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If I can just give to the world more than I take from it, I will be a very happy man. For there is no greater joy in life than to give. Motto : Live, Laugh and Love. You can follow me on Twitter too . My handle is @Raja_Sw.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Mumbai gangrape and our outrage - some thoughts!

(At the outset, I'd like to say that while most of this piece refers to rape, it applies just as much to VAW (Violence Against Women). And in fact, it applies not just to women but to men too. It needs to be seen in its broadest sense, even if most of the context seems to be, quite understandably I would think, women-related.).

There’s been another gangrape in India. This time in Mumbai.

The entire country is outraged.

Mumbai? Supposedly India’s safest city? That too in broad daylight?

And the girl was accompanied by a male colleague?

How could this happen?

Within a couple of days, we have more rape stories. Like this , this and this .

Over the next few days, as the outrage continues, I expect the media to keep unearthing more stories of rapes.

The subject will be hot for a few days, so it makes perfect business sense for the media to keep rape in the news.

Till, like any product that has reached its sell-by date, this topic is also discarded by the media and replaced in its space by the latest hot topic.

That’s how things work in the media world.

The fact is the truth has long since stopped being absolute. It has become what we are told it is.

The fact is before the Delhi gangrape last December, rapes used to happen in India every single day.

The fact is that after the Delhi gangrape, rapes have been happening in India every single day.

The fact is that a few months after the Delhi incident, the media moved on to other topics.

And, in a sense, the foot went off the pedal.

During those early days following the Delhi rape, there was intense pressure on the government and the police to be seen to be doing something. 

The Delhi police chief held press conferences, explaining what actions he and his staff were taking. The CM of Delhi felt public pressure as there were protests in the city. The government constituted a 3-member commission, headed by Justice JS Verma, to look at stronger anti-rape laws. The commission submitted a 630-page report within 29 days. This led to the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013.

The topic of women, their empowerment, their safety was so hot that even the Finance Minister had special provisions in his budget for women. Including the setting up of women’s banks and a Nirbhaya fund for women.

But then the foot went off the pedal.

As it will, once this Mumbai case also goes off the media radar.

For a while, there will be debates on TV channels with “experts”.  There will be a lot of people active on social media – on their blogs, on Facebook, on Twitter – outraging and, like the “experts” on TV, discussing what ails the system and what needs to be done.  There will be talk of the “death penalty” and “fast track courts”. There will be protests and candelight vigils.

And then, undoubtedly, something else will happen and capture everybody’s imagination.  And that will suddenly become the debate topic, the blog topic.

That is the nature of news.  Mediapersons love to tell us that it’s about the people – but actually it’s about the story.

And a story has a shelf-life.

The fact is that the people who CAN make a difference are just not doing it.

Society at large, the government, the police force, the media – we are all part of the problem.

As a society, we create a mindset where women are objectified. Where they are not seen as human beings, but as a set of body parts. We have the advertising industry thrusting female body parts at us to sell products that have nothing to do with women at all. We have men glorified as “macho” men depending on how many women they can “conquer”. 

This objectification is sweeping in its ramifications - we have the man whistling at the girl walking past and passing lewd comments, we have the male office colleague staring at his female colleague’s body lustfully , we have men groping and grabbing women in public spaces. Each of these men is not seeing the woman as a human being, he is seeing her as an object.

So we as a society need to first change ourselves. In right earnest. Coming down strongly on anything that suggests objectification. I know some will think I’m making too much of a deal of this point, some may even consider objectification a way of life in today’s society, but I do think its role in how men see women cannot be overstated.

Another thing we really need to do as a society is to try to understand the mind of (potential) rapists better.

Now, although some women may not agree, not every man is a pig. There are thankfully still many men out there who respect women for who they are. We need to see why these men respect women - and others don’t. Is their upbringing different? Are their living conditions different? Is it to do with social circles they move in? Is it that acts of rape happen more under the influence of drugs or alcohol?

If we are to reduce rape, we need to reduce the conditions under which this happens, in every possible way. Nobody is born a rapist – but somewhere along the line, rapists and potential rapists get created.

There's much more we can do as a society.

For example, bringing up our children to respect all others, regardless of gender (or other discriminatory societal grouping).

For example, not tolerating patriarchal behaviour, regardless of where we see it happening.

The fact is, we are just not doing enough. 

As a society, our end-objective is to ensure that men and women are both seen and treated as equal human beings, with their sex being only a biological differentiator. It is much easier said than done, no doubt – but I believe it is very much doable. And the onus is very much on us as a society. We keep making demands on our government but there is a lot we can do ourselves.

Talking of the government, it is of course one of the government’s primary functions to provide a certain level of security for its citizens. Clearly, this is not working well enough at the moment. And although there have been some changes in the laws recently, clearly more needs to be done.

And not just on the legislation front. Much more needs to be done at the ground level. Police reforms have been talked about for ages, but somehow it keeps going off the radar. If we need deterrence against crime, we need criminals first and foremost to be brought to book. Only then can the law kick in at all.

While various political parties will keep pointing fingers at each other, I believe the best way to get the government to act is to make personal security an election issue. Governments, even in a democracy, have been known to have scant respect for the common man – until they feel that their existence is at stake. So the common man needs to hurt the government where it hurts – and that is usually at the polling booths.

Then there is the media.

I am sometimes amazed at how much power the media has – and how poorly it has used this power. The media is supposedly the fourth estate – it is supposed to safeguard the interests of the public. And it can do SO much. Governments may not care about the voice of the common man – but there is not a politician out there who would want to run foul of the media. The media has been known to make or break personalities. And politicians need the media to build their image and to carry their message to the public.

With all this power, the media could support the fight for equality of the sexes by supporting and promoting the right messages to the public. By coming down strongly on all things patriarchal and discriminatory. By following up on stories and ensuring that appropriate pressure is put on law enforcement agencies to book criminals. And pressure is put on the judicial process to ensure criminals are not allowed to get away lightly. 

Fighting crime (of which VAW / rape is a part), using its power, could be one of the media’s most responsible actions. 

One thought. If we can have an NDTV Profit channel to discuss money, maybe we could even have an NDTV Crime channel? Or a Times Crime or Zee Crime channel? Or a Doordarshan Crime channel? Surely there's enough 24 / 7 material for a full time crime reporting channel?

I know much of what I am saying will be dismissed as wishful thinking. We live in cynical times. And yes, going by evidence on the ground, one can hardly blame the cynics.

Yet, I think we have the solution only in our own hands. Things are not going to change overnight – but they are also not going to change with these debates on TV or these candlelight vigils.

As a society, we talk too much. Maybe it’s time all of us backed up that talk with some action.

(I recognize that this blogpost is also another of those blogposts written in the aftermath of the Mumbai gangrape.  The very blogposts that I have referred to earlier in this piece. The point is not that we should not express our views – of course we should. The point is that we need to do much more than just “outrage and move on”).


Ava Suri said...

The trouble with media is that it concentrates too much on being saleable to focus on real issues.

There is pressure on journalists to write what their Editor dictates.

Hence, it does not fulfill its function properly.

Luckily, our social media is pretty robust and is able to bring pressure on both Media and Government to take notice of such issues.

Crime against women or VAW needs a two pronged approach (at least).

1) Deal with the current issues of Violence and how women can be made to feel safe.

2) Deal with the mindset of people to change their attitudes towards women.

Shalini Austin said...

"As a society, we talk too much. Maybe it’s time all of us backed up that talk with some action."

"Outrage" Easy to express from the confines of our comfortable living rooms and with all the access we have to social media channels these days.

Some of the people expressing this outrage need to do some soul searching on why violence against women keeps on happening and how they are indirectly complicit by turning a blind eye to what they see around them. They are often over protective of their own daughters but forget that every girl is someone's daughter including the one's they see as objects on Film and TV. They teach their daughters to be careful but don't teach their sons to respect women. And that is right away how they are complicit. Even within their own inner circle they have set different rules of "equality" for their sons and their daughters. And yes I am talking to you Dear Uncles, Aunts, Cousins, Brothers, Sisters, Fathers & Mothers expressing outrage.

The mindset has to change but it is going to take a very long time. A lot of education, a lot of awareness and a lot more women standing up for women. And that's still just a very tiny change.
I am Sad, depressed, angry but not outraged that another rape has happened that the media has gone to town on!

Crime channel? Maybe...
I would prefer a channel that starts a campaign to EDUCATE people on one very simple point. RESPECT. For men, for women, for children, for animals, for our world. As a society we have collectively forgotten the meaning of this word :-(

harvey said...

I read about this incident today in the newspaper. Was once again shocked. And the feeling of helplessness creeps in.
You are right, till people don't learn to respect the person in front of them, such things will always happen.
Violence against women has deeper roots than just sexual violation. It is also a weapon to deter women from going outside, to be successful in the world outside the confines of the four walls of the house.
The implicitness that a woman has the same rights as a man, that she has got the same right to have a successful career, to have a life outside the house, to wear what she will, should become established. Steps should be taken to spread this message. It should be propagated in serials, soaps, school books, social media, music. Organise workshops in the schools. This equality should be implemented in the government, in private firms, municipality. We need an atmosphere, where this should be as natural as breathing air. I know India and many other countries are far from this situation. But steps should be taken. NOW!