Yesterday morning the young 23 year old woman who was raped and beaten in Delhi on December 16th, succumbed to her injuries, giving up the harrowing fight for her life in Singapore – far from her home, and removed, I presume, from many of her loved ones. While she was removed from her home, the circle of people who love and know her, she was also removed from a larger entity, a larger community: her country. In that country, thousands are mourning. Her friends and other family still at home will be remembering her and beyond them, outside their doors, thousands of people she never knew have taken to the streets in the nation’s great capital Delhi. A fact that is impossible to ignore is that Delhi, and some other parts of North India, have frequently been the site of similar – though not always as horrendous – acts of violence against women. This is not an isolated incident. Far from it.
The Indian media and members of both major national political parties have had a field day with adjectives, calling this crime everything from vomit-inducing to disgusting to heinous. In the last week, this anonymous woman has become the symbol of India’s fight against sexual violence. The Indian media and political groups are calling her ‘brave’ and claiming ‘her fight has become India’s fight’; the Indian President has called her a ‘true hero’. Placards of protesters say she is an inspiration to them all. This young woman has unwittingly been turned into a martyr.
But the price this cause demands, then, is far too high. If one has to pay with one’s life, who wants to be a hero? Who wants to be a martyr? Why does someone have to die for it to become a ‘fight’? All their assurances that she is inspirational and heroic are coming too late. India’s women are not heroes until they are victims.
This was never ‘her’ fight; it was, or should have been, always India’s fight, but India has blatantly ignored its responsibilities to this cause for too long. India was looking the other way; it was leaving its young women to fight it all alone. This is not the kind of fight we can engage in alone. This is a fight for nations, for governments, for the authorities, for societies at large. This is a fight for everyone out there raising sons or educating boys.
Once again, however, India is dodging the real problem, and therefore the real battle. In the aftermath of the recent Delhi rape-case, everyone from politicians to protesters are asking for new legislature and better law enforcement. While both these elements are crucial to a peaceful and just society, this one-dimensional demand shows a blatant disregard for the root-cause of the problem. India’s rape-problem is not just about weak law enforcement or legislation; it is chiefly about social attitude. We’ve seen and heard much to support this argument; just one example is the sting investigation carried out by Tehelka in April this year, in which they exposed the views and opinions of leading Delhi police officers on the matter of gender-based violence, such as sexual harassment and rape. The interviews were like echoes of each other: they all believed strongly that most often, women just ask for it. And they are not alone.
India’s real problem is that it doesn’t understand the problem. The people in charge don’t even understand what it’s about. They don’t understand that this level of rape and sexual violence stems from a deeply ingrained disrespect for women at all levels of society; that it stems from the fact that our communities were built for centuries on values that are intrinsically anti-female. They don’t understand that this problem is at the very fabric of our identities, our perception of who we are and our value-systems. They do not see that sexual violence is about violence itself; it cannot be done away with, by simply passing meaningless new bills that never get implemented, or tightening police protection in areas where incidents have taken place. They don’t understand that rape is not a female issue, but actually a male issue. They should be asking ‘Why do men rape?’ rather than ‘What can women do to be safe?’.
India deals with rape by shutting big cities down by 11 pm, forcing a lack of cultural life and further alienating India’s youth from those in power. India deals with rape by telling its girls to take precautions, be careful, don’t drink, don’t be alone with men, don’t be out late at night. India deals with rape by shouting ‘Hang the rapists’. Neither of these are the solutions to actual problem. The Delhi-case shows superbly, more than ever before, that rape has nothing to do with how careful or careless you are, or where you live, or who you’re with. And it shows – more clearly perhaps than ever before too – that rape will not end with punishment or the death penalty.
Many young people – both women and men – in India today are calling for the hanging of the criminals. I hope that India can move past this initial, instinctive reaction to reach a more evolved resolution that reflects truthfully our desire for justice, but also advocates peace. I hope all young Indians on the streets today, standing in the cold, saying what they feel, remember that the real fight for women’s rights is one that calls for the right to life, dignity and equality for all; that it would not be useful, or right, to pursue a primal blood-lust in the name of this nameless girl.
We will perhaps never know her name. For now, we can remember her, and in her memory, and the memory of so many others, ask for justice. For now we can ask for the perpetrators of this terrible crime to be arrested and tried. For now we can ask that the people in charge sit up and pay attention to the escalating issue of sexual violence in the region. For now. I hope in time, in her memory, and the memory of so many others around the world, we can ask for lasting peace and equality for all, and that our pleas, demands and requests will be heard and met.