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.
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’.