What are the protestors protesting against?
What are they really angry about?
Is it the “rape”? No. They happen all the time in India.
Is it the “gangrape”? No. Rural India is replete with such incidents where rape is resorted to as a form of revenge.
Is it a “rape in Delhi”? No. Some time back, a Manipuri girl was abducted from the Ridge Road in Delhi and gangraped but we didn’t see any outburst.
Is it the “murder”? No. Pallavi Purkayastha was murdered but we didn’t see any outburst.
It is possibly a combination of all the above factors. Truth is, the atrocities committed after the rape are what made the act sound gruesome. Until that time, the incident merited just a prominent report on the front-page – just like the girl who was gangraped in a taxi in Hinjawadi, Pune. It’s when people read about the torture that they sat up, took notice and re-read the news report. Even though Indians have become desensitized to rape reports over a period of time, they have not yet got desensitized to rape-and-torture reports.
But we have read about rape-and-torture incidents before. The Shopian rape-and-murder in Kashmir being a case in point. Or the Manipuri girl gang-rape. Or the hundreds of rape incidents in rural areas. But they don’t emotionally involve us in the way this incident has. It is because the victims are from the Other India: Rural areas, tribal regions, Kashmir, North-East, Andaman, Nicobar, etc. But this girl was ‘One of Us’. Only in this case the issue becomes personal: “Is my wife/daughter/sister no longer safe?”
This is what the protestors are really angry about: their own helplessness in reading about the torture of an urban middle-class mainland-Indian girl and not being able to do anything for the girl and against the perpetrators.
So all their angst gets directed towards the favorite bogey: The System. The government, police, courts, public transportation, etc. Inspite of the fact that all the culprits were caught soon after the incident. Somehow, the protests seemed more an opportunity to pass judgments on the culprits. To inform the government that “they should be hanged till death”. Hoping it will deter all future rapes. As if things will be all right then. As if it will be then that we will be able to face the girl. As if we will then be able to answer our conscience that we finally did something about it.
The trajectory of this ‘movement’ is similar to that for the Lokpal Bill started by Anna Hazare. There are many common threads running here: everybody has a rallying point (corruption/crime), a trigger (Lokpal bill, rape), a medium to take out angst (television/Facebook) and location to express it (Jantar Mantar/India Gate). But at their core, these are opportunities for the young urban middle class to vent out its frustration in public. Interestingly, both ‘movements’ happened in the same city – Delhi. But both ‘movements’ couldn’t elicit the same response in Bombay. This doesn’t show the apathetic attitude of Bombay-ites. They just think Bombay is safer for girls at night. In fact, living room discussions on the incident quickly turned into a Bombay vs Delhi comparison. The message seems to be: Bombay is limited to molestation and eve-teasing. Delhi is where all the rapes happen and harassment is commonplace in an open, public, aggressive way.
And it is this aggression – the scant regard for individual rights and no fear of the consequences – that is pissing people off. Because there is a lurking feeling that the criminals weren’t really interested in the rape. They were more eager to get into act of torture and the very gruesomeness of it gave them greater pleasure. And it is the same torture and its gruesomeness of it that first got you interested in this incident. Seen in isolation, getting the rapists hanged is a similar act of torture. It’s horrific nature and the power it accords is what will give people pleasure. Because subjugation through violence gives people a chance to set things right. To finally do the eye-for-an-eye that we have been secretly wishing for. A sort of desperate measure to correct what has gone wrong. An attempt to assert an individual opinion as a societal rule.
On that fateful night, the criminals weren’t venting their lust. They were setting things right – “women ought to be at home or else they will be raped or killed”. And now people seek revenge and a chance to set things right – “if you rape our women you will be castrated or hanged”. And women politicians or administrators cast aspersions on the victim’s character in their own attempt to set things right – “follow society’s rules or else you yourself are responsible for the consequences”. They are no right or wrong sides here. Simply two opposing sides asserting themselves. Like Ammu and the Inspector at the police station in Arundhati Roy’s ‘God of Small Things’.
And by now you might want to grab my collar and ask: So what are you protesting against here?
I am protesting against the xenophobia. The intolerance of The Other or the apathy towards it. Where you matter only if you are ‘One of Us’. Otherwise, you will get ignored, ridiculed or abused. Where violence is used as a quick-fix solution to set things right and to punish wrongdoings. Whether to make girls stay at home or to deter crime. To say that “Follow our norms or Die”. I am hoping differences of opinion will be respected by all. Arguments will be encouraged and not abruptly ended by “Either you are with us or against us”. In a society like ours, which is in a painful transition, women are asserting themselves in public, wanting their fair share of public space, facilities, opportunities and privileges. And men, emotionally under-developed and intellectually stunted, are confused and unsure of how to handle this change. We need platforms to bring opposing sides together so that they understand the other’s point of view.
This is not the time to demand, but to discuss.