“When the Indian Woman’s Independence Day will come”

by RITU MAHENDRU, 24.12.2012 | London

“When the Indian woman’s Independence Day will come” read one of the placards held by a young woman outside India Gate, New Delhi during the first day of the protest against the gang rape that occurred on 16 December in a private school bus that the driver and his 5 friends have taken out in the evening for a fun-ride.

At about 9pm, a young woman and her male friend boarded the bus from Munirka in south Delhi. Soon after, the group of 6 men started questioning the woman’s friend what he was doing with her late in the evening. When he protested, they hit him in his head with an iron rod. The girl then stepped forward to save her friend and challenged the men.

The men got angry and “wanted to teach her a lesson”. Just writing about what happened after that sends shivers down my spine. The 23 years old medical student was gang raped by a group of 6 men on a moving bus who took turns raping her. She was then brutally beaten with an iron road for 45 minutes and was thrown out of the bus half naked on a flyover with her male friend. 50 bystanders watched them lying on the flyover. At about 11:00pm the police arrived and took both of them to the hospital.

Once again the voices and demands of women seem irrelevant and small as death penalty gains momentum.

At the hospital, the doctors found that she had severe injuries to her intestines and all over body. It was revealed that that the men had inserted an iron rod into her; and after 4 major surgeries majority of her intestines were removed. The girl is in a critical condition fighting for her life, the way she fought the 6 men.

This of course is not the first grotesque incident of rape in New Delhi. We have heard similar patterns of rape cases occuring across the country.

In 1978, in the capital city of India, two young men, Ranga and Billa (their nick names) kidnapped two children Geeta and Sanjay Chopra for the purpose of ransom. Geeta was subsequently raped and Ranga-Billa killed both children.

The perpetuators were arrested a few months later and were hanged in 1982.

The incident had shocked Delhi, similar to the way in which the recent gang-rape had sent city into a complete rage.

Given the severity of the recent incident and the fact that media is particularly interested in it, millions have been mobilised. Thousands of protesters are gathering on a daily basis raising slogans against the authorities. It is all too overwhelming.

There are those who are outraged and angry demanding death penalty for the perpetuators who committed such heinous crime. I don’t blame them. Like millions I want all the six men to be executed and see them hanged. I am angry is an understatement. This is the immediate emotional gut response, one dimensional and not very well thought.

Then there are those with political interests, who want to hijack the peaceful protests undermining the realities of women who live sexual harassment at home and outside on an everyday basis.

Then there are the groups such as the women’s groups and girls who are protesting against the incumbent government for all the right reasons. They are demanding Better Laws, Better Protection and Better Support Services to prevent and to deal with violence against women in public and private places.

They are protesting, organising themselves and convening to prepare a realistic and long term set of demands asking Women’s rights and Rape to become a political agenda.

However, once again the voices and demands of women seem irrelevant and small as death penalty gains momentum.

The fact is that the government and very people of this nation are party to this heinous crime. Girls and women voices are silenced from the time they are born.

Speak to any girl and woman in New Delhi and they could narrate their lives that have held tragedies of sexual harrassment. Groping and touching is something that girls and women live with on an everyday basis in the city. You don’t need to go far to experience sexual harassment. Girls and women are faced with sexual violence on the very streets they practically grow up in.

It has become part of a culture that allow men to act however they like and do whatever they like.

As a girl you are told not to protest and question the male authority, rather you are forced to alter your own self because “men will be men”. You don’t challenge the man because you don’t want to be raped or killed.

This is the view and fear your parents instil in you, which you internalise as a little girl. You grow up in a constant fear to articulate and practice your very basic rights such as walking on the streets freely whenever you want and wherever you want.

Brothers obviously overhear their parents admonishing advices to their sisters. As a teenage girl you start to resent your own body and become fearful of it. You know that you are not the boy child whose parents will be proud to see the son grow beard and muscles. This negative conditioning of female embodiment in itself is extremely problematic.

As more and more women speak about their lived experiences from Delhi and across India this week, many deep rooted realities have started to emerge and become more visible.

Women’s life in India is a constant struggle against patriarchy, machosim and inequality, which is embedded in our culture that we are demanding a long a term solution rather than a quick fix justice, which is emotionally charged and politically motivated.

While Ranga and Billa were hanged to death, the rape cases did not decline in the city. The rape figures have been showing so clearly a reverse. There has been a sharp increase in rape cases. The recent data shows that there were 459 reported rape cases in Delhi in 2009, 510 in 2010, 568 in 2011 and 635 in 2012. There are still 40,000-100,000 pending cases.

Death penalty doesn’t deter the problem and resolve the larger issues at hand. It is women’s collective voices and experiences that need attention at this time, which has the potential to guide the policy agenda.

This specific case has come into a limelight and pressure is building on government authorities, it is an opportunity to bring about that change and future the girls and women of our country always envisioned.

However, the protests are taking a political turn. Women’s spaces are being hijacked by the right wing opposition parties and goons like Ramdev subverting the main agenda and real issues.

The space where women could practice control and agency; space where women could articulate their own demands; space where women voices should be at the centre of the protest, government has shown little or no will to facilitate the discussion to hear female perspectives.

The fact is that the government and very people of this nation are party to this heinous crime. Girls and women voices are silenced from the time they are born. We cannot exonerate ourselves from the past but we can hope for a better future for girls and women of our country by creating a space where they can share their narratives and histories in their own ways, and there is already an air of transience to move to something better.

The bravery of the 23 years old survivor who fought with the 6 men is an example how women voices are silenced to maintain and preserve male power, she put a lot at stake – her life and body.

Women’s life in India is a constant struggle against patriarchy, machosim and inequality, which is embedded in our culture that we are demanding a long a term solution rather than a quick fix justice, which is emotionally charged and politically motivated.

The perpetuators could not stifle her voice. When she did gain conscious she asked “Have they been caught?” and said “I want to live”. Her actions will always remain an epitome for the million of girls and women in India and elsewhere. She will always be my Hero!

Ritu tweets as @ritumahendru

 

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