What now, must be done, that a new year is upon us and the furor created by a Delhi-bus-night has been effectively replaced by the confusion surrounding a possible beheading? Out of the December noise that had the undertones of a democratic uprising, selectively fanned on by the popular media of the country, came a muddle of voices that explored our situation morally, ethnographically, sexually, psychologically; and we learnt so much, from the reactions and the way reactions were formed and the channels that sang some tunes the loudest.
It is indeed true that most media ran with the story and gave it the kind of ring that made her a national concern – the kind of ring reserved for stories that make it to the national prime time news. It is possible to read into the socioeconomic factors that gave the story its reach, or delve into an ailing society’s obsession with violence. As the nation’s honorable prime minister, honorably shifted blame to the uncouth migrants in the capital, more reports sprang up around the country, of incredible violence against female humans because the media were now reporting these cases more prominently. Disturbingly, the shrillest voices in the huddle were simplistic cries for death penalty and chemical castration, ringing through social networks and tabloid media. I will not repeat here, sane arguments against the death penalty.
Amongst the chatter of violent retribution and inane comments by politicians, the voices of the Hindu, Kafila.org and Sunitha Krishnan have taken the path of empathy and reason. They have rightly pointed to the patriarchal system that has perfected the position of the weaker gender through centuries of reinforcement. Politicians were suddenly unmasked as their twisted philosophies rang up holes, juxtaposed with the starkness of the Indian woman’s everyday reality. Sheila Dikshit’s nasty remarks will indelibly serve as a land mark of the psychographics of the politicians of our times.
What must be done? The women’s reservation Bill, would be a fit starting point, as has been opined. Remember that this can only be a long overdue first step. This is a country where women face the attacks of an unkind society, every living day, throughout their lives – from their homes, the workplace, the park, the movie theatre, the train, the pub, the footpath, the moving bus. It is a matter of tremendous shame that the women of this country are too scared of their men folk to even ask for the full share of what they deserve. They deserve the chance to live, work, learn and travel in this country, at any time of the day, pursuing occupations of their choosing. This should include providing necessary travel, accommodation, sanitation, health and feeding facilities allowing women to lead their personal lives comfortably, anywhere in the country at any time.
All of us have been guilty of feeding the patriarchic structure by not speaking up against these structures as we encounter them in everyday life. Our women’s movements have been guilty of not doing enough, not asking for enough, and often, for tacitly agreeing with the controlling concept of the well-behaved woman. The woman we are to be primarily concerned about is the woman who silently accepts violence as she accepts her helplessness, at home and on the street, and passes down this picture of the world to her daughter. As Kimberlé Crenshaw points out through her intersectionality theory, you could be a drug addict on the street or a working professional, and still you have it worse if you are a woman. Across the spectrum, the woman has it tougher. However, the truth is that we are still playing into the hands of the patriarchal system by containing this uprising within the limited scope of Women’s Equality and Rights.
Indeed, a larger question must now be examined, in the light of our media readily shifting attention to the border, thus effectively scaling down the scope of any voices of dissent, as the more audible voices within the Indian borders are herded against a common enemy – the demon across the border. It does not matter that Barkha Dutt herself has admitted to the beheading of Pakistani soldiers by Indian soldiers (Himal magazine , June, 2001). Prime time news has characteristically, conspicuously stayed away from neutral discussions and fueled fury against the ‘enemy’, silencing, in the process, a popular uprising that could have been.
It all comes down to our systems of thought that accept different standards for different people. Borders among people – religious, cultural, regional- that are furnished to the general public, as the reasons for double standards in how people are treated, are incredibly handy tools for governments to distract or rally public opinion. The truth is that this system of double standards is so essential to the continuation of our regimes. As long as we surrender to the propaganda of war or scarcity or initiatory force, trusting sheep on a Machiavellian playground, we will be forced to bicker and blindly grasp for unavailable answers. This is a nation whose laws require that an FIR be filed for a road accident only if the deceased was on a vehicle. Our current nation state tells us clearly that unless you are within a preferred set of borders, if you are poor, or an Adivasi, or a Manipuri, or a woman, or a non-member, you have no effective rights and your life is worthless. We absolutely have to keep up the exposure of the misery hidden within the system (I say keep up, entirely on account of our brilliant online journalism initiatives).
We go around in circles as we try to find substantial solutions. The answer is not tough; it’s simply tougher to face. Unless every one of those walls is broken, none of us is really free. A complete reevaluation of our systems of ethics is in order, excluding no one and with no concept of the other. There is no alternative. This December revolt will be written off as the gangbangism of a generation of apathetic youngsters, unless we, the more advantaged among the armies of uncertain, are prepared today, journalist, man and woman, to fight every battle for every disadvantaged individual with the same vigor.
Let’s not repeat the folly of depending on the media to fan on a movement or issue, but work to make meaningful discussions and information sharing possible, undeterred by the drama and kerfuffle that waxes futile on our TV screens. We don’t have to move on till we are satisfied that a solution has been reached. For if we give up now, if we refuse to prop each other up in our hour of need, what does it mean other than that we will fight only when directly threatened? That the media controls our responses? Or worse still, that we simply don’t care; we enjoy our primetime gore till we are distracted by the next gruesome tale?
The path ahead will not be easy. Our own elected democratic government will stop our trains and buses, and beat us and water us, and call us terrorists and Maoists. We have to remember to react when they shut down Delhi, Mumbai or Idinthakarai as a matter of course. They won’t like us standing up for the rights of the mentally unstable, the migrant and the gay prostitute; and hand in hand with Irom Sharmila and Soni Sori. The system doesn’t like change. Nature does not allow for a maladaptive system to survive. The question is quite simple. Have we had enough yet?