A woman deserves justice not for the sake of others but for her own self. That is also why it’s just as counterproductive to impose radical notions of sexual freedom upon women and brainwash them into Faustian bargains with men that offer superficial success but leave them emotionally and/or physically depleted, dehumanised and dysfunctional. When a woman’s progress depends on her ability to exploit and/or be exploited, neither women’s equality nor justice is served.
Take the shame out of rape, Nandita Patel – Indian Express, 28 Dec, 2012.
This quote, to me, addresses an issue of feminism rarely dealt with. My experience with feminists has been a mixed bag, but the one failing that I’ve constantly seen is the constant thrust on what Patel calls “radical notions of sexual freedom” and the dismissal of family as always being a site of oppression. Yes, there are many feminisms and this isn’t a critic of some imagined monolith of the ideology; this is just something that I don’t hear being discussed as often.
This, of course, is in the context of the Delhi gangrape case. The media coverage is vulgar and suddenly there is nothing else that anyone wants to talk about. We are a nation of over 1.25 billion people but if you cared for any news beyond what happened to Damini, Nirbhaya or whatever other pseudonyms were given to her, you are a bad person. I could understand if the coverage was justified – if there was genuinely something about the case that changed so rapidly as to need constant coverage. But that isn’t the case. The gangrape has gripped the collective imagination of that small class of India that consumes, and hence decides, the news. The reason, of course, is because of how close to home it happened. This wasn’t a Dalit minor in rural Rajasthan or a 40-something Naga/Mizo woman in the AFSPA terrorised North-East. This wasn’t a caste rape or a marital rape or a custody rape or a military rape. This happened near Saket in the posh South Delhi and that is what has stirred the souls of people.
Of course, what happened was terrible, but I’m not buying that the conscience of a nation suddenly went out against rape. This is not popular protest by any means. In a sense, these protests are selfish. The familiarity of the situation – taking a bus back home after a movie with a friend – is what has scared people. Is it any wonder that the protests are happening only in the metros? Small town India is taking in the news, horrified by the brutality of the incident (something the media spares no effort in highlighting every chance it gets). But that’s simply because of what doesn’t make it to the papers. The everyday bestiality of caste, state and poverty violence in India isn’t newsworthy because of how run-of-the-mill it is. No wonder then that the rape and murder of a Dalit girl within days of this case got lost in the inside pages of all newspapers.
The optimist would perhaps see that a case can be made for media activism. But it is the same media that keeps people so utterly, dismally ill-informed about the goings on in the country. I’ve always felt that India is the place to practice journalism and social science research. You’d be hard pressed to find a country more diverse, more filled with hitherto invisible issues needing urgent attention. But something a senior journalist once told me has stuck ever since (and partly informed my decision of not working in the media): He narrated an incident when a visiting fellow journalist from Pakistan, after having scanned the morning papers at breakfast, quipped to him: “For all your free media, there is nothing in your papers worth reading.”
This case is being covered because it matters to the few who matter. Meanwhile, an NDTV journalist, given the onerous responsibility of live-covering the protest march at Jantar Mantar following the victim’s death, opens after a long ads break (milk those TRPs) with the line: “Good evening and welcome…” Running out of things to say, but loving the TRPs, the channel takes to speculating whether she would’ve lived had she not been taken to Singapore and treated in India instead.
Lastly, I squirm at how the virtues of the Delhi rape victim are being extoled at a fever pitch. She’s being called the ‘daughter of India’. “She was a brave and courageous girl who fought till the very last minute for her dignity and her life. She is a true hero and symbolises the best in Indian youth and women… The nation will mourn the passing of this brave daughter of India.” (emphasis mine). This is from President Pranab Mukherjee and this finds resonance across all news and social media. What the hell does that statement even mean? You don’t even know who you are talking about! Why vulgarise this episode more than it already has been? So, victims of violence (especially those who die) automatically become your moral and symbolic heroes?
There are three articles that made some sense to me in this perverted circus. Urvashi Butalia’s Let’s ask how we contribute to rape that appeared in The Hindu on 25th December looked at entrenched patriarchy in the society. In the same paper, Vidya Subrahmaniam’s Charge of the unenlightened brigade (29 Dec) addressed the lack of critical thinking and informed debate about rape in public and among the rarefied political class. And 10 legal rights every woman must know that came in The Hindustan Times on the 28th. None of the papers carried anything other than this news for the past few days on their homepages.