On the 16th of December 2012, a girl was gang raped and brutally assaulted by six men on a moving bus. The brutal incident took place late at night when the girl was returning from a film show along with her male friend. The girl was assaulted, her male friend beaten ruthlessly, and they were thrown out of the bus afterwards. They were admitted to Safdarjung hospital in New Delhi where the girl battled for her life for days. She succumbed to her injuries and passed away on the 29th of December 2012. (source: The Hindu)
As the news of the assault spread, there was an outburst of long held anger amongst people for the lack of security of women in the city. People in large numbers came out to protest on the roads of New Delhi.
Born and raised in Delhi, I love this city but I am also well aware of this deep rooted, ever-present threat the city poses to the security of women. In fact, not just this city, but each and every part of India. Yes, this is the country I grew up in, however I have had my moments of anger and rage in past over such incidents but as the details of this assault unravelled I was shaken up to the core. Like many others I started looking for immediate solutions to the problem of violence against women. I became part of a growing mentality which demanded lynching of men and cutting them in pieces. To give voice to my growing disappointment with the situation I along with a thousand others marched to protest at Raisina Hill against the heinous crime that has been committed and to demand security for women.
It was the first time I had witnessed a protest of this magnitude where people gathered in such a large number to demand justice. The energy and the emotion which brought people together at Raisina hill was worth seeing. People gathered from various parts of Delhi and from National Capital Region demanding various things. There were some who demanded the death penalty for the accused, several others demanding stricter laws for rape, and many demanded greater security and freedom for women on Delhi roads. They wanted freedom from eyes of men continuously singling out women, freedom from violence the women faced within the four walls of their own home, freedom from everyday teasing and harassment. There were many who came to the protest just to be a part of the growing resentment with no demands or agenda, and there were those who thought disrupting the public and damaging property would somehow lead to a solution. For this particular group, this protest became a tool to voice their buried demands which were not latent anymore. People were tear gassed, water cannoned, and Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) (which empowers a magistrate to prohibit an assembly of more than five people in an area) was slapped against the protestors. People were raising their collective voices and I wish the government would have heard them peacefully at that point. Though I do I also agree that the unruly protesters and the anti-social elements in the crowd made the protest take an ugly form.
It was heartening to see the mass support for the girl and the anger against what had happened. But as I looked around at the men during the protests I developed serious doubts about the protest bringing real results. It made me realize that bringing another law or another short term action will not end this in any way. Laws against rape have been there for many decades but they have not been able to arrest the rising level of violence against women. These protests I felt would lead to more piecemeal institutional mechanisms and fail to address the problem which is so deeply rooted in society.
The protesters criticised the government authorities for their negligence and inaction in the area of security of women and they expected immediate action. This is what everyone was seeking. But we were asking the patriarchal institutions to solve a societal problem for us. We were asking them to change the mindset of the society. We were pointing to those institutions as if rape was just a criminal offence but it wasn’t. It is our problem and we constitute the problem.
This protest raised various questions in my mind regarding women and their position in our society, and it lead me to look for answers outside of the protest. The questions and their answers related to changing the values young boys are taught in our society. These values related to preference for a male child, and the values instilled in the majority of men who were a part of the protests. I questioned if they would be going home and continue to abuse their wives at home for perceived wrongs or slights, or simply because they can. Most importantly I realised that these protests were still propagating among the majority the value of protecting the honour of the society which resides in the women and not the women. By many the victim’s body still remained the sight of honour and people were enraged to protect this honour. As I took the journey back home and as I go on as a student studying gender relations, I wish to be a part of a change where we confront our society for shaming women and revisiting various values in order to build up a society where women can live fearlessly with respect.
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