Years of being attacked on the streets, in homes, in buses and in offices with little or no recourse to the law in practice had scarred the women of India. Stories are pouring in from everywhere of women who learnt to cope, to cower, to cover up and the rare few who fought back. Most women were told to shut up and put up, it was pervasive and there was nothing to be done. The assault could be lewd comments, a gherao, stalking or even rape. This was the chance every woman took for just being alive, she was not safe even in the house. Something snapped after the news spread of the brutal sexual assault of a young woman in a Delhi bus. People poured out to express their sorrow and solidarity. The Government reacted slowly, not recognising the need to share the sorrow. And when it did, it was harsh. The delay was damaging, the harsh lathi-charge and tear gas shells even more so.
The weekend revealed many gaps and schisms in the fabric of the country. And then some rare blessings too, where unexpected support was found. In the middle of the protest there were those who sought to disrupt peaceful demonstrations, and then there were those who protected others from the lathis. People thought this would be a woman’s issue, but there were men standing for safer streets too. People thought that the Government would see their concerns, would share in their sorrows. But the law took another course. It was time for ministers, MPs and MLAs to step up and speak, but the winter cold kept them in. Not so the protestors, some of whom stayed out after the candlelight vigil. Cycling past the next morning, the Government bandobast was clearly in place. The day served the morning’s plan and by afternoon the protests had degenerated into a fracas. People were hurt and arrested. Much of this could have been avoided with timely action and caring conversation. The authorities needed to reach out, perhaps to console but certainly to acknowledge and to take responsibility for change.
The tale of the weekend is a tale of sorry gaps — the gaps between men and women in this country. Men have traditionally seen women as property, or a source of property. The woman brings her bride price to pay for her keep for the rest of her life. She is a liability, seen as such at birth, where tears are shed, female foeticide rates are high. Men, on the other hand can command, often not even getting a glass of water for themselves ever. Those attacked and those who are supposed to protect them, both feel ashamed. This was an outpouring against shame, a fightback for dignity and safety. Of course there were those who went to this gathering to grope women — more shame on them.
The gaps between needs and manners. In a nation where there is no shame in spitting on the streets, or urinating in public for men, there is little expectation of any other lines being drawn for their ‘needs’. Manners and self discipline are not expected. In any other society, even where men dominate, men do not walk around holding, touching, groping, feeling, poking. It is simple, you have an itch, you hold it. Don’t dig your nose in public, don’t poke your body parts on to others. It’s only good manners, child.
Then, there are the gaps in analysis. Facts and conclusions drawn seem to have no connection with each other. Rapes happen at any time of day or night, yet a 1 am curfew is imposed by the State. There are groups of people that believe that eating chow-mein (chinese noodles) and meat incite rapes. There are many who say young, attractive women are natural targets — but statistics show that age is no bar, one can be attacked at any age. Old women of 70 and above have been assaulted. Clothes are no barrier either — women need not be skimpily dressed to be targets. Statistics show that neither tents nor traditional motherly dresses seem to stop the attacks. Yet, one of the first questions that gets asked after a rape is reported is ‘What was she wearing?’. Firstly, it does not matter, she will be attacked anyway! Secondly, it does not matter as she has the right to wear what she likes. As I write this, reports come in of an RSS chief exhorting people to raise cows to inculcate values that will help them respect women. Logic takes a beating when there are such gaps of reason where beliefs defy logic.
With the gap between the average age of those who occupy ministries and the average age of the population widening, this may be a clash of the generations — the demographic disconnect. Those who believe that women must be subjugated, and others who genuinely believe that a woman has the same rights as men. When women are asked why they were out at night, the question makes no sense to the younger generation — a woman has every right to be where she wants to be at any time of day or night. She has the right not to be assaulted, period.
And finally, the toughest — the gaps between the protestors and the protectors. When the latter turned their lathis on those they should have been protecting, a new divide was born. Mind that Gap.
This was published in NitiCentral on December 26, 2012. And is linked here and link pasted here: http://www.niticentral.com/2012/12/uneven-gender-discourse-forces-us-to-mind-the-gap.html