INDIA BRIEFINGS: JYOTI SINGH’S SACRIFICE HAS STIRRED
OUR SLEEPING SOULS
By confluence | April 6th, 2013 | Category: Viewpoint |
- Jyoti Singh’s sacrifice has stirred our sleeping souls
- The real problem lies with the corrupt and lazy judiciary and callous and unaccountable law enforcement machinery.
Indian protester in Delhi
Open a Delhi newspaper, particularly a Hindi one, and you will find it full of depressing crime stories. But December 16 was different. A 23 year old medical student and her boyfriend were lured into a bus where she was brutally assaulted and raped by five men. The most vicious among the rapists was a seventeen and half year old man. But he will be soon out of the juvenile home where he was detained after his arrest because technically he was still a child, who could not be jailed under India’s archaic laws.
For more than ninety minutes a daughter of Delhi was being raped in a moving bus and no one noticed anything until the unfortunate girl and her boyfriend, half necked and virtually dead, were dumped on a busy road near Delhi airport.
Public anger soon burst into widespread protests. As the protests turned bitter and ugly, the government showed nerves. It dispersed the protesters with disproportionate force and decided to move the injured girl to Singapore. It proved a controversial decision. After 14 days the girl lost her battle for life.
Strangely enough, in a fit of contrived self-restrain the media decided not to name the victim. Therefore, the victim was given false names. For the first few days she was named as Damini. The name was taken from a Bollywood film, based on the story of a rape victim. Some other newspapers called her Nirbhaya or the fearless, while others described her as Braveheart.
Later her father disclosed her real name to a British newspaper: “I want the world to know my daughter’s name is Jyoti Singh”, he said. “My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, she died while protecting herself. I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks.”
Sadly, the patronising Indian media is still calling her, Nirbhaya, Damini, Braveheart or just the Delhi rape victim.
The non-stop media coverage of the entire case could be a story in itself. Young reporters went around Delhi asking girls how scared they were while on a night out. Some imaginative reporters re-enacted the bus journey, others reconstructed the scene with sloppy animation. TV news channels set up frenzied penal discussions where activists, doctors, psychologists, lawyers, judges, police officers and politicians debated the problem of rape in India.
Most of them wanted the accused to be hanged.
Some of these panellists, especially politicians, talked sheer nonsense. The most bizarre comment came from Congress MP Abhijit Mukherjeet, who is the son of President Pranab Mukherjee. He said, “Those who are coming as students in these protest rallies, sondori, sundori mahila (beautiful women), are highly dented and painted.”
The RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat described rape as the problem of India and not Bharat. His statement was further endorsed by the BJP veteran Murali Manohar Joshi that rape is the problem of modern urban India and that it rarely happens in rural India. These delusional politicians were a million miles away from the reality of rural India. Rape has been a traditional weapon of the oppressive landlords and ‘Bahubalis’ (literally meaning strong arms) against the women of the poor farmers and lower caste farm workers.
Genuine public anger and disquiet was managed through artificial rage expressed in TV studios. Most of the panellists thought that the problem could be solved by making a new law. Only a few talked about the fair and efficient execution of the law. The real problem lies with the corrupt and lazy judiciary and callous and unaccountable law enforcement machinery.
A committee was formed under a good-hearted but an out of touch former Supreme Court Chief Justice. The committee proposed new measures and the government hurriedly agreed to bring in a new law.
Meanwhile, the rapes continued in Delhi. During the 14 days when Jyoti was fighting for her life a further 45 rapes and 75 molestation cases were reported in Delhi. Despite widespread anger no media outlet made a big story out of them.
During the last few years crime against women have soared in Delhi. The city reported a whopping 23.43 per cent rise in rape cases and 10.65 per cent increase in molestation cases in 2012. According to Delhi Police 706 rape cases were reported in 2012 compared to 572 cases in 2011 while 727 cases of molestation have been reported as compared to 657 cases in 2011.
Portraying women as trophies
Now I come to the second part of this story. Let’s examine the current social attitudes towards women. The process of modernisation in India has been largely superficial. Only appearances have changed, minds have not.
The crisis of Indian women begins with female foeticide. It’s no more a problem of socially and economically backward Rajasthan. Today female
foeticide is practiced with great impunity in two of India’s most prosperous states like Haryana and Punjab, while in the poor states of North-east it is almost unheard.
If the girls are allowed to be born they are discriminated within the family, often behind the male child when it comes to nutritious food, clothing, healthcare and education. In many cases wives are controlled, abused and physically harmed by their husbands who treat them nothing more than domestic slaves.
Incidents of dowry deaths and bride burning are not even reported in the media because, as one editor put it, ‘they are frequent enough not to make news anymore’!
Those who venture out to work have to first cook breakfast, get children ready to school and then take a crammed ride on public transport where predatory fellow commuters push them, squeeze them, stare at them and even pass lewd comments. Even offices are no different where unsavoury comments and bullying is quite common.
Most women keep quiet and do not complain. They know there is little they can legitimately do. Last year when a prominent TV reporter went to interview a federal minister, the minister said to her, ” If you were to share a bed with me then I would be grinding my teeth and saying his name as well.” The reporter blogged about it, but did not protest. Her employer, a hugely influential TV channel kept quiet. The issue was discussed on Internet but no- body thought it worth raising a fuss.
Abuse of women does not shake anyone’s conscience. Every night millions of Indians watch TV serials in which cruelty to women is portrayed as a means of entertainment. Every episode comes with a cruel mother-in-law inventing new tools of psychological torture to harass her daughter-in-law. One of the most popular characters Thakur Sajjan Singh, who treats family women like dirt, has a huge fan following. In one of the chat forums he has 330,000 followers and he has recently announced that he would like to fight parliamentary elections from Allahabad, the home of India’s first prime minister Jawahrlal Nehru.
As if simulated sex in Bollywood songs was not enough now many television advertsements are using sexually provocative images and sounds. Even if they are televised after 10 o’clock, many young children watch them unhesitatingly.
The worst among the TV adverts was an advertisement of Sprite, a soft drink from Coca Cola group. Released in Feb 2012, it had sexually suggestive lyrics that became a pain for millions of girls tormented by their male counterparts called eave-teasers in India.
In another advertisement India’s rising cricket star Virat Kohli is shown trying to trick a girl into a dodgy love affair and then boasting about it among his friends. The message was clear to millions of roadside Romeos – if iconic Kohli can do it, we can do it too – a girl could easily be fooled into a romantic relationship.
To young minds women are being presented as mere toys and trophies. A young person today has no social opportunity to learn about respect for women. And more importantly there exists a strange moral neutrality – no anger and no revulsion for the psychopathic urge to control and refrain from humiliating women. Jyoti Singh’s tragic sacrifice at least stirred our sleeping souls.