Two nights ago I finally managed to sit and watch, ‘India’s Daughter’- the hard hitting BBC documentary that examined the events leading up to and following the brutal rape of the 23 year old medical student, Jyoti Singh in Delhi. I was in the US at the time, and it took me an hour to locate a dodgy website that I could view the programme on. Youtube, and most other kosher sites had taken it down, following the ban in India. It made for some pretty gut churning viewing.
On the 16th of December, 2012, Jyoti Singh and a male friend were returning home from watching a film. Unable to find transportation, they took a ride in a private bus that was supposedly headed the same way as them. The male companion was taunted, beaten and knocked unconscious, and Jyoti was dragged to the back of the bus, raped repeatedly by six men, beaten and bitten viciously, and had an iron rod inserted in her, as punishment for retaliating. Jyoti and her friend were then thrown off the bus. She died as a result of her injuries, a few weeks later.
That is the plain, unvarnished truth of what happened. The BBC documentary examined the why.
Growing up in Delhi, I was always aware of how unsafe it was outdoors for girls, after a certain hour of the evening. We were restricted to our homes, or if we ventured out, it was always with family, escorted by at least one male member.
Nonetheless, at the age of nine, I was propositioned by an old man on a bicycle. A few years later, a respectable, middle aged man on a Bajaj scooter, saw fit to stop and expose his genitals to me, as I walked home after school. I had men rub up against me in temples, old ‘uncles’ let their hands wander down my back, a family ‘friend’ lasciviously suggest that I call him on his bedroom line. I learnt early to toughen up. To walk on the street with a heightened awareness of my surroundings, elbows out, ready to dodge or charge- whatever the situation required.
At the time I never sought to question why it was the way it was. I would listen to my cousin recount tales of staying out late in Mumbai (Bombay then), come home in a cab alone at midnight with no concerns, and feel a mild curiosity that two cities within the same country could be so different.
Moving and living abroad, opened my eyes to a different world. A world in which a woman could and did safely venture out at all hours. Where, what she wore, the hours she worked or the job she did, did not make her the cynosure of all eyes. Where there was no patriarchal tut tutting, no judgements on her gender, no restrictions on her movements.
In my twenty years living away from India, I heard of and saw plenty of change there as well. India was making great strides economically, and the new generations were benefitting from this globalisation. The youth of India were smart, aware, proud, savvy and not cowed by anything. And yet.
Every twenty minutes a woman is raped somewhere in India.
A silence shrouds these attacks. A silence that relies on the shame of the victims. It is shameful to be raped, it brings dishonour upon the family name, it begs the question what did she do/wear to ask for it?
Jyoti Singh was raped not just because she happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but also because she was with a male friend after socially acceptable hours, and because she dared to fight back. A woman’s place in this trenchantly patriarchal society is seven steps behind a male member of her family, be that her father, her husband, or her son. The child bride of one of the rapists illustrates this in her protestations of her husband’s innocence, despite all evidence to the contrary. The defence lawyer, argues it with his statement that “women are like diamonds” and if thrown on the street, “Certainly the dog will take it”.
The “dogs” in this instance, took with such barbarity, such savagery that it tore through the shroud of silence. It led people to the streets, to agitate, to call upon the law makers, to question why, in the 21st century, were women still not guaranteed safety on the streets of India?
Even as India cobbles together laws and fast track courts on the one hand, it bans documentaries such as these on the other. In a hasty white washing of its image, it forgets that while the rot eats away at its foundations, it will never rightfully or proudly be able to take its place at the forefront of the international arena.
It’s time to turn that gaze inward. Time to examine those attitudes, and those platitudes. It’s time to retire statements like advocate ML Sharma’s : India has the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.
Watch ‘India’s Daughter’. Make your sons watch it too.