Mirror, mirror on the wall, what is the ugliest episode of all? Year 2012 is a strange year for Indians, it is also probably one of the few years where Indian media had to report more stories than it created. What is the best of them? I guess jury is still out on that one. What is the ugliest of them? Delhi gang rape definitely wins that race. A lot of details emerged about the ghastly incident and, at this point, it would be useless to put it all in this space. I will also refrain from expressing outrage against the insensitivity of the media and incompetence of our government whose unnecessary contribution to this mess turned it into uglier than we can handle. Yet, the incident also served as a mirror in which Indian society saw itself. This ranting is about the same.

Few hours back, a friend told me that his 6-year old girl asked him in Bengali “Dhorshon mane ki” (translated in English – what is meaning of bengali word for rape). She found the word in the newspaper and could not understand it’s meaning. My friend could not respond to her. Our previous generation was more fortunate because they did not have to explain that word to us, we were shown examples of it in the mouth of relatives/friends and, in case we managed to unlearn it, the concept was reinforced by black-and-white screens of the portable tv as well as printed pages claiming to be serving news. My friend’s struggle with innocence not withstanding, why has it come to that there are six year old kids are asking the meaning of something whose concept they should be able to grasp only after their minds are mature enough to handle it?

It is a tough question. Few theories had been advanced. Predictably, the primary theory among them, is that victims deserved it. Nothing more infuriates me than seeing apologist that blames the victim. Indian student murdered in the west? Sure, fault is theirs, they should have taken more precaution. Partition violence on Hindu community? It was definitely the consequence of their unwillingness to mix with Muslims. Similarly, if men can not keep their thing in their pants, it is definitely the fault of the women. But it is not just men. Most women, specially the older women, are more than willing to support this theory. So, I asked an online friend, should anyone hurt woman if they did not like her dress? If they are not taught a lesson, Indian society will be destroyed, he opined. If a society is so weak that it can be destroyed by few revealing clothes, one wonder what is so great about it’s preservation.

Speaking of society, I have few interesting anecdotes to throw. Last time I visited my village in West Bengal, I went to talk to a few childhood friends nearby a bus stop. A bus came to a halt there and a lady with sunglass stepped out of it. I came to know that she has began to teach the nearby primary school. One of my friends complained about her to another friend who inherited the legacy and property of the man who started that school. This other friend agreed that he must talk to school trust. A Muslim friend told us that that is why now-a-days they have their own school, Hindu schools lack discipline. In case you are wondering about the lady teacher’s fault, she wore a sleeveless blouse in the month of April. I tried to argue saying that days are too hot, but I was told that I was absent for too long to understand the village any more. Probably I am. But the argument is not new. Neither it is specific to village. In Kolkata, the housing complex where I used to live, a great commotion was made because a teen-age girl used to come to our badminton court to play and length of her skirt was deemed too liberal for the older men and women. The private school my wife used to teach in was taken over by few gentlemen from our esteemed minority community. Next day, she was called along with few other lady teachers and told that saree was not conservative enough for the discipline of the school and burkha was indirectly hinted. She was glad to walk out of that job. Eventually, only male teachers worked there.

These arguments continued to gain legitimacy because, we who do not agree with them, never voiced our disagreement too strongly. These unchallenged arguments have become a justification for a particular type of “fun” which constitute of touching a woman’s body without her permission. As this ideal of “fun” keep on spreading, we have an increasing number of case of sexual violence. Therefore, we have ex minister who has enough gumption to make lewd comment about sitting chief minister. Therefore, we have sensitive woman politician commenting about rape as consequence of certain kind of “deal” gone bad, because, who does not know that rape is natural when “deal” goes bad? In case you are wondering if it is politically correct to protest violent rapes after you have put make-ups, these helpful tips from the son of our first citizen will help. Let us take a step back and try to understand what India are we creating by propagating this theory. If it is one victim today, it can be our wives or daughters tomorrow. May God forbid such, but if that happens, can we go and blame it on their wardrobe?

I have often seen outrage over antics of Poonam Pandey or Veena Malick or Sunny Leone. They are destroying Indian culture and damaging social fabric, argument goes. I always wonder how can they damage a society whose perspective is so deeply damaged already. Damini or Amanat – whatever she was called – died. Her death forced us to see our own reflection. The fact that we cringe at the monster we see shows how different it is from our imagination of modern India. Protest is partly fueled by that realization. This outrage will eventually die. The bigger question is, can our society save our own conscience that is already on the deathbed? An affirmative answer can save a lot of lives in the next generation.

The following two tabs change content below.

Siddhartha Chatterjee

Latest posts by Siddhartha Chatterjee (see all)