Even if we want to, we can’t. It is not possible to sweep this monster-sized guilt and humiliation under the carpet, veil it behind a chador, or shroud it in a sari. The shame and dishonour is there for all to see. Globally, there is shock over the gruesome rape and then respect for how common Indians moved as a nation to find ways out of the current morass.
The testimony of the gang rape victim must shame us all: cops who argued instead of promptly taking the bleeding girl and her battered friend to a hospital, doctors and paramedics at the hospital who didn’it even spare a blanket to cover up the girl, and the passers-by who drove by without stopping to help someone in such horrific distress.
Some people in the high echelons of power presumed that this anger would be restricted to only Delhi and soon fizzle out; that people would go back to work at the end of the winter break, and both the national and international media would move away from this story.
But thanks to the tenacity of reporters who are covering every aspect of this news story, and thanks to the committed aam admi and aurat, forgetting is no longer an option. From atrocities by men in uniform, violence by family members, gender inequality and intimidation at place of work, hazards of public transportation for women to sexual innuendoes in Bollywood lyrics, no topic is taboo for discussion in the media, in classrooms, at cafes, kitty parties… just about everywhere. Pent up humiliation is finding a release after decades. Women in forties and fifties are sharing their horror stories of incestuous uncles, neighbourhood louts and faceless beasts. Nobody says Shhh…. don’t speak about it. Anymore.
The brave girl, in her horrific death, has touched hundreds of thousands of lives in ways that she never knew she would. She was studying to be a healer, a physiotherapist. She is healing millions across the globe by spreading awareness about gender atrocities.
The reaction to the girl’s brutal rape has parallels with the debate on gun control generated in the US after the Newton school killings last month where 27 people died. America was numbed with shock that lives of children aged six and seven years could be snuffed out easily, simply because it is so easy to purchase assault guns in the US. Sometimes it is one incident that shakes a nation to think and rethink about the inadequacies and anomalies in laws and society.
The right to bear arms is enshrined in the US constitution but its blatant misuse is there for all to see. There are nine guns for every ten people in the US. The world was baffled at America’s fetish for guns and its agonised debates over guns in the hands of crazed killers.
It is the same bewilderment that the world expresses today when it reads about India being Rape Central of the world. But India is not unique. These shockers occur in every democracy. The race riots of London in 2011 were an unwelcome reminder that no country, however wealthy and posh, has dispensed with inequality and racial discrimination. It forced England to do some introspection over its social and economic policies.
Democracies can appear slothful and therefore frustrating to their citizens but governments, which react swiftly and decisively, can also do so brutally for sustained periods of time. In a country like China, a Delhi-like protest could never have been organised by ordinary citizens through social media (the internet is tightly regulated by the state) and there would be no round-the-clock student protests over allegations of widespread political corruption and lack of democratic rights at Tianamen Square in June 1989, is not to establish fast-track courts or propose amendments to laws but to send tanks and troops in the cover of darkness to massacre unarmed students.
No democracy is perfect, and nobody claimed India to be anywhere near perfection. At 65, we are still young and we still have to learn to play our parts without fear or pretence in the endeavour to make it a thriving democracy. Every time apathy sets in, we have to work towards making regulatory changes. It isn’t about a one off battle, it is a constant struggle and one that we will win. We must.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash