The world was supposed to end this week, and I think it did. It ended in Connecticut, when a gunman killed twenty children at the Sandy Hook elementary school. Twenty pieces of homework that will never come in. Twenty less birthday cakes and twenty less candles will grace twenty less tables. The world was supposed to end this week, and I think it did. It ended in Delhi, where a 23 year-old was brutalised and left for dead by six men in a moving bus. Her crime? Getting on a bus to go home.
If you’re expecting even a hint of humour in this space today, I apologize. You can turn the page, or close this tab, and go do whatever else, because I don’t feel very funny right now. If you hear any laughter right now, chances are it’s from the oblivious, or it’s the sort of braying mirthless howling that comes after the epiphany that things are very, very broken.
I’d also like to state, at the outset, that you’re welcome to discount anything and everything I say from here on out. I’m male. No matter how much I try to close my eyes and put myself in a woman’s position, I will never in my darkest nightmares be able to fully comprehend the sheer sense of violation and powerlessness that an act like that can inflict on a woman. This is just me, trying to parse this information, trying to make sense of it all.
There’s no silver lining to this cloud. The closest thing to it is the fact that it seems to have started a conversation. A conversation we should have had years ago, a conversation every parent in this country should have had with their children, a conversation every person in a position of influence should have had with anybody who listens to them. But we didn’t. And as a result, a conversation that should have been pre-emptive is now reactionary. And like all things reactionary, it’s shrill, it’s hysterical, and it’s too little too late.
Castrate the guilty, screams the gallery. In this case, and every single case ever. The jury’s out on whether that’d change anything, but let’s assume it would. Even if you did assume that, you’d have to remember that castration is punishment, the part that comes later. To earn a punishment, first you need to get convicted. According to the National Crime Bureau records, in 2010, less than 30 per cent of reported rape cases resulted in a conviction. Add the thousands of rapes that never even make it to the police list and the figure’s even more dismal.
A death-sentence for all rapists, yell the baying hoards. Again, assume we change the law to allow that. What happens when more people start turning up dead when rapists try to cover their tracks?
Which brings you to your next question, one I don’t blame you for asking; “So what do YOU propose, wiseass?” Which brings us, messily enough, to my answer; I don’t know. And I don’t think anybody does. Which is why this conversation is so shrill, so hysterical. Because how do you fix the end of the world?
We could change the law, and our punishment could be swift, brutal and definitive, but none of that changes the fact that all of those things come into play after the crime is already committed, after the deed is undoably done. Maybe what we need to do, if we’re to fix this at all, is to look all the way into our soul, into the fabric of what we so blithely call our culture, and ask ourselves why and how we’ve created an environment where somebody feels like it’s okay to do this at all. The catch-all phrase in use is “We need to teach men and children to respect women.” I think we might need to go further back into the DNA of the Indian male and first teach him a thing or two about himself. Teach him that even if he thinks “she invited it on herself”, he needs to turn that invitation down. And maybe we need to stop equating masculinity with the power to take things from people at will. And before you tell him to respect anyone else, dear Indian parents, can you please tell him that he really isn’t that special, and he really isn’t owed anything. By anyone. And most important, do us a favour, look him in the eye and tell him that he needs to know that if he was ever involved in anything of the sort, it wouldn’t be her fault, it’d be all his.
I’ve been asking myself something all week, and maybe this conversation would be a little less impotent and a little more effective if you asked yourself this too; can you think of anything tangible you can do to make this stop? Can you think of a section of the Indian Penal Code that can be changed through a petition it’d take you a day to file? Can you think of a module of police-training that could be introduced or changed to make handling of rape cases a more sensitive process? If you have any answers that don’t have the word “Facebook group” in them, you’ve got a footsoldier at your service at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let’s do this. The world ended, and there’s pieces to pick up.
Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can also contact him on www.facebook.com/therohanjoshi