Saturday, December 22, was extraordinary.
Six days ago, a young woman was gang raped in New Delhi. There’s no such thing as a modest rape, but what this woman underwent is at a whole new level of horrific. The woman and a male friend to take a bus home at 9.30pm. A chartered bus (i.e. a bus service run by a private company) stopped at their bus stop and offered them a ride. Inside were five men. Within minutes of them getting on, the woman’s friend realised the bus was taking a different route. The men on the bus started taunting the woman and her male friend. When the male friend protested, they beat him up and took her to the back seat and raped her brutally. I say brutally because they didn’t limit themselves to using their bodies. A metal rod was made use of too. Most of this time, the bus seemed to be driving around the streets of Delhi. It’s estimated that they raped her for approximately 30 minutes. When she lost consciousness, the men took her clothes and threw her and her male friend (also unconscious) off the bus in the outskirts of Delhi. Some 50 people gathered around the injured and unconscious duo but did nothing. Someone at some point must have made a call to the Delhi Police, who showed up within ten minutes of the first call. Seeing the state of the victims, they got bedsheets and took the two of them to Safdarjung Hospital. The woman’s injuries were so serious that there were fears she wouldn’t make and the internal damage caused by the rape was so extreme that doctors had to remove her entire intestine. Today, she felt well enough to give the police her official statement.
This woman is incredible. Apparently, her family belongs to the lower middle class. She’s a medical student and her father sold property to fund her education. She has two younger brothers. Her mother is a housewife. As someone put it to me the other day, “She’s the girl most of us don’t notice because there’s so many of them.” Except, of course, there’s nothing average about either her resilience or her fortitude. So it makes sense that this woman and her experience has fired people up.
This rape has dragged into the light how misogynistic this country is and it’s made reading the morning newspaper a tortuous experience. Every day, there seems to be at least three gruesome crimes against women. I’m not sure about others, but feeling my vagina curl into itself with empathetic pain while reading of descriptions of sexual harassment is not how I like to start my morning. But it’s ok. I can live with it. Because finally, there’s outrage at how casually women are insulted here and how so many men feel that by virtue of having a penis, they’re entitled to denigrate women. This is not limited to the illiterate or under-privileged. Look at this compendium. If “leaders” speak and think like this, what do you expect of the people who follow them? It reminds me of that poem by Muriel Rukeyser, “The Speed of Darkness”, which begins with these crackling lines:
“Whoever despises the clitoris despises the penis
Whoever despises the penis despises the cunt
Whoever despises the cunt despises the life of the child.”
Today, a large crowd of protestors, peaceful but furious, gathered at Raisina Hill, which is close to the president’s residence and also North and South Block, the nerve centre of governmental administration. Barricades were set up, the police gathered but in terms of numbers, the protestors were way more. Perhaps that’s what unnerved them. What followed was this:
What’s worth noticing is not the number of people who showed up. Indians, particularly young Indians, are deeply dissatisfied with the state of affairs and I think it’s fair to say, they’ll show up for pretty much anything that has the word “protest” in it. Particularly if we can add a candlelight vigil to it. News channels have made this protest business glamorous and let’s face it, we are all tremendously frustrated by how this country seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. The point is that this government, which has an appalling record so far as protecting free speech is concerned, went so far as to throw tear gas at a crowd that was, by and large, self-policing. There was no justification for what was unleashed to discipline the protestors. The government simply got scared shitless and it reacted first with brute force and then it tried sophistry. At a press conference held on Saturday evening, Shinde said, “To ensure a strong law to deal with crimes of this nature, the government will take immediate steps for the amendment of the Criminal Law for more effective punishment in the rarest of the rare cases of sexual assault such as this.”
Which means we’re now going to compare and contrast rapes to judge their ‘rarity’ and then decide what punishment should be meted out. Lovely.
Shinde’s also promised more patrolling, which must really warm the hearts of all those who got thwacked by police batons today. Someone at the press conference asked Shinde about the police response against the protestors this morning. I didn’t have a chance to note down his exact words but the gist was that the protestors had pretty much asked for it. I wanted to punch the bastardly codger’s face. He actually smiled while talking about the police response.
Today showed us that the democratically-elected leaders of this country don’t believe Indians have a right to protest. It also showed that, like many autocratic regimes, our current government is petrified of people coming together. In the past, it’s tried to prevent critics and moaners fraternising on the internet. Today, faced with a physical gathering, they panicked and I can only imagine their horror that the crowds did not disperse. They stayed. They held their ground, despite freezing water being blasted at them on a cold winter morning. Meanwhile, elected representatives of the people were on television, miming concern from the comfort of homes and studios. Because it would just be plain odd for parliamentarians to come to Raisina Hill and talk to protestors directly. They’re only middle-class citizens of India. Not the masses that usually bulk up rallies and qualify as vote banks. A proxy appearance will do.