Dec 31, 2012, 06:55 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Fiona FernandezOne image that stayed in the head among the thousands that flashed across our TV news channels on the Saturday when Delhi’s gutsy 23-year-old medical student’s fight for her life ended, was that of a young protester, a schoolgirl who was holding a placard that read – ‘Death Sentence For The Guilty’.

Almost immediately, a queasy sensation began to emerge, and with it the questions began to crop up, one after another. The one that kept coming back was whether this little girl, not even in her teens, will be able to grow up in a safe environment.

The days to follow will witness citizens across India come out in unison, upset, hurt, angered at the tragic turn of events, and at the apathy of the powers that be in failing to act in a manner that would reassure all concerned. Experts across the social, legal and cultural milieu will cry hoarse and hope that justice will prevail, not just for this one girl but also for the countless, nameless, faceless girl children, teenagers and women who have met with a similar, traumatic fate.

Which brings us back to the image of the placard-wielding schoolgirl. What about the future? The next generation? Will girls feel safe and secure in public spaces and worse, in their own homes? Will we become a nation where women will find it increasingly insecure to step out after dark, if unaccompanied? The recent Delhi case nullifies even that scenario. Will this event be a turning point in the history of women’s rights in India?

Even if we zero in solely on the woman in urban India, she has and continues to face a sexually repressive society where the male is increasingly feeling threatened of a broadminded educated and free-speaking species. This woman isn’t afraid to step out into what was until some time back, a male dominated order. In an urban set up, this emergence, and equal opportunities across platforms seems to be causing immense discomfort resulting in the rampant display of such aggressive, violent behaviour. We must make the next generation fearless of this scenario that is lurking in shadows. It needs to be stopped before it becomes a full-blown, unstoppable phenomenon.

Most importantly, unless the fear of being punished for such an unforgivable crime is rooted into the male psyche, this will continue to occur, boldly. We must remind and be relentless in ensuring that the lawmakers act fast, act strong and instill a sense of reassurance among all of us.
It is with this hope that one has to sign off this last column of 2012 – let there be light, for all who must walk fearlessly and freely.

— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY¬†

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