Sunday, December 30, 2012

How a Twenty Three Year Old Brought a Nation Together

“Hang the Rapists” and “We are sorry Damini”, read posters held up by people at Jantar Mantar this morning. I went to the protest at Jantar Mantar today after church service, not knowing what to expect, but knowing that at twenty three you’re too young to die-for no fault of your own.

Looking at the posters and listening to slogans being chanted by protestors, I felt an enormous surge of sadness for a girl who had no desire to make headlines, to become a symbol of our shame, to become a candle flickering against the monstrosity and injustice and lack of system of our society, but who just wanted to watch a film and go home and maybe tell her friends what she though of it. She was one of us, wasn’t she; a girl who loved to watch Bigg Boss every night at nine and who relished her mothers simple cooking and whose face would light up each time she’d open a present which contained something she was probably saving money to buy.

She died painfully in Singapore, but in her death a nation came together and it was comforting to see that people in this country still have a heart.

In her death, we have hopefully learned some lessons. We have learned that it is possible to shake people out of their cynicism, that if enough people come together and raise their voices it is hard for the government to ignore us, that it is not “Eve Teasing” but sexual harassment, that a short skirt is not an invitation to rape and that men need to stop looking at women as objects.

Her death has also left us with questions. What about those other thousands of women who have been raped and who have been harassed by the police and society? What about cases of rape that go unreported because of the fear of humiliation? What about marital rape? What about Dalit and Tribal women raped by men from the Para- military forces? What about a stronger punishment for rape? What about a faster trial?

I don’t have answers, but I do know that there comes a time when a nation cannot afford armchair activists anymore and that time has now come for India. Tweeting and blogging about this won’t be enough; you need to walk out of your house and onto the streets so that we know you’re more than just a Twitter handle, you’re someone who knows that what happened to Her, could just as much have happened to you or to women you know.

I know it was early for a Sunday morning and maybe more people came to Jantar Mantar later in the day, but I couldn't help but shake my head at the irony of it all. When India won the Cricket World Cup in 2011, most of Delhi collected at India Gate, dancing atop cars, hooting and cheering for India. But when a girl, who was one of us, was brutalized, raped and left to die on the road and who eventually did die painfully of the inhumanity inflicted on her, it’s sad that it's taking us time to “think” if we want to be a part of the voice she didn't get to raise. I didn't know her either, but I felt like I lost someone I knew yesterday.

Image Credit: The husband and his iPhone 4S.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

What's That Thing About Girls and Shoes?

Me (stepping into shoe store): I'll see you in a bit.
Him (panicking): You're going to buy shoes! 
Me: Umm..yeah..
Him (visibly confused): But you only just bought a pair two days back!
Me (losing patience): Yeah..? 
Him (exasperated): Do you know how many pairs of shoes you already have? 
Me (with an incredibly offended look on my face): That's a question you must NEVER ask a lady! *walks into shoe store*

Image Credit: The husband and his iPhone 4S 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Brewing Revolution

On Friday night while the husband and I were driving back home, I told him how badly this country needs a revolution, a collective uproar by all of us to remind the government that we've pretty much lost faith in them and the lest a woman deserves is to walk down the road confidently without the fear of assault. That was also the night we saw heavy police presence sprinkled all over the city, stopping cars and ripping black films off from car windows- a small part of me felt happy! The Saturday morning protests at Raisina Hill made my heart swell with pride and I hope Delhi never loses this strong spirit of solidarity, which no amount of lathi charge, tear gas or water canons can threaten!

I wonder if the government has ever bothered to get online and see just how unpopular it is.

Photo Credit: The Sunday Times, December 23rd 2012. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My City of Shame

I am a Delhi girl. I am also a girl who regularly uses public transport, sometimes all by myself after dark. The many times I have taken an auto alone late in the evening, I take a long, hard look at the auto wallah, trying to figure out if he "could be a rapist". Maybe I'm naive, but then this is Delhi, where rape is a familiar word. 

On Sunday night a twenty three year old girl who was travelling on a bus along with a male friend was gang raped by six men in South Delhi (Delhi's "supposedly posh" area), who first brutally assaulted her friend and then proceeded to rape her for forty five minutes while the driver drove the bus around the city- even past police check points.The couple were then thrown out of the bus stripped and wounded. The girl, a young medical student now lies in hospital, hooked onto a ventilator with critical injuries, battling for her life. Four of the accused have been arrested, two are still at large.

Rape happens all the time in India. Statistics say that every twenty minutes a woman is raped in this country. Women from weaker sections of society like Dalits and Tribals are the easiest targets, knowing that their gender and caste are their greatest weakness, but then this barbaric crime knows no limits. It is nauseating how the word "Rape" has become synonymous with Delhi. What's even more sickening is how common these cases have become and how the government thinks the solution to reducing rape lies with the women, not with the men who are committing the crime. Telling women not to wear this or to not go there at that time is not the solution, telling men not to rape is.

I could respond to this incident like just another voice in the crowd and go on and on and on about what happened and what could have been done and what should have been done, but I choose to respond to this horrific crime as a woman; as a woman who leaves home everyday and travels the streets of Delhi for work and leisure. 

As I type this, newspapers, blogs,Twitter and Facebook are spilling over about reports of the rape and it makes me wonder about all that I was taught when I was growing up as a young girl in this city; the fact that my body is my right and nobody has the right to touch me without my permission. Was all that just an idealistic bubble that I was raised in? Is it that easy to violate a woman's modesty today? I choose not to believe that. 

 A few men who I've spoken to about such incidents say that all girls should learn self defence, there's nothing wrong with that, but in most cases when a woman is assaulted, it's by a group of men, not just one man. I don't see how self defence would really help there. The only thing I can think of in such circumstances is to shout, yell and scream, try and attract as much as attention as possible. The reason why men are encouraged to assault a woman is that they think they can get away with it without any consequences of it, if they know they'll be seen and reported, the chances of them going ahead with an assault are rare. Someone says carry pepper spray, again if a woman is being assaulted what are the chances that she'll be able to open her bag, or even reach into her pocket to retrieve the pepper spray. Not really practical. Yet, I firmly believe that security is not just for them who have drivers and live in highly secured residential complexes, but even for them who use public transport at all times of the day and night, irrespective of where they live in the city. 

What I think the government should be doing instead of telling women to wear salwar kameez and stay at home and roll chapatis for their husbands, is to make sure stronger measures are put in place to avoid incidents like these in the future.

To begin with put in place a harsher punishment for rapists, how about chemical castration? For a change, let the rapist and not the victim live with the stigma. Train cops to be more sensitive towards rape victims, most rape cases go unreported for the very reason that victims fear humiliation by the police. Fast track the judicial process so as not to repeatedly embarrass the victim; the Dhaula Kuan rape case is two years old and is still in court. Apart from having a stronger patrolling system in place, especially around deserted areas I think the government should make provisions to give vendors licenses to open up little stalls around lonely stretches in the city and not just paan and cigarette stalls, but also fruit and vegetable stalls, ensuring apart from just men, women customers frequent the area too, turning a lonely strip of road into a vibrant little market. Vendors like these around deserted bus stops and metro stations will ensure more lights after dark making sure that a single woman travelling alone will not be walking down a lonely and dark street; reducing chances of assault. 

 It's disgusting to think that Delhi, the capital of the world's largest democracy is home to men who behave worse than animals and I think we need to stop and think how we as a society have gone wrong in raising our sons. It has been over three decades since law reforms for rape are being put in place and it my take another three decades and I may not stop staring suspiciously at an auto wallah trying to figure out if he looks like he could do me any harm, but I hope our daughters never have to. 

What do you think?

Image credit - Valeri Pizhanski via Flickr

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Tail of an Unsuitably Named Dog

It wouldn't be exaggeration for me to say that I love dogs, love with a capital L, which I've made quite evident! In fact it wouldn't also be wrong for me to say that I love most animals (except cats, there's something about them that creeps me out) and I have a feeling that genetics has something to do with this. 

Like most Anglo Indians back in the days of the Raj, my paternal grandfather worked with the Indian Railways and was posted to a place called Bandikui, which was an old cantonment town in Rajasthan, very popular during the British rule for being a zonal railway hub. Bandikui was also where my father was born. I’ve never been there, but have heard that the town still bears strong signs of colonization; including a grand British era church and many abandoned buildings symbolic of British rule. As a young boy my father was drawn to animals and I believe the large house the railways had given them was teeming with a noisy brood of children who’d make a football team appear like a group of well behaved school girls (I’m assuming my grandparents were devout Catholics, because my father was a part of sixteen siblings) and animals. Apart from the numerous dogs and cats who populated the house, the family also had a large peacock who lived on the terrace and made it his business to swoop down on and terrify strangers who came knocking at their door! I don’t remember my grandparents having a guard dog and now I know why. I was also told of how my father once found a little fawn in the forest close to their house and how it followed him home and how he took care of it till it was old enough to go back to the forest.

Now coming back to the dog after which this story is named. My mother and her large family (they were nine children in all) lived in Saharanpur, a lesser known of city in Uttar Pradesh famous for its wood carving industry, along with a large troop of animals. The family had around fifteen mongrels, whose tails my maternal grandfather would obsessively chop off, for reasons no one knew why. This large pack of dogs included a black mongrel, rather inappropriately or aptly (depends on how you look at it), named Nigger. I guess it must’ve been one of mother’s siblings who though “Oh look a black dog, let’s call him Nigger”. To say that Nigger loved my grandfather would be an understatement; the dog followed him like a shadow. Running down the road behind him every morning Nigger would see Grandfather off to work, in the evenings when Grandfather came home, Nigger would yelp in joy and throw himself at him, wagging his little stump of a tail in a mad frenzy! Unlike the other dogs, my grandfather and Nigger shared a special bond and wherever Grandfather was you could be certain to find Nigger, sniffing the ground around his feet and looking up at Grandfather with adoration filled eyes. Grandfather and Nigger were always seen together, just like best friends.

Then one day Grandfather died. Nigger puzzled and upset followed the funeral procession down to the graveyard wondering what had happened. After the funeral everyone left, everyone except Nigger; he was waiting for grandfather. Nigger never went home after that day, he sat for weeks outside the graveyard, anxiously sniffing the ground and whining mournfully, hoping that Grandfather would walk out and the two friends would go back home together, just like old times. Mother and her siblings tried taking Nigger back home, but he was adamant, he didn't budge from his spot. After weeks of restlessly waiting and pining for Grandfather and without any food or water Nigger died sitting and waiting outside the graveyard for Grandfather.

This is something that never fails to sadden yet fascinate me each time I think of it and that’s the reason I decided to write it down as a small tribute to a dog who literally loved his master to death.