I usually refrain from talking about current events on this blog, which is a journal of my inner growth. But the December 16 Delhi gang rape has affected me at a very personal level, and I am not alone because all my women friends and colleagues feel like a part of them has been violated, angered and shaken out of stupor and indifference.
Rapes happen every day, several times a day, in India. Over time we had become immune to these bits of news in our daily papers, like those in war zones get used to the sound of explosions in nearby neighbourhoods. But there was something about this particular case that affected each of us at a very primal level, that coaxed us out of our warm homes on cold December nights into standing in public spaces in silent or vociferous protest. Perhaps it was the brutality of it, or the fact that the victim was just a student, an aspiring physiotherapist, just out for a movie with a friend. The educated middle-class could connect with her. She was us.
But the crime also led to a whole lot of other questions being raised about our basic rights: the government pardoned the death penalty on half a dozen rapists, but clamped down on anti-rape protestors — so does that mean rapes can be allowed but peaceful protests against rape, not? The home minister likened the protestors to Maoists and said he couldn’t possibly meet them all — but what else is he there for? Isn’t that his job to know why people, whether urban protestors or rural Naxalites, are upset? The newspapers were rife with columns by thinkers and social analysts on how misogynist we are as a society — which only led to further confusion, at least for me, at a very personal, feminine level. At what point do gender stereotypes go from harmless to sexist?
Suddenly, lines have become blurred and I am looking for answers:
1. When a man admires a pretty woman walking past, is that okay or is that commodification?
2. Should my daughters’ skirts really be that short, their jeans that tight? Am I being old-fashioned when I tell them to cover up?
3. Is carrying pepper spray the answer to street sexual harassment? Is that what I want to teach my girls — to always be prepared for male predators?
4. These music lyrics with sexual undertones, those explicit videos… should I ban my kids from listening and watching?
5. What about American TV shows with kissing scenes and overt sexual references, representing a society 10,000 miles away from ours, taking these kids further into a visual, unreal reality? Should I allow them to watch?
6. Then again, the Hindi shows are terrible, full of gender stereotypes, regressive cliches, and patriarchal scripts. I definitely can’t allow them to watch those, can I?
7. Am I being ‘crude and disgusting’, as my partner says with some anger, when I talk about the rape and its horrific details in front of my 13-year-old?
8. Why do dark roads suddenly seem ominous — am I wrong to restrain the girls from walking out on the street after sunset? Am I being paranoid?
9. Why do those advertisements showing women ‘stripping’ because a particular website is ‘too hot’ — which I would have never paid much attention to before — now offend me? Why do those ‘item numbers’ everyone hummed with abandon a few months or weeks ago now seem so repugnant?
10. Why do old Hindi movie song lyrics, in which the man woos the woman and she keeps saying ‘no’, which seemed so playful and innocent once, now seem ominous and dangerous?
I’m talking current events, but this gang rape has become something intensely personal for me. A part of me has shifted, changed. I have begun to doubt myself and my own role in the creation of a society that could allow such brutality to happen. To question myself as a woman, a mother, a member of the media. To look at every sentence I speak with awareness, to be careful that I do not reinforce stereotypes or promote sexism even by mistake. This child who died after 13 days of unimaginable agony, who left half a nation in tears one Saturday morning just before the apocalyptic 2012 ended — newspapers called her Nirbhaya and Damini, but I think this child must have been Jesus, who suffered inhuman pain to save humankind. She must have been Krishna, who only comes to earth at a time of great evil in order to reestablish good.
I bow to thee, Jesus. You have started a new religion. I bow to thee, Krishna. The Mahabharata to defeat the monster inside us has begun.