Everything below is applicable to men and women alike.
It’s another gang rape, another city, another time. Yet the conversations are the same. The context is the same. The political games are the same. In eight months, nothing has changed.
The past few months, I have alternately oscillated in a very bipolar fashion, between leaving the punishment to the democratic judiciary and legislature and letting the mob lynch the rapists. My friends have vehemently supported one or the other, both parties have provided compelling arguments, one based on logical rationality, the other based on raw emotion, helplessness and the need to see justice done.
I have had conversations of sorts with random strangers on Internet forums about rapes in India, both Indian and not. And I have conversed with men and women alike.
In the same time, I have explored sexual assaults in the United States, spoken with rape survivors, social thinkers and administrators on college campuses, all saying the right things, yet incapable and helpless in preventing and combating sexual assaults. I have seen Steubenville erupt in the American media, when two high school footballers dragged an intoxicated teenager door to door, raping her, encouraging others to rape her while parents stood by doing nothing.
In the meantime, one of the world’s strongest religious icons, Pope Benedict II resigned in the backdrop of repeated sexual assault charges against members of the Catholic Church worldwide, as Pope Frances stepped up and presented a politically correct, humble demeanor to his shell-shocked, awed followers.
All the time, I have wondered, why? Why do men rape women, priests sodomize minors, teachers sexually abuse their students? And I have asked myself, if I could, how would I stop it?
The two forks in a forest
In my rage, I once posted on Facebook wishing we could hang the rapists without trial. In retrospect, I was wrong. That was anger talking.
Anger is good. But there is a path beyond the haze of anger, there is a long way to go. Anger is a symptom of a problem, protests are an indicator something is wrong and we’re not happy. What next?
The easiest thing in a way, as we have seen for the past two years is to organize a group of people, sit on a street or in the center of a city square (India Gate, Tahrir Square, Wall Street) and put up banners, placards and yell, making use of our democratic right to speech, increasing media channels’ ratings and yelling our heads off. That is actually Step 0. Which works for, like, the first hundred times. Because we’ve just let the world know we have a problem and we don’t like it. So?
Operation Now What? What are we going to do about solving the problem? Anybody, any ideas? Surprisingly, not one protester can tell you anything concrete. They are there because they are angry, but they will tell you “This is to let our government know, they should do something about it.”
Then the TV anchor will move back to the studio and ask a panelist, “Do you think the government will do anything? What is the way to combat it?” and ten panelists will state ten things and five days later, the story is gone, the suggestions are drifting in the amazing monsoon winds (if you don’t know what that is help yourself to Google) and we’re talking about how awesome the latest chick-flick with the sexy heroine was. Then another rape splashes all over the media and we start all over again.
Robert Frost’s second fork
The second option, the one that isn’t as easy, that needs patience and skill, is the one that most of us fail to take. We don’t see it, or we see it, find it non-achievable and pass it over.
You ask how and what next? Here’s my five-step 50-year plan for change. 50 years? Yes, at least that. We forget that it took us at least 10,000 years to get where we are in civilization today; 10,000 years of moving two steps forward and five back. What makes you think something as endemic as rape and abuse is a 1-year economic plan?
Step 1: Acknowledge.
Yes, acknowledge we have a problem. When people across the world say “I think Indian men are all animals” don’t react by saying “pray for the victim, not all men in India are rapists.” Say, yes, you are free to believe what you wish, but really, rapists aren’t men, they are criminals just like any other and we’re working on changing things back home. If you feel unsafe travelling to our country right now, you are entitled to your opinion and you don’t have to come. Meanwhile, yes there is an overwhelming problem of rape. Realize that it’s not media hype. It’s not trivial when your daughter is in a bus and says “I think that man just rubbed his dick on me.” It is an offense. It IS a violation. Don’t ask her to shut up and call it “over-reaction” because you think you and your daughter will be a laughing stock, when everyone else on a Delhi bus starts snickering. They are wrong — your daughter, sister or mother, any woman — is right in being offended. It IS an offense, even though it is NOT punishable by law. It’s not over-reporting, and it’s NOT the time to talk about “women take advantage of rape laws.” Rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse is REAL. Own up to it. Yes, we have a problem.
Step 2: Start at home.
Every story starts at home. Cliche? You bet. True? Yup. Gender equality is a habit, like drinking tea in the morning, like going to the gym everyday. Gender discrimination is a habit too, one that needs conscious effort to be changed.
When your daughter decides to stay late at school for a project, do you yell at her to come back home? Are you doing the same to your son? When you refuse to send your daughter to a college in a different city because it’s unsafe, ask yourself, had it been a son would you use a similar argument? Would you want your son to be treated the way you treat your daughter-in-law?
When you yell at your wife and call her an idiot, or undermine her authority, ask yourself if you would be comfortable if she called you an idiot in return. Ask yourself, before you call your wife’s parent’s names, if you would be okay having your daughter’s hubby calling you a pitiful idiot for not paying him enough dowry. Before you enroll your son in the most expensive school in the block and your daughter in a cheap government school, ask yourself, if in 20 years, when she understands her parents duped her, cared less for her, will you be able to face her in the eye and say, “I did what I thought was best for you?”
When the nurse comes out of the labor room and says “You’ve just had the prettiest daughter ever,” and you start crying and curse your blasted fate, then shun your wife (except in the marital bed, of course) until she bears you that glorious son, ask yourself, if you can stand the accusation and the hurt in your daughter’s eyes when she points out to her friends — that’s the man who sired me and hated me the minute I was born. And trust me, she will.
And when your daughter gets a national award, while your son is too busy flirting with girls, ask yourself, after all you’ve deprived her of, do you have the right to be proud of her at all?
So yes, make gender equality a conscious habit at home with the women you interact with everyday. It’s as hard as waking up in the morning, but you’ve gotta do it.
Step 3: Step up to the challenge.
When your colleague says, “I’m having a daughter, but I really wanted a son,” tell him or her that a woman is great. Remind them that they wouldn’t have been born without one, that even if they’ve seen the worst happen to women, to themselves, each one of us can make it different for our children.
When you see someone abort a girl child, report it to the cops, be it your family or friend or a random stranger. Remember, every time you withhold information, there is one less girl in the world that could have contributed to the economy, to world peace.
If you see your son, your friend’s son, your husband, your father abuse a woman in any way, which is the same as abusing a man, or sexually abuse them, nip the disrespect in the bud.
“Wow, she looks beautiful?” That’s appreciation.
“Saali, kya maal lag rahi hai,” (Man, she looks hot enough to fuck) is disrespect. It is.
In short, step up when you see someone else doing it. It’s like saving the environment, it’s like stopping corruption, it’s like traffic rules. What they do affects you indirectly, even if your family is doing well on gender equality. If they tell you it’s none of your business, tell them they made it yours by telling you. Your kids will see the way they treat theirs. Their son could grow up to be your grand daughter’s rapist. If they’re mad at you so be it.
Condoning a wrong, no matter how small, will keep the problem alive. Don’t do it. Fight it, even if you’re alone in doing so. Fight it all the time.
Step 4: The thief is wrong, not the homeowner.
No like, really. When a burglar breaks into your house, do you then go and beat yourself up because you owned stuff worth a lot of money?
Then why, when a woman is raped, a child is sodomized, do you say “What did YOU do wrong?”
Why, do all of us, women and men alike, make it so hard for these violated people who share the world with us, who have dreams just like us, who love to live, to be stronger for a mishap, instead of wanting to die? Isn’t it enough that they just got raped? Why do we want to tell them it was their fault instead of saying it was the rapists’ fault? Why do we want to make them feel guilty for something they couldn’t prevent if they were wearing an abbaya and a burkha?
Support a victim of sexual abuse, any abuse, with patience. It is not their fault they are afraid of intercourse. It is a psychological trauma.
Having sexual relations with a man of one’s choosing is not the same as “I’ll have sex with anyone on the street.”
We need to remember all that before we start blaming victims. We need to love them, and hold their hands while they get back up and going. We have to be proud of them for speaking up. Those judgmental blinders we have on all the time? They need to go. Now.
Step 5: Trust democracy. Trust mankind.
In the middle of step 3, you were thinking “what’s the point of reporting anything to the cops? They’ll just shove that file deep under the piles of pending cases and it will never come to trial.”
But then you can petition.Then you can scream and yell at the media, this time for a real agenda and not just for “The government should do something about rape.”
Then you can exercise your right to freedom of speech. Then you can be an activist that people will listen to. Then you can tell the world, stand by me or not, I will fight on ’cause what happened is wrong.
It’s a democracy. The longest you have to wait is five years or four (depending on the country).
The power is in our hands, the speech is in our hands, and those that sit in the Senate, the Lord of Commons, the Lok Sabha, the Parliament — will take notice. They our our puppets. We run them, make or break their careers. We do it. We ARE that powerful.
The Torch is lit, the fight is ours!
But Step 5 is different from Step 0. Now you are empowered by your commitment, your knowledge. Now you know you have done your bit and you need others to step up too.
Change is one person at a time. One drop at a time. One fetus at a time. One city, one country, one world. We can do it and we will. Because we are fighting for life, not for religion, not for language, not for hatred, revenge or land. We fight for life, the right to live, the right to let others live. And we WILL win. If we’re lucky, in 50 years. If we are not, then maybe a 100. But it will happen, whether we live to see it or not.
There will be more rapes, as we try to combat it. There will be violations. We will be violated. But that is the law of inertia. People hate change, until change is the new norm. Let’s make change the new normal, and someday our babies, our children will all learn to live a life they truly deserve.
Will rapists disappear in 100 years? No. They will exist. But WE will learn to cope and control the epidemic that plagues us now. Like small pox and anthrax. Like polio. It will happen. Have faith in your own power.