One more gangrape. One more death. One more complaint of inhumane treatment by the men in uniform. And the saga just doesn’t seem to end in the world’s second most populous nation.
The latest incident of a barbaric atrocity against a woman in India involves an 18-year old from the Dalit (lower caste) community in the Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh who was allegedly gang-raped by upper caste men. The teenager fought for her life for two weeks before succumbing to her grievous injuries at a Delhi hospital on Tuesday. In December 2012, when the Nirbhaya gangrape and murder happened in Delhi, there were voices of protest and anger that rang all across India in a hitherto unheard-of show of solidarity for a woman who had been violated in one of the most brutal and beastly manners ever heard of.
You cannot just misbehave with a female friend, or colleague, or neighbour, or co-passenger ... and get away with impunity. And the mothers must also feel a little less besotted by that darling male child and stop making him feel more entitled than he deserves to be!
From candle-lit vigils all across the country to pitched battles between the law-keepers and protesters on the streets of Delhi, the Nirbhaya incident saw India rise in one voice against atrocities against women and seek justice. It was an unprecedented show of anger and disgust that made many feel that perhaps, at long last, safety of women and their physical and mental sanctity is front and centre in a nation that has always seen an entrenched patriarchy ride roughshod over women empowerment and women’s rights to a dignified private and public life.
Sense of impunity
However, almost eight years after Nirbhaya’s death, with the Hathras incident — and several similar ones in the preceding months and years — one truth sticks out like much more than a sore thumb and that is: In a country where a rape happens almost every 15 minutes, not only have the lessons from the Nirbhaya incident been buried and forgotten, but worse still — the beasts that think they can get away with murder are still just as desperate and their sense of impunity just as unscathed now as they were on that cold December night on a moving bus in Delhi when Nirbhaya was outraged and violated. With the Nirbhaya incident, just about everyone had thought that the tipping point had finally been reached. But now it seems even that brutality was not enough to shake the conscience of a nation out of its cocooned and self-evasive mode of slumber and inaction. Just how many, how many more women and girls will have to pay with their lives to make sure some men get to satisfy their carnal pleasures with beastly brutality and think they can kill with impunity?
Denying basic human dignity
What makes the Hathras incident all the more appalling and shameful is the manner in which the body of the deceased gangrape victim was cremated in the dead of the night, in an open field, away from the wails and tears of her family members who were not allowed to perform the last rites for their beloved daughter. Even in death, this rape-murder victim was not allowed the bare minimum dignity that a human being deserves. Those who brutally assaulted her body and mind were beasts, not humans. But those who denied her decent last rites and the family an opportunity to bid a final farewell to their daughter were no less inhumane with their thoughtless, draconian and dastardly act — all in the name of not allowing raging sentiments of grief to snowball into a major law-and-order issue.
Given the way the number of cases of rape and incidents of physical and mental violence against women have proliferated in India over the last several decades, it is quite evident now that this scourge has ceased to be a mere law-and-order issue and is much more endemic in terms of a psychological malaise and a sociological blot.
Charity begins at home
And the rot starts right at those households where the preference for a male child leads to a female foeticide without the slightest bit of remorse or regret. It starts right at those homes where the men are ritually fed first before the womenfolk can have a bite at what they have cooked probably over a lot of sweat and love struggling all through the day in those hot-as-an-oven kitchens, it starts right with those potboilers where harassment — of some sort or the other — of a female character by the male lead is celebrated as machismo, and it starts at those educational institutions where social studies classes still probably do not teach that in a crowded public transport carriage, offering a seat to a female passenger is a bare-minimum courtesy. The rape of a woman or girl is the final stage of that malignant mindset that probably had its germination in that over-crowded bus or train compartment where a female passenger jostling helplessly for a foothold at an arm’s length is seen less as just a co-passenger and more as ‘easy meat’.
Sense of fear and accountability
There is only one way India can still come out of this cancer. And that is not just by framing new laws and establishing a few more fast-track courts to deal with cases of atrocities against women. It will be possible if, along with all the legal strictures, the adult males across millions of households throughout the length and breadth of the nation succeed in instilling a sense of fear and accountability in the minds of their boys: That you cannot just misbehave with a female friend, or colleague, or neighbour, or co-passenger ... and get away with impunity. And the mothers must also feel a little less besotted by that darling male child and stop making him feel more entitled than he deserves to be!