Saturday, January 5, 2013

Nirbhaya’s wake up call - from “Chalta Hai” to “Nahin Chalega”

Like the rest of India, I have been following the news about the Delhi gangrape and its aftermath. As I read these news, I am saddened, shamed, shocked. But not surprised.

I am saddened because we lost Nirbhaya. I am sad for her family, I am sad for her friend and co-victim, I am sad for the people who knew and loved Nirbhaya, and I am sad along with my country men and women as a nation to have lost a daughter. A daughter with dreams, a daughter who worked hard to fulfil those dreams, a daughter who wanted to help her fellow citizens and a daughter who was brave in the face of death to worry not about herself but about her mother and family. She represented what is best in India – the love and care of others before oneself.

I am shamed in our leaders. Rather than lead after this event, they have followed. If there had been no protests, there would have been no action, and no movement towards justice. I am more shamed at some of the statements that have come out of some of our leaders after the event. These statements reflect what a lot of Indians think and believe, and how these beliefs foster a system where women are attacked with impunity. We have the President’s sonchastising the women protesters; as if this was some small outrage they were protesting against. We have a Congress minister blaming the victim for travelling at night. We have a BJP minister that blames the victim for crossing a “Lakshman Rekha.” We still believe what Ravana did was Sita’s fault! And we have a national leader, the head of the RSS, no less, saying that there is more rape in India than in Bharat. Let alone the untrue factual basis for these statements. Are the values of India (so-called “western,” but really universal values) really to blame? What are these values that he is so concerned about? Equality of women? The freedom for women to decide how they want to lead their lives? Their right to their bodies and their right not to be violated? We really believe that in “Bharat” there is less rape and violence against women than in countries with “western values!” I could understand if a lay person unexposed to the world believed this. But the head of a national organisation that runs many educational institutions? In the countries with these so-called “western” values, any political leader who had made these comments blaming the victim directly or indirectly would have had to resign. Not in India. I am shamed.

I am shocked because we allowed this to happen. I am more shocked at what we did not do after it happened. No passerby, in foot or car, helped the victims as they lay bleeding and naked for almost an hour. I am shocked at the police, who instead of helping the victims immediately argued about jurisdiction. I am shocked that they could not take the victims to a private hospital nearer and faster to reach, possibly because they believe (unfortunately rather correctly) that private hospitals will also be callous and not treat the victims without payment. I am shocked that that these policemen are not held responsible for this delay, which if avoided may have increased the chances of saving Nirbhaya’s life. I am shocked that policemen who are supposed to protect the citizens actually harm them through indifference and callousness – not recording rape FIRs, blaming and intimidating the victims and sloppy investigations are common across India. I am shocked that nothing is done about it.

But I am not surprised. I am not surprised because I knew all this before it happened. And did nothing. We did nothing. We said, Chalta Hai. This is India, here everything Chalta Hai. Stuff happens, life goes on.

But no more. We have to leave behind the land of Chalta Hai and create a country of Nahin Chalega. We owe this to Nirbhaya, to every rape victim in India who has suffered from our indifference and to every woman who deserves the same protection and freedom that men have.

I am heartened at the protests that have happened and by the people that have spoken out. This has led to rapid arrests, fast investigation and, I hope, a quick trial and meting of justice. I also hope this leads to broader systemic reform in our legislation, in our police, in our judicial system and in our polity, where politicians who see women as less than men, and who blame the victim are history. And I hope that as a nation we change out attitudes so that this does not happen just because people fear swift justice, but also because people know that rape is wrong.

But this will only happen if we keep protesting, speaking, writing, voting. We cannot stop. No to Chalta Hai. Yes to Nahin Chalega.