16 December 2013 | by The Petticoat Journal | NEW DELHI
It’s been a year since the incident that jolted the world into leaving its regular business and spilling out on the streets to convey the message that women are human beings and safety is their birth right. On the eve of the anniversary of the horrific gang rape of a young paramedic in a moving bus in Delhi, The Petticoat Journal walked the same streets to see what they looked like a year later and what people were thinking. The thoughts were varied and disturbing.
“Nothing has changed” could easily pass as the slogan of the evening. But what was more worrying was that after all that thing about the youth being the face of the post-gang rape protests last year, a young gentleman very sophisticatedly blamed the couple for the brutal gang rape. “The couple is to be blamed as much as the culprits. Why did they take an empty bus at 2am in the first place?” he asked. He explained that his uncle who is in the Delhi Police told him “the facts” and “that the couple boarded the bus at 9pm, was media-made.” A harsh example of how facts must be tweaked to blame the woman for sexual assaults and sexual harassment.
So when we ask about the “change”, let’s consider that during the past one year, this youngster has not met a single person who would correct the facts for him and help him understand that for once, even if the couple took the bus at 2am, it did not justify the brutality. However, he sure met a score of people during this past year who told him that the protests were a short-lived drama and they will lead to nothing worthwhile. And in that, it’s not his fault. People who think otherwise are few and far between. Not everybody bumps into them over a stroll!
For instance, people like Meenu Potdar, who is already teaching her five-year-old son to respect women. “It was always on the agenda. For me, teaching my son to respect women was not an awakening that came after the last year’s protests,” she says. So when her son is playing with little girls of his age, his mother checks him once in a while if she finds him being rude or illogical (for his age) with the girls.
Sheeja Venkat, a consultant, does the same with her six-year-old son. “It has to start young. When it is embedded in their minds, their friends will not be able to lead them astray easily,’ she says. Most mothers are not bothered. This needs to change, she feels.
Ish Bagga, a Delhi-based businessman, is the father of a daughter and his younger brother Dunish Bagga has a son. Ish says, “I am cautious of course. I will tell my daughter to keep away from boys who behave in a certain way.” Dunish adds, “And I will bring up my son in a way that he does not grow up to be a guy whom good girls avoid.” And after this conversation (with The Petticoat Journal reporter), I believe I will have to give this special attention as in maybe tell him in as many words to respect women every once in a while as he grows up,” Dunish says.
Then there is Himanshu Negi, who belongs to Kotdwara, Uttarakhand, and has been living in Delhi for the past three years. He strongly believes that men should be involved in the change. He says that in an all-men gathering, they tend to talk about women. “But some men in my circle really go overboard at times.
I feel bad and I can’t understand how they can so easily get to this when all of them have mothers and sisters at home and whom they definitely respect as women,” he says. It’s difficult to avoid these gatherings when all men are up to it. If you just start avoiding, you will be left alone. “As for me, I am determined that I will work towards making this world a much better place for women far removed from what it is today. I talk about my intentions with my close friends quite often,” Himanshu says.
This world needs many more such change agents. If they had existed always, maybe 16 December would not be infamous. Hence, Nikita Singh, a Noida-based travel consultant would not feel ‘terrified walking on the streets.’ She is the one who would not let sexual harassment pass off as just another bump at a blind turn. ‘If I face sexual harassment, I will not leave a single stone unturned to ensure that the culprit gets punished for it.By sexual harassment I mean unwanted physical contact,’ she says. Though staring (read leching) and lewd comments are equally insulting, they are not taken seriously in our society. You complain about it and you get laughed at, she tells The Petticoat Journal.
Her colleague Alisha Madhya adds, “I don’t know how easy it would be to complain etc. The policemen are callous. They do just nothing about it even if you are bold enough to complain.” “They are perverts themselves,” Nikita adds. Alisha continues, “Right! So the situation is such that girls must be home by 5pm. Even 7pm will be too late in such a scenario.”
So Jessica Hoyos from America and Herlirva Sari from Indonesia, who are in India to study human resource management, have had some bad experiences in the past one month that they have been in Delhi. ‘My friend, who is married to an Indian, had advised me to be careful about what I wear and how I behave in India,’ says Jessica. Herliva echos, ‘Everybody I sought advice from, told me not to go out alone in India. You should be accompanied by a male friend or be in a girl group.’
Jessica says that after coming here, she realized her friend was so right! Even after behaving “just right”, ‘I went through a bad patch when a man plotted with my roommate to kidnap me and even otherwise, when we move around, men stare in a very insulting way. They look in a very tasteless and unwelcome way.’ And the police can’t be trusted either. She knows from friends’ experiences. With Indians they may be okay, but with foreigners they are worse than the man trying to molest you on the street, Jessica says.
Gurgaon-based Arjun Bajaj, who works with Ibibo, slams protests as a passing fad. ‘When something untoward happens, people gather at India Gate or Jantar Mantar for a while, shout slogans and then everything is forgotten,’ he says. He blames the mentality for the harassment and atrocities that women face and it’s more about the company that men keep than their families. Men’s families may have taught them all the right things when it comes to women, but once men move out as young boys, their friends have a very strong influence on them and not many men talk very respectfully about women.
Not surprising then that Shobhit Sibbal, a corporate financier, felt a pang of insecurity when his daughter was born around this time last year. “I remember my feelings from last year that’s when we were blessed with a baby girl. Every time I used to hold her in my arms, I used to think about the dad who lost his daughter in the way that he did. It was just so difficult to hold back the tears,” he says.
He blames the mindset and also a lack of exposure. “Consider songs like “Sheila ki Jawani”. Someone who has enough exposure would not be too bothered about a gyrating female figure. But majority of our population is not adequately educated and exposed. To them, such visuals are nothing more than titillations leading them to commit sexual crimes,” says Shobhit.
Swati Gupta, a student of B.Tech-Bio-Tech in Noida is also concerned that nothing has changed except that ‘we are talking more about it. My friends and I openly discuss these issues which is a good thing.” But, largely, a lot remains to change. She points out that after so much protest, the roads are still not well-lit and highly unsafe for anyone. “For instance, the patch right outside the Saket court where the 16 December 2012 case was heard has no lights. I pass that way quite often during the night,” she says.
The testimonies above are an indication that though protests may get you there, but they can’t cause long-term change the onus of which rests on the shoulders of people who are directly affected by such change.
Dr Pam Rajput, Chairperson of the government of India’s High Level Committee on Status of Women says, “If nothing has changed, that means we have to work harder to bring about the change. We have to make it possible. It’s very convenient to say ‘nothing has changed’ and relax.” The civil society and the implementing agencies must work hand-in-hand and men must be involved at every level in order to affect the change we are referring to, she tells The Petticoat Journal.
Photos: The Petticoat Journal
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