By Niru Kumar
TORONTO: Every once in a while, a heinous crime captures the world’s attention. Perhaps it’s because it is impossible to understand how one human being could inflict such egregious harm on another human being. Perhaps it’s because the harm suffered by a victim is unfathomable. Or perhaps it becomes the tipping point of where we must go from here. The Delhi gang rape of a 23-year old student who innocently boarded what she thought was a city bus, not knowing it was the beginning of her end, is one of those events.
What did those men – can we even call them “men”?! – what did those animals do to her that she should require removal of her gangrenous intestines, suffer multi-organ failure, have a heart attack and ultimately succumb to her injuries, despite her desperate will to live.
I, like many women and other rational-minded humans, am enraged. What moral authority do such “men” have to “teach women a lesson”? Do law enforcement agencies fairly prosecute hate crimes against women or do they create a climate of impunity? Is the democratically elected government responsible to almost half its electorate?
The fundamental underlying problem, the reason we even have to ask these questions, is the biased attitude against women in the Indian culture. From the moment of conception, a female’s life is largely shaped by the patriarchal society into which she is born, if she is born at all. Sex-selective abortions have become a more common practice in a culture that favours boys over girls. In spite of marked advances in education and record numbers of women joining the work force, many people cling stubbornly to the notion that boys ultimately represent productive earning potential while girls are a drain on resources. It is estimated that there is a surplus of 12-15 million men between the ages of 15 and 35 who are unable to find a woman to marry. The societal implications are making themselves felt.
Men, aided by the complicity of male law enforcement officials who either turn a blind eye or explicitly blame a woman for being victimized, engage in behaviours that range from completely inappropriate to what we have just collectively witnessed. I know. I’ve experienced it myself. On a crowded bus in northern India, surrounded by my elder relatives, a man brazenly took the opportunity to press himself against me from behind. I was too young and unsure to know what to do about it. Years later, walking alongside my husband in the eastern part of India, as a group of men passed us by, one from among them had the audacity to grope me. This time, more sensitized and more confident of my rights, I reflexively hit him and kept walking away. Fast.
Today, I am ashamed to call myself an Indian. What happended to this poor young innocent girl could have happened to anyone. My sister. My mother. My daughter. Me. I cannot accept that. If there was ever a time to galvanize the emotional reaction into meaningful action, it is now. We can only hope that the mass protests in India and the shared global outrage are heard by those who have the power to make change happen.
In the end, two protesters signs say it all:
“You raped her because her clothes provoked you? I should break your face because your stupidity provokes me.”
“Don’t teach me how to dress. Teach your sons not to rape.”
(Niru Kumar is a lawyer as well as host of Talk Local on RogersTV, Peel Region)