I have been watching the news channels and some are showing plain clothes policemen boarding public buses. There are suggestions to strip the dark films on buses so that there is more visibility. I can’t help but feel that somewhere along the way, a larger and more important message has been lost.
To start with, the point is not that a woman was brutally raped on a moving bus, the point is that a woman was brutally raped. Period. The point is not what should be done to make travelling safer for women, the point is what can be done to make life safer for women in general.
Rapes in a moving vehicle have been reported in Calcutta with an alarming regularity in the last 6 months. I spotted at least 3 such news reports. The vehicles were not buses but cars.
A couple of years back I read about a woman in UP who along with her 5 year old son was visiting her ailing mother in another village. She stood at the bus stop past midnight when a gang picked her up, took her to an abandoned factory and gang raped her. She was dumped back to the bus stop. A couple of hours later, 4 men in a car found her cowering in the corner. They gang raped her too. That piece of news was so disturbing that I couldn’t sleep for a long time. Imagine the trauma that she would have gone through, is probably still going through.
The difference between the Delhi victim and the one in UP is about the inches in the newspaper. Someone found this newsworthy and it became news. I read the story of the UP victim in the inside pages and it was not mentioned once on TV. Perhaps there was more important news to report that day. It did not merit any mention.
The problem with our collective national shame and public outrage is that it is manufactured during the news cycle. Its like a monster’s horrified reaction when a mirror is thrust to its face. The fact that things have been ugly all along escapes everyone’s understanding. If you read newspapers regularly then you will find brutality and inhumanity in abundance and you will be less sensitive when the mirror is shown to you.
Our solution is not in policy or in policing - both of which are critical but attack symptoms and not the actual disease In 2007 alone, India reported 19,000 rape cases. Do you know how many rapes go unreported for every one that does get reported? Do you know how many actually lead to convictions?
During times like this, I am convinced that we are a nation full of hypocrites. We can pretend to uphold the highest values for women, we can pray to them as Goddesses, we can call them our wealth and our knowledge but we don’t really believe in it. We will pass lewd remarks at women that dare to step out in the world on their own. We will treat them with utter disrespect. We will see them as objects of our lust. A large part of our issues are cultural. We need to educate our young better. We need more awareness. We need to raise our voices when women are teased on roads. We need a police force that is sympathetic. We need to stop objectifying women. We need to stop blaming the victim. We need to stop forcing the victim to marry her rapist.
Approximately 25,000 rape cases were reported in 2011, extrapolated from data released by National Crime Records Bureau. That’s an average of 69 cases of rape every day. The press can only handpick one of these, that which it deems newsworthy on an otherwise dull day. Boarding buses as plainclothes policemen is not going to do the trick. It is only going to give comfort to those of us who do not know any better.