Are we ready to really walk the talk

(I begin this post by urging you to spare a thought for Aruna who was sexually assaulted and brutalised almost 4 decades ago. Since she lies in a vegetative state abandoned by one and all: her fiance, her family, her friends and even the justice system. She waits in a dark room for death to release her from her terrible ordeal. This is what happens to victims of rape and sexual assault.)

She went to a movie with a friend in a swanky South Delhi mall.. After the movie she boarded a bus with her friend. What happened next is nothing short of a nightmare. She was  gang raped by six or seven men including the bus staff and mercilessly beaten with an iron rod. Her friend who tried to protect her was also beaten. She was then stripped and thrown out of the bus. As I write these words she is fighting for her life in a hospital. As always the authorities - in this case our Chief Minister - have promised strict action, whatever that means. Five of the six suspects seem to have been arrested. I only wonder what punishment will be meted out to them.

This happened in a city which is ruled by a woman, in a country where one if not the most powerful political person is a woman. The incident occurred in a posh area of the capital city makes it that much more alarming. In any civilised city one should be able to go and see a movie with or without a male escort and return home safely using public transport. That is what this young girl believed! Then things went terribly wrong. Many questions come to mind all begging for answers. First and foremost how was this rogue bus allowed to carry passengers? How does a passenger know whether the bus she is getting on is a genuine one? How were so many drunk staff on the bus? Maybe the transport authorities should look at that? But these are not the real questions. What really needs to be asked is why is our society churning out so many men who feel they have the right to view women as commodities, use them and then throw her away like a used object? Why do such men brazenly feel that they can get away with it?

What is horrifying in this case is the brutality meted out to this young woman. The doctors have stated they have never seen a victim of sexual assault subjected to such brutality. What could provoke these men to behave in such an outrageous manner. I heard on a new channel that they wanted to teach a lesson to the girl. A lesson for what! For being out at night; for being with a man; for fighting back; for having broken the unsaid covenant that says that women ONLY are the keepers of a family's honour. Many questions that need to be answered one by one if one has the will to do so.

Everyday women are abused, raped,  molested, assaulted sneered at, leered at and more of the same. Many, too many, remain silent. Some cases come to light because of their being out of the ordinary like the one of the young woman. Then the show begins: politicians find a new way to espouse their agendas; the media to increase their TRPS; civil society to vent its pent up anger. The question is how long with this anger last? The authorities are masters at the waiting game. This too shall pass as everything seems to.

I think it is time we gave a thought to a woman named Aruna that we all seem to have forgotten.  It was on the 27 November 1973, almost 40 years ago, that she was raped, sodomised and strangulated with a dog chain. She has been living in a vegetative state for 4 decades, abandoned by all: her fiance, her family, the justice system, collective conscience.  Aruna's story movingly recounts what happens to a rape victim in reality.

We clamour for quick justice for the perpetrator; but who gives justice to the victim. Even if she is not physically mutilated, she is emotionally shattered. Our system is such that if she wants justice then she has to accept being raped over and over again: by the police, the defence lawyers and the whole caboodle that makes our weak and spineless justice system.

When I was a young woman I too lived in Delhi. That was 40 years ago. I worked at the radio station and my duty hours were at night. An official car use to come and fetch me at 9 pm and drop me back at 2 am. Sometimes the cars broke down in far off places as we had to fetch people from many locations. I often would be the last one in the car but when I look back at those times I remember an array of emotions: anger, frustration but never fear. Delhi then was safe. True there was some Eve teasing and misplaced comments but not the chilling fear we are experiencing today. In those timed a stern stare would make the person look away. In those days we went out alone or with friends. I remember how we sneaked out of college at night to have paranthas at a known outlet and came back safe. We saw evening movies and caught public transport back without feeling scared. If we felt a tad apprehensive the presence of a male - pal of relative - was enough to set things right. Even the parents approved.

The recent incident has put an end to that sense of security. The girl who is fighting for her life was with a man. And  she was so brutally and inhumanely aggressed because she dared fight back. It seems that the perpetrator resented to having been bitten by her and flew in a manic rage.

Come to think of it, even the Taliban views women as  safe with a male escort. But that is not the case in India today. Women are unsafe no matter what. When they get molested or abused, authorities are quick to find fault with them, it is always what they wear, where they go etc that is the cause of the reprehensible behavior of their male counterparts.

What make men take such liberties and feel they can get away? One of the obvious reasons could be the fact that most of the cases of harassment go unpunished. Perpetrators seem to get away with alacrity and impunity. But there is more. It seems that our society has become one where though we still loudly praise Goddesses in all shades and hues, we treat our women with abject contempt.

The men that committed this heinous crime were one of a multitude that inhabit a city that has seen an exponential population growth in the past decades subsequent to the wave of migrations that we have witnessed courtesy the ever growing need of a city aspiring to become a world class one. For that to happen it needs hands willing to get dirty and those come from across its limits. The perpetrators of this week's crime were a bus driver, a cleaner, a fruit vendor, a gym trainer. Young men eager to spend a Sunday on the prowl in their pals bus. Now rape is a power game and power comes courtesy hooch so easily available across this city. (The government seems on an overdrive in opening watering holes in every nook and corner of the city!). The perpetrators in question have been well honed in the art of denigrating women as they belong to homes where women have scant authority. They come from homes where their mothers are beaten by their drunk fathers and little girls are killed before they are born. They come from a section of society where boys are treated like demi Gods and made to believe that they have license to do anything. They come from a place where one's whistles at the passing girls or sings cheap film lyrics that denigrate women. They come from a place where if women dare step out of line they need to be chastised at once. So when a young woman dares challenge them all their misplaced manhood is violated and they act the only way they know. That is not all. The move to the city has brought into their lives realities they cannot process or handle. It is a recipe for disaster and one sees the outcome in every aberration you hear about each and every day: children and women raped and assaulted. The question is how to we address the crux of the problem. Education? Awareness? Gender sensitisation? But what can you do when even the basic chapter on sex education is not thought in state run schools. The teacher often asks the student to read the said chapter.

The city is in damage control mode. Old laws yet to be implemented are suddenly revived:  ban on tinted windows in vehicles, more patrolling etc. Will it change anything? I for one remain sceptic. There will be a lot of hue and cry for a day or a week and then every one will revert to old ways.

It is heartwarming to see the outrage across the Nation. But can we sustain it till we ensure that things change? I do not know. But that is not enough. What needs to change is our attitude to women. Can we hope that the young men protesting on the street will be as vocal when their parents demand dowry or their sister choses to marry a person of her choice? Or will the traditions and misplaced code of honour silence their newly found cause.

There is a long way to go. Are we ready to walk the talk.