The 16 December buzz this year is ‘nothing has changed’. If you are referring to sexual harassment on streets, at workplaces, educational institutions, and other places of interaction like gyms, sports clubs, vocational courses like dance and music etc, I agree. But I can’t agree to absolutely nothing having changed over the past year since the protests.
Let’s begin right at the beginning. The protests of this scale having happened without political or organization support or intervention were the biggest indicators of change. When was the last time we saw such protests, and for rape or sexual crimes? The 1972 Mathura gang rape case had triggered large scale protests. These protests culminated into the dowry protests of the last seventies. These protests led to stronger dowry laws and ‘bride burning’ could be effectively controlled. However, these protests were started and administered by activists and social organizations concerned.
The protests in the wake of the 16 December 2012 incident were a first in the history of India in the sense that ordinary men and women, who had no history of activism or protests, formed the crowd at protest scenes. If political leaders tried to intervene, they were sent back sorry faced. The activists sat back and watched from the pavilion for the hottest part of the protests. They stepped in only later with their printed placards and tailor-made slogans to have their share of screen space. Some even managed to permanently grab a huge chunk of primetime space. When the number of people started dwindling at the protest site after about three months, everybody was asking, “Have we moved on?” Nobody could answer then.
But a year later, we, the protestors, can easily say the protests may be over but the change is here to say. The change is right in front of us in the form of Tarun Tejpal, Ashok Kumar Ganguly, Asaram Bapu and Narayan Sai cases. Not that it was the first time these men unleashed their libidos on comparatively helpless women. Considering their age, this (sexual harassment and assault) could easily be one of their many areas of expertise. And with their on-the-job experience came the assurance that women don’t bark or bite. They have a miraculous heart that can accommodate colossal amount of insults without ever exploding.
But after last year’s protests, women have realized that it was not their large hearts. The insults were replacing their self respect. With each such crime committed against one woman going unreported, a whole generation of women is eroded of its self respect, the entire womanhood bears the brunt of an unspoken crime. So women spoke up!
Another big change is media reporting of sexual crimes. I remember when I started off as a reporter in 2002, like all cub reporters I was put on regular night shifts. As a night reporter, I was supposed to call up the police every hour and find out what was up. One day, the police informed me about the rape of a teenager in Shastri Park area of Delhi. I told my senior about it. I was told that it was no news. It was meant for the trash bin. If there is space, the report could go as a fifty-word brief in some oblivious corner of an invisible page. Slowly I realised that “rape is small news” while a petty murder could still attract some attention.
But in the past one year, even the rape of a minor in some forgotten slum of Delhi has been reported on front page and debated on primetime. This is a positive change. It has helped put courage in the minds of women and parents of girls and some fear in the minds of men. Some men, who are still at it, would pay for it sooner or later. Some women, who are still shy of speaking up, will do so in no time.
Change is here. We must acknowledge it. We must make it better… for the sake of ourselves and for the sake of generations to come.
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