Why I fear for India's future

The news has been full of the remarks of Mukesh Singh, one of the convicted rapists in that horrific gang rape that happened that December night in Delhi in 2012. Singh has been interviewed for a documentary from jail. Far from showing remorse, he is clear that the responsibility for not being raped lies with the female. She should not go out at night or go to discos and parties. He also blames the woman he raped for the violence that eventually killed her: she should not have resisted.

The BBC documentary, India’s Daughter covering the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old in Delhi on December 16, 2012, and the nationwide protests that followed will air on March 8, coinciding with International Women’s Day. File pic for representation
The BBC documentary, India’s Daughter covering the brutal gang rape of a 23-year-old in Delhi on December 16, 2012, and the nationwide protests that followed will air on March 8, coinciding with International Women’s Day. File pic for representation

There is nothing in Singh’s words which we have not heard before. Indeed, just after news of this gang rape horrified the nation, we heard similar sentiments expressed by societal leaders and general worthies. Some years ago, I heard a prominent Mumbai gynaecologist state with authority that the spread of AIDS/HIV was squarely to be blamed on the promiscuity of women, much to the horror of the well-informed school children he was addressing. Our moral guardians are clear that the only way to stop crimes against women is to stop women from doing anything at all.

Singh is a convicted rapist and murderer. He is not one of the pillars of society. His words echo his actions. Most of our pillars of society are convicted hypocrites anyway. But what really sends shivers of extreme fear down your spine is a survey available on the website, Indiaspend. A Bengaluru-based NGO, Children’s Movement for Civic Awareness, carried out a nationwide survey on college and school students. The findings are horrific.

Let’s start with this: “44 per cent of college students agree that women have no choice but to accept a certain degree of violence”. Or that 51 per cent of college students feel that women have to be solely responsible for child-rearing and domestic chores. Or that 65 per cent of college students disapprove of boys and girls of different religious backgrounds socialising in public places.

These are the very regressive thought processes that education is supposed to free us from. But obviously, between home and school and college and society, they are getting reinforced. We have spent enough time condemning the khap panchayats of North India for their patriarchal misogyny. But at the end of the day, we know that they are circumscribed by space, time, culture and social standing.

Our college students are supposed to be our hope for the future. We are told over and over again that most of India is under the age of 35. And yet, as this survey shows, most of India thinks like it is 85. Military rule is seen as a positive with these students, and over 65 per cent don’t even know that they are citizens of India.

At one level, you want to rail against an education system that perpetuates such attitudes and does nothing to dispel ignorance. But then, when you learn that more than 70 per cent of these students are all for saving the environment, then you realise that education has some value and that regressive ideas have very deep roots.

The repulsive ideas of the rapist Mukesh Singh did not need such airing. We all know how his ideas and those of his gang of rapists destroyed one woman. We also know that Mukesh Singh is not alone. But if we, at any point, let our collective guard down, thinking that Singh and the others were psychopaths, we can look at this survey and fill ourselves with real fear.

Because the future of this nation lies in the hands of people who have got some measure of that education everyone treasures, but still around half of them are accepting of violence against women, see nothing wrong with dowry, and appear to be in favour of community segregation of some sort. Even worse, for all your preconceived notions, it is the youth in our cities who are far more conservative than those in smaller towns and semi-rural areas.

If there is any hope at all to be got from all this, it is that just over 70 per cent of those questioned agree that women can perform any roles given to them as well as, or better than men. That’s clutching at straws, quite honestly. Right now, the idea of the future of this nation fills me, at least, with dread.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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