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

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