19 Dec 2012

Knowing what is not okay

Now that I've vented a bit of the frustration I feel at the unending incidents of rape, molestation and abuse in India, I'm trying to think of how exactly we can get out of this mess. It's too insidious and deep rooted in our system for any quick solution - like castration or public flogging of the criminals, as a lot of people seem to be suggesting.

The loudest voices are calling for the death penalty for the accused. To send a message out to all others. Somehow, I doubt that will work. No one in India thinks they will get caught for a crime. No one in India thinks a victim of molestation will even go to the police. The police are scary! Plus, I don't see how this will help the girl who is battling for her life. Who is faced with a lifetime of trauma and medical complications even if she makes it out of this crisis. I'd rather see the accused spend the rest of their lives labouring in jail to support the victim and pay the medical fees. The impact of this crime is not over. The payment for the crime should not end either.

How do we stop this from recurring? Maybe we need to look at why it happened in the first place.

We've finally got to a point where no one is blaming the victim for provoking assault by the way she dressed/going out too late at night/not being more careful of what bus she boarded. At least, no one is saying this publicly, although a lot of people probably think so. We can pass by provocation by the victim as a reason for why this happened.

Since it was not late at night and it was not a deserted location, so we can't say that it was a time or place that sees unusually criminal activity, which is why the accused saw the opportunity to attack an unprotected victim. It was 9:30pm, it was a moving bus that even passed by police checkpoints and she was with a male friend.

The bus was illegal in that it was not allowed to ply on that route. But then, our roads are filled with illegalities. I'm told curtains on a "luxury" bus are not illegal, so that wasn't a breach of security, although tinted windows on a cab or passenger car would be. The lack of a functioning helpline like 911, vigilance cameras on public transport or security checks on the background of bus staff are probably the other issues with the state of security.

The biggest "cause" of course, is the mentality of the accused. Men who thought that it was okay to do this. That they could heckle a woman for traveling alone with a man. That they could attack the couple with an iron rod. And continue beating them. And then rape the girl. For an hour. From all accounts, these men had regular day lives - a bus driver, a gym instructor, a fruit seller. They were not regular criminals. They not even very smart about crime, as they held on to the stolen phones which were used to track them down. In fact, they were regular guys, who saw an opportunity to have some "fun". They thought beating and critically abusing two strangers was fun. Like boys who throw stones at dogs.

We have to face it - our country is filled with people like this. People who you could interact with every day, who will probably behave exactly like this if given the chance. Because they think it is okay. Increasing the penalty for such incidents will not help because these guys were obviously not thinking of consequences. The police and legal procedure were the farthest things from their mind.

We could make the police more visible, of course. A stronger force with more powers. But that will probably mean that the police will attempt to herd the public away from crime rather than stop crime while enabling the public to go on about their regular lives. It will probably mean the closure of pubs and no more late shows or movies. No woman should get out of home without adequate male protection. Crap like that.

The fear of the police is not the reason why someone would not attempt a crime like this. It is the knowledge that this behaviour is NOT OKAY. That is something you expect people to know instinctively. But in fact it is not instinctive, it is social conditioning. Conditioning that has obviously failed with a lot of people in this country.

How do we bring it back? Do we include it in our school text books since our homes are obviously not sending out this message? Tell our kids that domestic violence is not acceptable - instead of telling them that non veg food provokes violence? Should our text books include profiles or successful women who achieved great things and helped our country - while doing regular things like going out for a late movie with a friend and then catching a bus back home? Do we need posters on the walls celebrating women who are living independent lives? The message that it is perfectly acceptable for a lone woman going about her life is not an acceptable target. She is minding her business and you can mind yours.

We need to get this message across - to the men who think targeting defenseless women is okay, to the women who think that if the victims were just more careful they would be safe, to the police officers and politicians who think that women are going out and getting raped just to make their lives more difficult.

It's not a message that should have needed saying, but obviously, many people still don't get it.


Rakesh said...

absolutely agree.. its social conditioning that needs a quantum change.. I do feel that schools and the education system can play a role here but it should start from home..

Sheeba D'Mello said...

If homes were doing their job, we wouldn't have had to worry. Maybe we'll get to that point 2 generations from now when students who learn what is right in school raise their own kids. But we need something faster.

A friend says that we need to start with police reforms for immediate relief. I think I agree. We need to start with top down since the bottom up will take too long.