But five years ago, something happened. Something so monstrous that it finally got Delhi’s attention and moved it; it shook the city at the roots, and brought it first to its knees, and then on its toes. It was the reckoning of a city so deep in slumber it could only wake up if the earth fell through. But for that to happen, a 23-year-old woman had to pay a price that was not only unimaginable, but also impossible to contemplate.
On the night of December 16, 2012, a medical student boarded a private bus along with her friend. Thirteen days later, she would succumb to the grievous injuries suffered on that bus. Five years later, the wound in the heart of the country still feels fresh. The aftermath of the Delhi gang rape was unlike anything witnessed before. It isn’t as if sexual assaults had not happened in the city prior to December 16 — not for nothing were we saddled with the dubious epithet of “rape capital”.
What it did do, was hold up a mirror to the hideousness we were capable of. The extent of the violence that was visited upon the woman’s body, was not held back by the media that did not blur or smudge its language. It did not hold back the gruesome facts. And the gruesomeness was what took a toll on the rest of us.
We collectively keeled over, rose from the graves of our daily lives, protested, and demanded change. Change arrived in concrete and intangible forms: In the form of new legislation and amendment of our sexual-assault laws, in the way we began to understand rape, in the way it brought the violence and dropped it on our dinner tables, forcing us to acknowledge and react to it.
The abhorrent “two-finger test” came under the scanner and was discontinued, at least on paper.
Change arrived, but not necessarily in the place it should have.
Following the macabre rape and murder of the woman, who was variously dubbed Nirbhaya or Shakti by any media outlet with any following, laws were amended to give women a sense of security and more importantly justice. It also directed attention toward other issues. Juveniles, under the amended Juvenile Justice Act can now be tried for murder and rape like adults. The definition of rape expanded; punishment for sex crimes became harsher. Hospitals were sensitised to deal with rape cases. The abhorrent “two-finger test” came under the scanner and was discontinued, at least on paper.
Yet, this was merely a change of equipment — fitting the tube to the substance. What needed to change was the substance. Not India’s daughters but India’s sons. Change that has become much more of a necessity than a desire since that fateful night of December 16.
In Delhi, for example, the number of cases of reported rape has increased threefold since the infamous gang rape. This can skew two different ways. Either sex crimes against women have increased or that they are now willing to show the courage to report them. In a way the former was always going to lead to the latter. The Harvey Weinstein moment, is now, really, a movement commemorated most adequately by TIME’s recent cover. Couple that with The List, and it seems like progression. Women have had enough of the waiting and are now willing to speak up despite the fear and the hypocrisy of men around them.
But in reality, things have only appeared to worsen.
There remains that immovable block of moral rock that is the male psyche. When The List first appeared on social media, it was treated as suspect. Was it the right “way”? Left liberal intellectuals being their self-indulgent selves still wanted to debate the way, the method rather than the effect. One would like to think that men, whether they are the ones who raped “Nirbhaya”, or the ones who sexually harass their students in reputed universities work their way forward from masculinity or perversity in fundamentally different ways. You know because the well-read or the well-heeled have the vehicle of language, the dressing of luxury, and the ambience of material coercion. At the heart of it all, though, is the same basic, primal, animal instinct; the same intent.
I was not in Delhi when the gang rape happened. But even 1,600 miles away, the ripples could be felt. Women around me, whether it was office or the one I was in a relationship with, were shaken. The depravity and violence of the act had been so grand, it forced them to question if they were even looked at as people.
Five years ago, what needed to change after the 23-year-old’s death were all of us, India’s men. To be able to take it on behalf of the women, all of them, we care for and love. To be able to live with the few fingers raised in our direction as long as they keep the vile and vicious in check. Because to be honest, it is a hell of a lot better if all of us are looked at as crooks, rather than none at all. A little pride is a low price to pay to save another Nirbhaya.
Yet so many of us continue to be as despicable and morally corrupt as we have earned the reputation for. We deserve our place in hell but really have to be stopped from raising one here.
Featured Image Courtesy: Akshita Monga/Arré
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