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Shame to the eye of the beholder.

Much has been said about the recent incident of gang rape which took place in Munirka. The survivor/victim has been equated to 'living dead' by a right wing woman parliamentarian advocating her right to freedom of speech. An actor turned politician also deemed necessary to exercise similar rights on behalf of the woman clan as she demanded justice. While the issue has caught furor among the Delhi denizens, we still need to delve deeper, what lies underneath the overlay of superficial solutions like 'death penalty' or 'chemical castration'. Is it possible that the rearing ugly head of the urban middle class underbelly might prove effective in breaking government's inertia? Will the ballyhoo serve any purpose to the main cause? The answer to these would only become clearer in the days to come.

For now, Ms. Chief minister-in-distress is busy convincing the home minister to cut down the number of policemen who are busy safeguarding the lives of VIPs, proposing fast track courts and increased police patrolling but the poignant issue remains how will changes at the policy level (if any) fill-in the cultural gap? How do we alter the mental landscape of an average Indian male? How do we teach them to 'respect'? The increased police patrolling will do no good if the ones’ on duty feel that women need to be home bound post 9 p.m. Similarly, planting police personnel on public transport will be a redundant act when the rapist is free to choose a private vehicle instead. There is a need to garner change of attitude; provision of quick-fix solutions won't offer any panacea in this case.

One thing which has steered clear from this entire jeremiad is that women do not need "patriarchal protection", the one based on monitoring women's social behaviour. This is the kind of protection which infests skewed sense of "women need security" in men. If security means to be watched over, then no woman needs it. This one narrative of shame has revoked the stories of millions of others. In this narrative, where the personal has become political, it needs to be understood that it is the eye of the beholder which needs to change. The rampancy of sexual assaults is as frequently visible as cows on streets in India. Molestation and street harassment are not even considered as acts of indecent behavior and many assaulters often take pride in the act.

It is no secret that a woman is often discouraged to report the incident of rape. Her courage to come forward is looked down upon; she is surrounded by scornful gaze and is made to believe that she needs to "let it go". The victim/survivor is the one who is left disgraced while the perpetrator is vindicated. This paradox offers limitless opportunities to a prospective rapist, as he thinks that "I can shame her, no matter what, it is her 'honour' which will be violated." Well, it's time that this so called "honour code" is broken. Apart from the policy driven alterations, there's an earnest need to 'repair' the male gaze. The irony of promulgating self-defence training for women, curfew hours and dress code, all indirectly purport that women are at the wrong side of the fence, this inverted focus which questions women's integrity where the logic hold nothing against her, needs to be challenged.

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Statistics from India's National Crime Records Bureau show that cases of rapes and assaults against women are on the rise with one rape almost every 22 minutes. And those are just the ones that get reported. Violence against women in India is widespread and not just occurring in the rural areas but the "cosmopolitan" urban centres as well.

A shift needs to happen in the general mindset of how women are perceived and it needs to filter through to all parts of society – for that to happen, you need education, persistence and effort.

The seeds of change have been planted. People have been connecting personally to Joyti Singh as a symbolic daughter or sister. Let's hope that in our lifetimes, the fruit will come to bear.

Manmeet Sahni's picture

That's exactly the point!

That's exactly the point! It's tragic that only now people have risen to a collective consciousness while this has been an issue for far too long! One girl did get victimized and "symbolized" for the entire clan...I hope something comes out of the entire month long jeremiad..Its alarming and the alarm shouldn't be put off just because the one "symbolized" is no more. If we have to stop this...let's stop making "symbols" out of each woman and do what needs to be done.

ManmeetkSahni

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