Saturday, 29 December 2012

India today- Reality bites (Part I)

India. The Land of a 370 million Gods and Goddesses. India with its holy Ganges ,the river that purifies our soul, the river that Hindus have worshipped as Ganga Maiyya since time immemorial, whose swirling waters gush down from the Himalayas and enrich the flood plains of Northern India. The ghats of Varanasi, the Temples of the entire Subcontinent hail the feminine form as the source of 'Shakti' or  Divine Power. India. The Largest Democracy in the World. The Country that, in Jawaharlal Nehru's own words, "Awakened to freedom".. on 15th August 1947. Awakened ?? Did it really wake up!?

 In a Nation with a population of over 1.25 billion people; about half of them women- a girl, a woman, is deemed to be 'asking for it' if she ventures out alone, or steps out at night without a male companion. She is told that 'boys are boys' and that girls must 'behave' if they want to be good, virtuous and live a honourable, safe life. In our Patriarchal society, men are routinely hailed as the kul-deepak, or 'light' that bears the family name forward. What can one expect from an Indian civilization whose Epic the Mahabharata recounts that a hall full of male relatives sat and silently watched Draupadi being disrobed in the presence of many senior and brave warriors??! Yes, it began the MAHABHARATA, but did that make our BHARAT MAHAAN!!??? I do not think it does. The true horror lies in the fact that in a Country of over 1.2 Billion, who worship, and salute the Goddesses in female form as almost all Hindus do, women are still treated as second rate citizens.

Today, a brave young girl died fighting for her life. Only because she was a woman. She was minding her own business, doing what billions of young people all over the globe do when they want to relax- spending some time with a friend, doing nothing out of the ordinary. She was merely out in public in the Capital City of the Nation, (also unofficially dubbed as the 'rape- Capital' of India) and was returning home from the Cinema at half-past nine in the evening and took a bus home with her male companion. This is not something that is unheard of in India today. Youth have their freedom. Youth have the right to freedom too. I cannot imagine anyone who would say that in 2012, it is unsafe to travel in the Capital at nine-thirty p.m. It is not something that would warrant such a horrific attack on her person. Today, she has lost her life. This Unnamed and unseen young woman has struck a chord with millions of Indians all over the world who salute her spirit and vow, silently, not to let things go 'back to business as usual' as one activist put it. This time, the Awakening has to be for ever. Today, India is united in grief, anger and dismay; shame, pain and disbelief. Nothing unites a people the way sorrow does- as did this one incident in Delhi 14 days ago.

Rape is not something Indians routinely shudder at. As a nation, we have become desensitised to this horrific attack on another human. Often, we begin the day reading about an incident of rape each day, every day, in the hundreds of reports in the Daily Newspapers all over the nation. From Metro cities to small, obscure or remote villages, men often control, dominate and treat women in this manner. Every year, thousands of girls are denied the right to be born, by families that want to have a 'boy' child . Stifled and murdered in the womb, the lucky few that see the light of day are 'indoctrinated' in the millennia old traditions of chastity, virtue and dignity being the sole responsibility of the female.  A few weeks back, another young teenager committed suicide, harassed by her rapists and troubled by the indifference of the Police Force-  a force employed explicitly for the protection of all citizens. A force led by an ignoble officer in that remote village who was even reluctant to lodge an FIR against the 'upper caste' rapists of the young Dalit girl.

 As I read the articles and soul-search within, looking at NDTV footage of Sunitha (a brave Rape-Survivor who was gang-raped 24 years ago, as a young girl of fifteen) a cry of unbelievable horror involuntarily escapes me...My little girls (8 and 6yrs old) look up from their playing and run up to me, abandoning their toy-train games on the carpet. "Mummy, what happened, why are you upset..?" I silently hug them, burying myself in their innocence, their childhood.
I search for words to explain to them in a way that they will understand, why being a girl/woman in India today is such a horrendous disadvantage.... Why men, unknown/ known/ strange/ familiar, must be approached in a guarded, manner, lest we be labelled 'frivolous' or 'flirtatious', 'coquettish' or worse....Why a raped woman is questioned about her 'past' , criticized for her choice of 'clothes' an the length of her skirt, the 'westernised' youth are told that these things did not happen in the last century? Isn't it true that looting, raping and killing innocents was part of the horror of partition?? This is the way most of our grandparents remember that most painful cleaving of the subcontinent. not only that, in the year 2000, Gujarat again reeled under the attack when the communal riots broke out...

I have questions but no answers, anger but no fury...just a quiet, silent, cry of horror...  As a society, we have a lot to answer for- be it individually, or in our world-view, our predisposition to creating and viewing  'ladki dekho- seeti maaro,' kind of films. In our refusal to see the 'symptoms' as symptoms and the 'disease' as DIS-EASE... In my eyes, the malaise of our society is the 'superiority complex' that some Indian Men are encouraged to adopt- be it via their upbringing, when parents and elders routinely favour the 'son' and 'truss' up the daughter to be the 'virtue' of the family. Where all the tenets of chastity and dignity are applied to a girl and rape is the ultimate degradation- the blot, that is likened to an indelible stain on her soul.
Many a time, a family with only daughters is looked upon as unfortunate, incomplete. Sometimes, an elderly relative or unassuming Asian patient (who I attended to as a Healthcare Professional) inquires if I have any children, and when I tell them, yes, I have two little girls, I am told, don't worry, God will bless you with a son too, someday. The sad fact is that they don't even think of the possibility that I am totally happy with my two Angelic Brats, and thank God every moment for the blessing of their lives.

Someday, I know, I will have to acquaint my daughters with the sad truth about the reason behind the regressive Indian mindset. Someday I will  have to tell them, of how walking, cycling, riding a scooter 'safely' back home in India, used to be an achievement in my University days... Eve-teasers abounded on every College corner, checking girls out and freely commenting on looks, hair, clothes etc. Often, I felt anger, a rush of disgust and solid good-old contempt for the mean-spirited sons of a society brought up with the mindset 'Menfolk are superior', just because they are men. Just because they possess the XY chromosome, and just because they have 'that' piece of equipment hanging between their legs.

Rape, Female Infanticide, Domestic Abuse and Crimes against women are the symptoms of our Patriarchal Society that is steeped in disease. The disease born from the 'superiority complex' that India has bestowed on all things Male. Forgetting the Value-system of our ancient forefathers, our Upanishads and the Vedas, the selective filtering of the desire for a 'son' has made India forget that Lord Rama was called Maryaada-Purushottam Ram because of Sita being his one and only wife. Even he was guilty and pined for her when he banished her to the forest, as an expectant mother...
Gone are the days of the sensitivity and gentleness of  actor Balraj Sahni and the Kabuliwala, who raised menfolk to the status of a fatherly figure in the eyes and psyche of his beloved mini bitiya. In India today, a three year Old girl is brutally raped in a kindergarten by one of the School support staff, and the deplorable, despicable vermin is merely locked up for the better part of a decade. What about the innocent child whose life he had so brutally and irrevocably damaged?! 

Most boys and men in India today are well-educated, conscientious and respectful of women and elders alike. It would be wrong to paint an entire populace with the same brush as the perpetrators of these heinous crimes against humankind. But then again, there is a well-known saying, "One rotten apple spoils the lot." Granted, that not all of the nearly half a billion men are eve teasers or rapists. But as a society, we are going terribly wrong somewhere as we have done since time immemorial, to have brought a daughter of our country such untold physical and emotional anguish. That she fought for her life bravely is a testimony to her spirit, and it is this spirit that we, all 1.2 billion of us Indians must salute and resolve to imbibe. It is when a horror such as this strikes us, that India looks a little bit deeper into its heart and sees the elements of a regressive, sickening mindset searing the millions of good men who are innocent. So who do we blame? The Police, the Rapists, the Politicians? Why not address the issue of gender inequality in India at its most basic. Let us begin at the lowest rung of the ladder and eradicate the problem from the grass-root level??

 Long ago, in pre-Independence India, Raja Ram Mohan Roy had protested against the Sati pratha . his reform was the spark that ignited the change, until the practice was eventually outlawed by the British Raj in 1829 A.D. Now,we only read about it in books, or see it in remotely grainy Black & White films or a bygone era...At present, though, I content myself with making these notes for the future, chronicling our life and times. Hoping for a much better tomorrow when rape and Female Foeticide, dowry and the circus of the 'superior male' will have been wiped out. I hope for a future of equality and promise, wherein girls can be born and grow as equals to any boy or man in India. When they can thrive and realise their potential, fulfil their dreams and achieve their ambition.

India today, needs to awaken again. The country needs to adapt itself to be fit to function in the 21st century. On one hand, we have women in our Armed forces, Police and Paramilitary forces, we have women stand alongside and often overtake men on the professional front. on the other hand, we treat women in such a reprehensible manner- assaulting them physically, verbally, emotionally and in countless other ways. The perpetrators are not men alone, but all of society. Each and every one of us is culpable. From the miscarriage of justice to the one who does 'nothing' when faced with these atrocities. So what can we do!? One thing we ALL can do is start small. in our communities, in our localities- if we see someone behaving badly, make it 'our  business' to stop them. Not by violence. Not by attacking them, but by joining hands with like-minded people and showing them that this will not be tolerated. Also, a petition written by Namita Bhandare is to go out to the President of the Republic of India. you can read and sign it too, if you wish. (here)

Let's not dissect this incident alone and sensationalise the young woman who lost her life by singing odes to her, or lighting candles. By signing posters or shouting slogans. All this is going to be short-lived. What we need is a slow, steady flame that becomes a blaze. a Blaze of reform and change. A fire that burns evil, purifies our conscience and shows each one of us a mirror. Let us not question why we were silent for so long- this has been allowed to fester for far too long anyhow- the time to Act is NOW! The fight has just begun. Tough times lie ahead, and if we all can make our localities, our communities or streets that little bit safer, then India will, one day, be truly FREE.
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