The Great Young Hopeless
As I type this, the Delhi Police are firing tear gas shells at the crowds gathered at India Gate. On Saturday, the police attacked people protesting an incident of gang rapein the capital and early on Sunday morning, section 144 was clamped on the area around Raisina Hill. This hasn’t thinned the crowd though. However, from rape, the focus is shifting to the state’s concerted attack on personal liberties. Considering this government’s ghastly track record–from Internet censorship to water canons and tear gas, it’s all been done–you can’t begrudge the change in the agenda. However, the fact of the matter is that the crowds at Raisina Hill are no longer about the young woman who is still in hospital, battling the injuries that ravaged her body after she was raped by six men on Sunday, December 16.
To be fair, even before last weekend, the protests of the past week were less about rape and more about we the people. India, particularly young India–demographic bracket: 18 to 30; target audience for most retail advertising and news media–is angry and has had enough of being apathetic. It’s not just that the Arab Spring has shown us protests can be glamorous, but equally that our helplessness has reached a tipping point. Gathering in a public place, shouting slogans, feeling that sense of fraternity and shared passion–it feels so much better than sitting at home as though trussed by invisible ropes. So last year, it was corruption that lassoed us together. This month, it’s women’s security, courtesy the gang rape that took place on a slow news week and thankfully, did genuinely move people.
Incidents of rape and sexual harassment happen all over the country relentlessly. It’s pointless quoting statistics because the majority of them are not reported. In any case, India is yet to understand what rape means. (As Pratiksha Baxi wrote on media blog Kafila, sexual violence is a sport for much of this country and our judicial system isn’t particularly sensitive to how rape can entail much more than forcible penetration.) This past week, though, those who read newspapers may have got some idea of how insecure women in India are. The Delhi gang rape gave newspapers an opportunity to carry “packages” on women’s safety, which meant that all the cases of sexual harassment and violence that are usually relegated to snippets could be clubbed together to create collections of stories that festered across pages. It didn’t make for cheery morning reading, but if you even glanced at the pages, you got some sense of the gravity of the problem.
But we journalists are constantly told that the youth–all of you between 18 and 30 years of age–don’t read this depressing stuff. Since there is a concerted effort to make journalism in India a subsidiary of the advertising industry, the hunt is on for “positive spins” that will make you, the youth, more inclined to read newspapers. So we have opinion pieces that read: “Saturday’s protestors, courageously facing tear gas and water-cannons, should have first ventilated their anger on Indian men.” How, did you ask? Karan Thapar has the answer to that too: “Indeed, question every male you know.” Might be a tedious process, but you’re young. Time is on your side. Hop to it.
And there were articles with titles like “Here’s how rapes can be avoided”, as though getting raped is like coming across a nakabandi. The above article makes it seem as though women who are raped have only themselves to blame. “Even a child can sense instinctively what is right and wrong. What’s wrong with adults?” asked a karate teacher. The article also offered the following suggestion: “The minute you sense a man coming too close, look him straight in the eye…” Fortunately, this is followed by the suggestion that the woman elbow her attacker, which sounds practical enough although I’m not sure about the tactic of men being barred from self-defence classes so that “they don’t have access to secret techniques”.
There were dozens of pieces like these in every newspaper and on every news channel.
All of you in the 18 to 30 age bracket are responsible for the idiotic drivel that has appeared in the media about rape and women’s security. Perhaps many of you think not caring about news sounds cool. However, as a result of your stance and journalism being contorted to appear more appealing to you, what we have is a young middle class that’s ill-informed, confused and angry. There are many valid reasons to be furious with the state of the nation but listen to the crowds–whether at Ramlila Maidan for Anna Hazare in the past or at India Gate now–and they are as good (or bad) as the rabble that attends political rallies for the food packets distributed there. What is the “change” that you want? Do you understand what you’re asking for when you say you want rape to be punishable by death? On a placard, “We want justice” sounds great, but you can’t have justice before there’s been a legal case and you can’t have a legal case until the investigation is completed.
There’s actually a lot to take heart from in this particular incident, horrifying as it was. There’s been a sustained campaign to increase awareness about sexual violence. The Delhi Police has caught the accused in record time and the government has promised to fast-track rape cases. (Let’s ignore the idiotic idea that “rarest of rare” rape cases qualify for the death sentence since that’s at the level of suggestion at the moment.) But we overlook all this because discontent is what is fueling the crowds and protests. We’re getting angry, raising questions and screaming solutions so that we can feel better about ourselves; so that we feel less helpless; so that we don’t have to think about what it means to be raped. Our rage has nothing to do with either the victim or the crime.
The horror of rape isn’t just the physical pain of an erect penis forcing its way through a vagina that is in no way prepared for intercourse. It begins much earlier, from the moment a man touches you the first time with the intention of harassment. Objectively speaking, that first touch usually isn’t too painful, but that twinge of pain as he clutches a wrist, paws a breast or curls his hand around a crotch–the body’s alarm bells go off violently. Skin tightens, muscles bunch, the throat closes in. The brain seizes with the fear that this won’t stop. Because it knows there’s much, much more that this man has planned.
Imagine this happening to you. Imagine him drawing pleasure from the sound of your bones breaking, the feeling of your body hating his, the sensation of you losing consciousness, the sight of what should be neatly tucked inside the body spilling out in a bloody, slithering mess. Imagine feeling no shame at having inflicted this damage, but rather being filled with triumph that you were able to torture the hell out of a woman. This is rape, with details customised for every victim. This happens thousands of times every year. This is what happened to numerous women and even girls in Mumbai this month.
I don’t have any solutions and neither do I have any answers. All I have is someone else’s pain imagined into my body and a brain that’s resigned itself to questions and despair. Is it better than blustering? You tell me.
Deepanjana Pal is a journalist and the author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma. She is currently the books editor at DNA.