A Delhi Gang Rape & Remembering ‘Amanat’

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India's Daughter - 'Amanat' is the young woman who was brutally gang-raped in Delhi and caused soul-searching across India

India's Daughter - Photo by Marilena Benini (Creative Commons)

India’s Daughter –  Rest in Peace

‘India’s Daughter’ – that is hardly an endearment, a belated title of honor for the courageous young woman, a citizen of India Shining, who was left to fend for herself in the crowded, uncaring streets.

Where was India when its daughter waited, waited late in the night for safe public transportation? Where was India as six goons brutally beat and raped her in a moving bus with tinted windows  and curtains on public streets? Where was India when she and her male companion were beaten senseless, stripped and thrown from the bus like unwanted commodities?

We did not know her first name nor her last name. We would not have recognized her if we had met her face to face in the marketplace. Yet in her terrible travails, in her slow, excruciating death, she is us.  Every Indian woman who exists anywhere in  any country is related to her.

She is the catalyst for all the pent-up anger for all the humiliations, all the unfairness Indian women have had to suffer.  She died peacefully, said a hospital spokesperson yet we, the masses, the multitudes in India and the Diaspora, will not know peace.

A Death in the Family

Our hearts are heavy, our minds in turmoil.  For us, it is a death in the family.  And in her death, India is lessened, cheapened. What kind of a country exerts such a heavy penalty, such a brutal punishment for the crime of being born female? What kind of a country allows its daughters to undergo such humiliation, such grief from the day they are born? And of course, some are not even allowed to be born.

Something is very wrong with this picture. Something is very wrong with our collective portrait as Indians.  Everything needs a major re-working, re-imagining, from our laid-back government to our antiquated politicians but most of all we need to change ourselves and get a civic soul. Why are we so unaffected by what goes on around us? Why do human rights not matter to us? Why does India have some of the worst statistics in the world on treatment of its women? Why are we so stoic and why are bad things just so much bad Karma?

I lived in Delhi years ago, commuting to college by the dreaded Delhi public buses, and each bus-ride was an ordeal, a descent into anarchy, sweaty bodies, smirks, lewd remarks and sometimes,  gropings. I experienced the ridiculously named ‘eve-teasing’ first hand. It was not teasing – it was perverted and ugly.  A friend and I traveled from Connaught Place to South Delhi daily together, and there was some comfort in togetherness. Once in the overcrowded bus someone pulled off my dupatta as I disembarked and there I was waiting on the road for it to be thrown to me by the laughing, smirking blur of faces.

Rape and sexual harassment of women are very common in India

Women's rights need to be enforced. Photo by Marilena Benini (Creative Commons)

India – Society, Bollywood & A Box of Matches

Decades later nothing seems to have changed. There is still such a medieval sounding term as ‘Eve teasing’ to describe the abuse of a woman’s rights and too much dirt has been pushed under India’s fine rug. Often even the most sanctified of places – the home – is not safe for India’s women. Homes, like the bus, too have doors and curtains. They can safeguard, but they can also imprison, sabotage. A bottle of acid, a box of matches can do unspeakable damage.

In society’s patriarchal attitudes, our Bollywood films are to blame too – for decades they’ve hashed up misogynist tales where women are mere icing on the cake, where entertainment means the harassment of women, while sex and drama mean a grotesque rape scene played out frame by frame. When our macho filmi heroes rough up and manhandle women, all in the name of love, they are rewarded. What kind of a mixed up message does that send out to repressed males who don’t have much access to women anyway?

So what can change?

It has to be our attitudes toward women, toward men, toward children. Simply put, toward other human beings. And it’s never too early to start. There should be mandatory consciousness raising classes right from playschool and kindergarten.  A belief system takes hold early – we’ve seen that in the madrassas.

Boys have to be taught from childhood the value of girls not as appendages to themselves – sisters, mothers, girlfriends, wives, daughters   – but rather as individuals and equals with inalienable rights. In school and college and the workplace, there should be classes about equality rights because these are truths people easily and conveniently forget.

When girls and women are not damned by their class, caste or poverty levels, when they can  easily and safely get transport at any time of the day or night, when they can wear what they please,  go wherever they want to,  with whomever they choose to go with, then only can they be claimed as ‘India’s daughters’.


Related Articles:

Atlantic.com: Powerful Pictures Which Say it All

Time.com: Is Rape in India a Result of Sex Selection?

wsj.com/India Realtime – A Rape Map of India


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About Author

Lavina Melwani is a New York-based journalist who writes for several international publications. [email protected] & @lassiwithlavina Sign up for the free newsletter to get your dose of Lassi!

6 Comments

  1. Dilli abhi (bahut) door hai. koson door.
    It will take eons for N India in particular to change these attitudes. India adapts and adopts iPhones with ease (viz pic of sadhus at Kumbh Mela communicating with these space age Divya Drishti Yantras like Sanjay in Mahabharata). The i in iPhone is forgotten but it is the I that makes it function. We are like this only and we will remain like this only, until WE decide to change.
    Greatness can be thrust upon us but Change cannot. Change of Mind, never. Expediency yes, Moral Correction, a whole diff matter. Its a societal problem and also cultural. The family unit classifying and then treating girls and boys differently is the root cause. Equality is indeed a chimera but it is a laudable goal and even an acknowledgement or a first step is a step in the right direction. Mindset has to change. Well, mindset is SET, mind itself has to change, then mindset, then thoughts, then words then (hopefully) action. We have a long road to traverse and centuries of trauma and tradition to erase.

  2. The brutal gang rape in New Delhi was absolutely devastating to hear about. Something must be done immediately. I can’t believe anyone’s child had to suffer so much at the hands of someone else.

    Since a collective agreement of attitudes takes generations to change, there should be curriculum in school taught about women’s rights and respecting the value of women. However polititians and police men need to take immediate action so this will never happen again.

  3. Lavina Melwani on

    “We have a long road to traverse and centuries of trauma and tradition to erase.”
    Very true words Sumeet Sood!

  4. Lavina Melwani on

    Thanks for your thoughts Monica. Let’s hope they can change long-engrained attitudes.

  5. I was with you for the first half of the post, and then we started on this as if this is somehow symptomatic of Indian culture, and blamed Bollywood? Bollywood has a reputation for always challenging social mores… ‘Laaga Chunari Mein Daag’,’Baabul’…there’s more but they are the first two that come to mind… and whatever problems India might have, it actually has a lower incidence of rape than America. I feel India’s pain, I do…but we must not decide that this is somehow about India… crimes against women happen everywhere, only the apne would take the blame upon themselves personally.

  6. Lavina Melwani on

    Hi Jenny – you’re absolutely right – crimes against women happen everywhere but rapes have escalated a lot in India in the past ten years. Since the gang rape of ‘Amanat’ there have been 40 more cases of rape in the capital. There are many social reasons for the attitudes toward women and it seems only fair to talk about them and create awarenss.