The continent of Circe?

It was 16th December 2012, a cold blustery day in France when the horrible news flashed on my computer screen – the brutal gang rape of a 23 year old woman in New Delhi and its aftermath described in graphic detail. While half of the world geared up for Christmas celebrations, the girl fought for her life in different hospital rooms. Her struggles ended on the 23rd, almost at the same time as other and more fortunate women were putting on the finishing touches to their Christmas preparations. I followed the reports that poured in about the spontaneous protest marches and listened to the deafening silence of the Indian government, the inane declarations of frauds and rogues from the entire spectrum of Indian society. Thousands of miles away from my country, I felt numbed – not only because of the gruesome nature of the crime, but also by the inhumanity in the capital city of a proud G20 country that left two gravely injured victims on the roadside and went about their everyday business. It was probably this, even more than the lack of prompt police action that churned my stomach and made the Christmas holidays totally meaningless.

Those who live in India will probably not be able to understand the helplessness of Indians living abroad. The sheer impossibility of taking any concrete action in any situation – be it related to family, to friends or to society in general – is like a constant ache. While my heart bled for the hapless young girl who probably woke up on that fatal morning thinking about the wonderful evening she had planned, my blood boiled with anger – anger against the inhuman perpetrators, against the spineless onlookers and the inefficient police force but over and above all, against the Indian society. A society that turns a blind eye to one of the worst crimes – that of violating a woman, where thousands of such crimes go unreported or unrecognized by the police force, where trials and condemnations are rare, where unscrupulous politicians and political parties constantly intervene in the process of law enforcement by an already corrupt police force. A society that raises and nurtures a multitude of sick men – not only the actual rapists, but a huge percentage of the Indian population that somehow justifies these heinous acts by putting the blame on women – their attitude, their behavior, their values, their looks that ‘prompt’ such incidents. A society that excels in the collective hypocrisy of deifying women – women as goddesses, women as sources of strength (shakti), women as mothers, daughters, sisters et al – and never ever recognizes the woman as a person, as a human, with human rights. When they are allowed to be born, that is.

For India holds the prize of place for the number of female foeticides carried out every day, which is punishable by law since 1961. An estimated 10 million female foetuses have been illegally aborted in India. According to the Canadian journal Lancet, India loses 500 000 girls every year through female foeticide. The skewed sex ratio in India is getting worse every year – 883 girls per 1,000 boys in 2011 compared to 901 girls to 1000 boys in 2001. The loophole ridden PNDT Act (1994) is allegedly difficult to implement, which may or may not explain the clemency of judges when the perpetrators are actually brought to justice, and let off with a paltry fine. India today may be regarded as a mass murdering nation, except that there is no international court of law to bring these murderers to justice. Add to this the high rate of death of young girls from malnutrition, death of young mothers due to insufficient health care and the dowry deaths – the actual sex ratio in India is probably worse than that depicted by Census data.

I read all this and more during the Christmas vacation that further darkened the late December days. The cold outside was nothing compared to the cold horror of the ubiquitous mistreatment of women in India prevalent in all social classes and strata. I had to do something to protest. And that was how the forum ‘Protibaad’) was born – Facebook providing the opportunity to create a dynamic community of like minded people, who were eager to do something to prevent Violence Against Women (VAW) in India. Interestingly, a large number of members of this active community are non resident Indians, living in the relative safety and comfort in the First world countries. We informed, we researched, we discussed and debated different issues, and we came up with a petition demanding immediate actions to prevent VAW in India, which was actually sent to the President’s office. We used a global internet platform for getting online signatures. We urged friends and family to support our cause. We zealously contacted the organizations working on the issue of VAW in India. In the mean time, women in India staged protest marches, joined the global ‘One Billion Rising’ movement on 14th February 2013, and demanded the full implementation of the Justice Verma Committee recommendations. The President of India hastily signed an ordinance, termed as a ‘mockery’ of the Verma Commission recommendations to pacify the growing unrest just before the budget session started; the Finance Minister announced the creation of an Rs.1000 Crore ‘Nirbhaya Fund’, which was interpreted as ‘tokenism’ by women activists.

In the days that followed, the main suspect in the Delhi gang rape case committed suicide in his prison cell, making India a cynosure of eyes all over the world regarding the efficacy of prison custody. Film stars and media personalities jumped on the bandwagon of protest by joining various international movements like ‘Ring the bell’ and went public with their own opinions. However, the Indian Government did not respond to the call) launched by UN Women, and did not sign the pledge that was signed by 51 countries, including Afghanistan, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, Nepal etc. The whole world suddenly woke up to the reality of violence to women, prevalent in all societies and cultures in different forms, but always directed against women. But curiously, the reactions from India remained very low key – sitting here in France I saw no sign of a society wide movement for preventing violence against women. I did not hear any general outcry for justice to women; I did not see any public outrage and anger that can shake the foundations of a shamefully patriarchal society.

One and a half years later, the victim’s family still awaits justice for the perpetrators. The fast track court and Delhi High Court sentenced four of the convicts to death while the fifth surviving criminal, technically a minor, was judged by the Juvenile Justice Court and walked away with a three year stint in a reform facility –the maximum sentence for a juvenile, in spite of the generalized outrage of the civil society. The lawyers defending the four convicts will now appeal to the Supreme Court that may take months or even years, to deliver its judgment. By that time, the heinous crime would probably have completely disappeared from public memory, and the media shall have a gala time reviving the story as it had done in other similar cases in the recent past.

India again made it to the international headlines about a couple of months back following the rape and murder of two young Dalit girls in Uttar Pradesh – the gruesome picture of their bodies hanging from a tree was reproduced all over the world media. The incident, allegedly involving policemen and members from the upper cast of the village, once again brought into limelight the ugly underbelly of the caste system in India and the impunity of those in power. As usual, the media has passed on to other and juicier stories and there is no follow-up of the grotesque crime against two teenagers who lost their innocent lives for no fault of theirs.

In the meantime, Indians have voted in a brand new government with enormous optimism. The new Prime Minister and his cabinet were sworn in with a lot of fanfare, but we are yet to see any concrete action for preventing the daily incidents of violence against women all over the country. The politicians continue to make atrociously irresponsible comments undermining the importance of the issue that creates a furor in the media for a few days and then dies down – no one is brought to book, no stands are taken by politicians to do anything meaningful for making India a safer place for women, wherever they are. The civil society in India sits back and watches in dismay as more and more incidents are reported from across the country. The country does not rise in protest.

I see the reflection of this general attitude in our forum on Facebook. Our 900 odd members, coming from diverse backgrounds and different countries, do not seem to be concerned anymore about the issue of Violence against Women. As expected, the activities of the forum reached a peak in the first few months of 2013, and then tapered off. It has acted as a true mirror of the Indian society, reflecting the general apathy and the incredible capacity of the Indian society to accept anything and everything, however unethical or amoral the issues may be. But one small group of die hard rag tag activists of ‘Protibaad’ struggles on – with the single objective of contributing in some way to the VAW movement in India. They are rewarded by the cynicism of those living in India, the blank silence from the women’s organizations and women activists working in India, the curious lack of involvement of women themselves. While I am heartened by the involvement and concern of Indians living abroad, I am very discouraged by the lack of response from India.

Who is this Circe that has charmed a whole sub-continent into docile acceptance of all that is corrupt, horrible and heinous? With what kind of poison? A savant mixture of cupidity, indifference, selfishness and cowardice? How long will Indian women be sacrificed in the altar of a cruel and patriarchal society, irrespective of caste, creed and religion? Has the Indian society lost all sense of solidarity, of humanity and above all, the sense of justice?


1 comment:

  1. It's not indifference, people are busy with their own lives. An attitude of prevention of violence against women or zero tolerance is something that should be _built_ from within, you can never "impose" from above.


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