The tragedy of the Guwahati molestation is that it is not an uncommon incident. We must know this. But this particular case made us watch it in all its horror. We saw a young girl being attacked and brutalised. We saw the glee on the faces of her male tormenters. Masks off, civilisation stripped — it was raw and unpalatable.
It was hard not to watch that clip without getting really, really angry and to wonder why it happens so frequently and why it just won’t stop. Most women will have experienced something like this, in varying degrees, from an obscene passing comment to the extreme act of rape. Following the feeling of violation are those of extreme helplessness and frustration. The rage when you watch the Guwahati molestation is not just about why didn’t anyone help but why was it happening in the first place.
It is easy to get into a diatribe against men. But the problem is bigger than just uncontrollable testosterone and the solution will not come from the gender blame game either. We all know that women are not perfect either and can get brutish in their own ways. That is why these acts of violation have to be treated as a human problem.
The first answer has to come from the law. For one, we need to get rid of the word ‘eve-teasing’ to describe sexual assaults. There is no ‘teasing’ here: these are attacks on a women’s right to public space and a violation of her private space. The law has to be stronger as well as less patronising and less patriarchal.
Luckily there are many men who either do not have this need to degrade women or have been able to control it.
They are the men who stand along with women in this battle — and not just with women, perhaps with all oppressed sections of society.
Then there is what we are used to. We get prickly about criticising ‘Indian culture’ but there is much in Indian tradition which encourages, subtly or openly, the degradation of women. We have to accept that and then make moves to change it. Most women of my generation cringe when they look back at what passed for ‘teasing’ in popular culture starting with all those old-time movies where a group of boys sing, dance and make fun of a group of college girls. It is not so cute when it happens in real life — not to girls anyway. Nor are those ‘Holi’ parties enjoyable where suddenly every female is fair game. It is only fun when it is consensual.
But social change is going to take a long time and the problem will still not go away. There will always be men who need to prove their masculinity by attacking women and the only recourse for women is a no-tolerance legal system. In that perennial vicious cycle of life, unfortunately, this is where social change becomes vital. As long as the police and those within the judicial system come from the same social system, women will always be prey.
Is it sexual repression which leads to this? Social emasculation? An inherent sense of weakness which makes you search for the next weakest thing? The answer would be yes to all of those, but these are faults which women also have. Assaults of these kinds are to do with assertion of power and most men have the advantage of being physically stronger than most women.
Unfortunately you soon realise that there can be no solution. There are some preventive measures and there are some legal measures. Locking women up at home was the traditional way to deal with the depravity of men. But that is assault of another kind and degrades women even more completely.
The more you think about it really, the more you want to sit down and cry.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona