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'Delhi was never safe for women'

Susan Visvanathan , DEc 29, 2012: 0:44 IST
The rape and death of the young woman returning from an evening out with a close friend, was one of the most horrific events our city has faced. She had known a supportive milieu, where she was respected and loved by parents and siblings.

She believed her career and perhaps the prospect of a partnership, would make life all that more meaningful. I can imagine a young woman like that, thinking that the bus services in the national capital would be safe, geared as we are towards modernity, freedom for all, occupations which are no longer open to men alone and promising most of all, free access to work and leisure for the women who enter the 21st century with optimism.

Today, the city of Delhi faces these contradictory impulses of modernisation and lumpenisation, which uses orthodoxy as its alibi, with alarm. The anonymity of the city (where crime is rampant, where road rage and alcoholism are more frequent than we would like to admit to ourselves) and the stentorian tones of a false orthodoxy which says that women should not be out working or at the movies or shopping at late hours are fatally combined. Part of the problem lies in the ethos of the city of Delhi, which always alienated women from the normalcy of occupational drives.

The city carried with it the tones of an ancient legend: “Duryodhana will mutilate Draupadi”. It was not a corpse, it was a woman, who though she had been ripped apart, knew that she had to speak, to write, to make eye contact, to call for her friend who had tried to protect her from the lewdness of six drunken men.

What the protests mean

It is to her spirit that the city of Delhi has been moved by, in endless protest, thousands marching, speaking and fending off tear gas and water cannons. Delhi was never safe for women, and a new generation demands that the world take note.

Life sentences for rapists on a fast track judicial court is one of their minimalist demands, not as deterrent, but as a collective sentiment expressing the grief of the common people against crimes such as wife-burning, acid attacks and rape.

There are people like me who believe that wife-murder statistics did reduce, when death sentences were given to the mothers-in-law and the husbands when proved guilty. One can have different opinions about the value and ethics of capital punishment or maoist guerrilla warfare.

Yet, only with this case in mind, can we tackle the rapes of women by soldiers in the war zones of our country. Rape is the way by which men tell women that they cannot work late hours, enjoy leisure time activities or demand the right to be citizens in their own country.

Rape is the instrument by which men tell women that they are lesser beings and their fate is to be decided by the rule of phallus. Severest penalty for those who rape and murder is as necessary for restoring order, as are war crimes councils when death is doled out without mercy in times of crises. Anomie is the word sociologists give to normlessness.

The Police and Border Security Forces and the Army must be as subject to transparency and rule of order, as are the laws imposed on killers and rapists who stalk the fields, roads and staircases of apartment blocks, looking for prey. “Take responsibility” for the desperate indexes for rape, in India, is what the protestors are asking the Police to do, which alone can make Delhi and the rest of the country women-friendly.

(The writer is a Professor of Sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)


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