A few months ago, a young girl left a Bar in Guwahati. A gang of 18 men set on her, dragged her onto the road by her hair, ripped off her clothes, yanked up her vest and tugged at her bra, and molested her. She was crying for help from the passing cars all the while. They were laughing and smiling, staring into the several cameras that filmed them. One of those cameras belonged to a News Channel’s reporter and camera man. Welcome to India: the country where a woman can be a president, but must fear for her safety; the country where women are beatified in its mythological lore but abhorred and abused in society; the country where no lofty panegyric is spared in proposing causes for empowering women but where women fight for a place in society; the country where news channels have women as reporters and shows devoted to women’s rights, but – devoid of any compunction – film the molestation of a woman just to add to the sensational value of the case; the country where men may frequent pubs, but the moment a woman does, she becomes a prostitute. Welcome to India: the fourth worst country in the world, to be a woman.
Forty five long minutes of abuse transpired, while the hapless girl cried for help, begged for passing cars to stop and suffered disrespect. When the police did come, the girl was whisked away. She couldn’t be more than twenty. She was questioned, and then medically examined. There wasn’t any attempt made to arrest the men - despite their faces being as clear as day in the footage.
And all this, right in a place that boasts of an exhibit in a museum that etches Mahatma Gandhi’s words (circa 1921), stating thus: Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex. All this, right in the heart of the State of Assam, which by far is considered female-friendly, with a largely matrilineal social setting.
All night long, the news channel, NewsLive, continued playing the video of the girl’s molestation. In a bit, he got on twitter to say that “prostitutes form a major chunk of girls who visit bars and night clubs”. He has since resigned, but the damage was done. But public action did not let the girl’s cause go unheard. The police were shamed into action by residents of Guwahati – who printed and strung up an enormous banner alongside one of the city's major roads, featuring mug-shots of the main suspects. A week later, the chief minister of the State of Assam ordered the police to arrest a dozen key suspects. The victim has been promised compensation.
Abuse of women in India is an everyday affair, literally. And this is not a reflection of the mere extent depravity, but a transgression of the standards of decency and an exposition of the failure of governance in keeping violence against women in check. That a law outlawing sexual harassment and molestation is still evading India is a terrible amplification of this sordid reality. All the country has, is a Neanderthal penal code that goes back to 1860, where save for rape, only the “outraging the modesty of a woman” is punishable – with either seven, or two years, as the case maybe. There’s nothing to punish the crimes “in between” – and the latter is a terribly archaic and ambiguous term. Needless to say, the hotbed of impunity that India is when it comes to women’s rights abuses and violence against women, is facilitated by the climate of legal, governmental and policy-based apathy.
A man in Rajasthan bit his wife so brutally that she lost her face, literally, for her refusal to get more money from her parents for dowry. In Udaipur, a woman’s head was shaved, and she was stripped and beaten for having had an extramarital affair. A man in Indore, I read to my horror today, kept his wife's genitals “locked”. He drilled holes on her body and before going to work each day, would insert a small lock, tucking the keys under his socks. A woman was sexually abused for years, and then had acid thrown on her face and absolutely no one seems to be listening to her case. A few children near Bhopal were found playing with a female foetus they had mistaken for a doll in a bin. A dentist in Karnataka made his wife to drink his urine because she refused to meet dowry demands. A father beheaded his daughter in Rajasthan and paraded her bloody head as a caveat to other young women lest they fall in love with a boy from a lower caste. As all of this transpires without respite, the Parliament is still wondering if there is any reason for them to pass the Bill on Sexual Harassment of Women.
It’s easy to blame ‘westernization’ for all of this. It is easy to blame ‘women and their ways of dressing’ for all of this. But does what a woman wears, says, or does, is no reason for her to be ill-treated. Did the girl in Rajasthan dress skimpily? Or was the woman under “lock” down too empowered for her husband to tolerate? Does a girl’s visit to a pub automatically men she is a prostitute? What about a man’s visit, then?
After days of denouncing the Taliban and its derogatory treatment of women, I’m ashamed to admit that the scenario in India is as terrible as the Taliban’s ideals of women.
Why the hatred, really?