The rape of a 22-year-old photojournalist in the financial capital of India—Mumbai has once again shocked the world. While the safety debates continue; Dhanya Nair wonders how patriarchy continues to define women not just in India but universally
There has been a flurry of articles and heated debates about the increasing cases of sexual violence in India in the Western world. Many have vociferously spoken about it while many have also condemned about making a villain out of a country and its culture. I’ve astutely tried to keep myself cut-off from any such story naively thinking that if I don’t read about such brutal incidents in my home country it will cease to happen; taking refuge in ignorance. I also think with a slight shrug that sexual violence is a universal problem not specific to a culture. If it sounds like a lame defense; I must clarify at the beginning itself that it is not.
There can never be any kind of defense when the dignity of a woman is not upheld regardless of one’s colour, country or culture. Yet as I ponder about the issue; another woman, a 22-year-old photojournalist is gang-raped while her male colleague is assaulted in Mumbai—a city widely considered to be the safest city in India. The incident occurred around sunset, as the girl and her colleague were visiting Shakti Mills, an abandoned textile mill complex near the Mahalaxmi train station in Lower Parel. She was taking photographs of the area for a magazine story about Mumbai’s chawls. Despite the distance between UK and Mumbai, I feel like I’ve been violated. I don’t know what disturbed me more that fact that a girl has been raped or the fact that it happened in Mumbai, one of my favourite cities in the world.
I’ve worked as journalist in Mumbai; I’ve often traveled its length and breadth at the oddest hour sometimes as late as 3AM. I’ve traveled without any fear; with an assurance nothing can really happen to me in the city which never sleeps. The assurance served me well but recent incidents prove that things have taken a turn to the worse. Rape is the extreme end of gender inequality but it all starts with patriarchal attitude towards the female gender. When we are unhappy or just slightly happy when a girl is born, when we deny her equal rights at home, in school or in the boardroom and when all else fails we violate her physically, emotionally and spiritually.
The message is clear: women should be respected because of her womb, because of her role as a mother, daughter and sister. No one for once has thought that women should be respected and treated as an equal because she is a human being, an individual first and everything else later.
Even as I pen this there is outrage spilling out on the streets of Mumbai, people are protesting with placards shouting respect woman for she brought you in this world. I should be happy but I am not because this idea itself is the crux of patriarchy. The message is clear: women should be respected because of her womb, because of her role as a mother, daughter and sister. No one for once has thought that women should be respected and treated as an equal because she is a human being, an individual first and everything else later.
So, yes I feel violated every time a woman is raped in India or elsewhere, when custodians of law become perpetrators of crime or when young girls are subjected to genital mutilation. The places and faces might differ but the message remains that women should always remain the weaker sex.
My thoughts go back to Mumbai; the city which has seen violence and bloodshed many times, the city which has bounced back from every tragedy, and the city which has taught me the meaning of human spirit. As this girl becomes another tale, another statistics; I wonder has the tough, spirited Mumbai finally lost some of its soul too.