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Change: Will it happen?

December 31, 2012

A girl lights candles during a candlelight vigil for a gang rape victim who was assaulted in New Delhi, in Kolkata
Let this anger lead to something.

That’s the only tribute we can pay to the bravery of an anonymous, unnamed 23-year-old-girl, who fought long and hard to save her dignity, self-respect and body.

As the anger and rage festers, the question remains a simple one: will India become a safer place for women?

It’s likely that the Delhi police will file a quick charge-sheet (unlike in other cases of sexual violence) and the judiciary, too, will show a sense of purpose in dealing with this savage rape-and-murder.

Many Indian newspapers appeared with black borders, usually reserved for VIP deaths, on Sunday morning, the day her body was brought from Singapore and cremated in Delhi.

In an unprecedented development, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress President Sonia Gandhi were at hand to receive her body at the airport at 4 am in foggy, cold Delhi.

In injury and death, she became the cynosure of all attention, with millions in India praying that she win the battle for life over death.

But sadly, despite a belated effort to treat her at a Singapore hospital, that was not to be.

In life, she was an ordinary girl living in Delhi – studying, being with her friends and family and completing her studies. But she had big dreams and was working hard towards realising them.  

In life, she got nothing extra from state and society.

Like other girls living in this city, she would have faced lewd remarks, been groped in public spaces and, given the fight she put up after being attacked, may have well resisted previous efforts to violate her dignity.

Inside the building where I live in Gurgaon, there were a bunch of young girls lighting candles on Saturday night. We spoke about using public transport and as one they said the experience was TERRIBLE.

“In an auto, I am pretending to talk to a friend. So, that the guy knows that someone is waiting for me. I am always on my guard,” one of the girls said.

The “daily” no longer shocks us or moves us.

As a society, we are inured from “ordinary crimes” – child rape, murder, custodial torture, encounter killings by the State.

Only the “extra horrific” shakes us out of our slumber.

It’s just part of life. We are “okay” with how nearly half this country lives – in fear.

Still, even if we are moved only because of the barbaric nature of the violence used by the rapists, the anger is welcome.

The protests, the taunts, the mocking of the rulers will, one hopes, have some effect.

But will it change attitudes and mindsets?

Will fathers and mothers tell their sons that it’s not okay to beat your girlfriend?

Will fathers and mothers tell their sons that it’s not okay to brush against women in public transport?

Will fathers and mothers tell their sons that their sisters are JUST AS EQUAL?

Will fathers and mothers tell their sons the import of the slogan we saw on the streets of Delhi – it’s a dress, not a yes?

Will fathers and mothers tell their sons that it’s not okay to grope protesting women on the streets of Delhi or anywhere else?

Will khap panchayats, or self-appointed custodians of morality, stop announcing death sentences on women (and men) who marry out of choice?

Will all the right-wingers stop telling women what to wear and ban the use of mobile phones for women?

And, what about the State?

The machinery is MOSTLY MALE, corrupt, contemptuous of women, arrogant, self-serving and not built to deal with people.

It has a momentum of its own. And, as long as you serve the minions of the State, you can get away with pretty much everything.

So, will the cops start registering complaints when women make them?

Will women (or even men) ever feel safe inside the confines of a police station?

Will the horrible, arrogant attitude of the policeman ever change towards the ordinary woman?

Will Delhi and the rest of India get public transport that is safe for women?

In the last two weeks, what we have seen in Delhi is the helpless rage of ordinary people, women and men.

Now for the reverse mindset.

Public hanging, castration and shooting are only some of the solutions that have been loudly suggested on television screens and on the streets.

Lynch mob justice can never be a solution to acts of extreme violence.

The law (even better and stronger ones) must follow its course. Even the accused are entitled to a defence – that’s our law and it should stay our law.

We are not in the business of setting up people’s courts and going by the verdict reached there.

The people must prevail, peacefully and lawfully.


Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.