She died early Sunday morning. And in her death, I am (and I think you are as well) reminded of the world she left.
I walk the length of the bus stop every night as I wait for my bus to arrive. I eye each and every other person there with suspicion. I am trying to determine if one of them will try to rob or murder me (probably both) on my way home. I can’t rely on help from others and I can’t say for sure if the police will be of any use if something of that sort does indeed come to pass. Getting pickpocketed, as things stand, is way better than getting stabbed, or having your neck slashed with a razor blade as you walk home after work.
Of course, if I were a woman, I could suffer much worse.
The Sunday before last, something horrific and, unfortunately, very familiar to the citizenry of Delhi, happened. A young woman was sexually assaulted and then brutalised by a gang of thugs in a moving bus. The man driving the bus should not have been driving it. The bus, which had tinted windows, should not have been plying on the capital’s roads. But it all happened nevertheless.
In response, we heard ‘chalta hai’ from the class of people who are responsible for our safety, and who, for all intents and purposes, are hand-in-glove with this city’s law-enforcement agencies. To the extent that the Delhi Police Commissioner, when called upon to explain his failure to make sure the city’s streets are safe for its women, smirked on national television.
The police machinery, neutered by a political class that seems incapable of seeing anything beyond its personal and family interests, is so obsessed with making itself look good that it routinely refuses to lodge reports when people do go to them after a crime. This in turn, has created a pervasive culture where people blame themselves when bad things happen to them.
In the meantime, the national discourse on the young woman’s rape has ranged from the sympathetic to the insensitive to the ludicrous. It is not a small and insignificant group of people who think the girl was at fault for staying out so late, or that those protesting her vicious violation are over-reacting and should just calm down and let things be. In fact, if anyone wants to get his or her head around the disconnect that exists between the people of India and those who govern them, he or she only needs to listen to some of the things Parliamentarians have been saying about rape this past week.
They couldn’t care less and they couldn’t possibly be less ashamed of letting it be known.
But this last week has also been a period of redemption. A day after the gang rape victim was admitted to the Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi’s public spaces found themselves full of thousands of angry protestors who had had enough of the city’s ‘rape capital’ tag. They gathered and demanded answerability from the powers that be. In response, they got water cannons, lathis, and tear gas. By evening, some of them had been admitted to the aforementioned Safdarjung Hospital.
In light of all this, take a moment to think about what India looks like to an outside observer right now.
We are a people that disrespect our sisters and mothers every hour of every day of the year. Our popular culture portrays them as playthings. So deep is our hatred (what? its true!) for the girl that even in death and violation, we can’t find anything good to say about victims.
But at the same time, we are also a country that has stopped letting things pass without a murmur. We are slowly becoming a people who can’t be taken for granted, and as we do so, our Government is learning the hard way that its nawabshahi is slowly becoming a thing of the past. It is also learning that the lip service to the aam admi and his concerns, that it has been providing dutifully for the last several decades, no longer fools anyone.
We, on the other hand, must remember that conscience is a burden that only we have. Governments are agencies we put in place to help run things. If we fail to keep up the pressure, if we let things pass without making sure that stringent anti-rape laws are put in place to make sure thugs think twice before committing such grotesque crimes agin, then the young woman who has become an entire nation’s sister today, will have died for nothing.
This piece was first published in Niti Central on December 30, 2012.