsewhere against the gangrape of the woman who has died. But, rape is the symptom. The problem lies with men. Men are responsible for the plight of rape victims. We must say it loudly. We must not be shy in naming them. Talking about policing or laws that deal with rapes is not enough. It is a man's 'sense of entitlement' over a woman that has to be challenged."

Says Nandy, "Along with the issue of gender equality, I want to see women's empowerment at all levels. To some extent, Dalits and Adivasis have been empowered, but women's empowerment is not done yet. Let us have an affirmative action for women."

He says that actions such as more recruitment of women in the police force should be on the government's agenda.

Most experts say that since the last one week, the people of India are behaving better than politicians. But, there are some serious apprehensions.

Is it going to change anything?

If one moves into the crowd at India Gate, Jantar Mantar or elsewhere, one fears that even this event may end up in temporary grief, without bringing in profound change.

"Men are responsible for rapes. The change to protect the rights of women has to be brought in at all levels. The change has to be sought simultaneously in the family, in our literature, in the market economy, in the Indian courts and in rape laws. How will the police or rape laws help if a grandfather rapes his own grandchild? We can't leave everything to the government and the police. We all have that responsibility, somewhere," Shukla says.

"The rape of the victim who has died is harming all of us. We should understand that first," she adds.

Says a senior bureaucrat and an experienced women's activist, "I am more fearful after the death of the victim than before. These protests and support for the tragedy don't instill hope inside me. The India Gate protest doesn't connect to the tehsil in north India from where this particular victim came from. What I fear is that slowly, the girl's family will be known to all.

"The family comes from a small town from a conservative part of north India. I am sure, dead sure, that now, the neighbourhood, community people and others would advise their daughters, sisters, mothers and women relatives that, 'Look! What happened to our gaon ki beti in Bada shaher New Delhi (see what happened to our daughter from the village in a big city like New Delhi).

"They would wrongly argue that it's not worth sending the girls to seek advance education to Mumbai or New Delhi or to Jaipur or Aligarh. They would fear that in the desperation for seeking jobs, they will lose the family's honour, their own children," she ays.

Surely, safety of children is above education or a job for any parent.

"Precisely for this reason, it is very disgusting to see the political class's irresponsible reactions to the gangrape in a moving bus in New Delhi. The death of the victim today should not go in vain. It should strengthen our resolve to take risks for our girl child. That can be done if the debate over it remains in the right direction," she argues.

The irresponsible statements from all kinds of political leaders are doing incalculable damage to the awakening that needs to be given space at India Gate, Jantar Mantar and everywhere else, she points out.

"Lakhs of conservative Indian families are silently watching. They will derive their own wisdom out of all this noise. They may turn more conservative, who knows?" she argues.

Already, many families in New Delhi have advised their young daughters to not venture out after 9 pm.

This is a regressive message that can come from the event, and it should not happen. There is an India beyond what we see on television. Lakhs of families in towns and villages who have sent their young daughters to seek education, jobs and better opportunities will not participate in debates about the fundamental cause of rapes, but in their own way they will form an opinion and follow it.

They would arrive at their own calculations after weighing the pros and cons of sending their daughters to the metro cities. The behaviour and beliefs of the police and the political class are important for these families.

In view of the wrong message percolating down in India from New Delhi it is very necessary that the political class, instead of running down protestors, instead of resisting the movement at Jantar Mantar for small political gains of fixing activists like Arvind Kerjiwal, better, say something with conviction.

On the fateful day of the unbearable death of the daughter of India in Singapore, we wish just one leader, man or woman, speaks with real pain that can lessen the burden harboured in the hearts of those silent rape victims who must be watching all of us on TV, the internet and elsewhere.

The weight of the moment is unbearable for the Indian woman today. Leaders without credibility are adding to our feeling of being helpless.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
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