“Protests” for Nirbhaya

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In December 2012, a twenty- something woman was brutally raped by six men in a bus in South Delhi and passed away within a fortnight during her treatment. Since her name was not revealed to the public, media referred to her by pseudonyms like “Damini” and “Nirbhaya”. The incident triggered an outbreak of massive protests and movements in major cities all over the country. People thronged the streets to raise their voices against such violent atrocity. The online social network burst out in protest too.
I was invited to join a silent candlelight protest march in my city. The rally was going to begin from Esplanade, the heart of the city and move towards the St. Paul’s cathedral. On arriving there, I was quite bedazzled and pleased to find the sheer volume of people who have turned up. There were posters, headgears and even flags to flash during the walk. Media persons mingled with the crowd for interviews and personal opinions.
Once the walk started, I started feeling a bit uneasy about the atmosphere of the march. For one thing, it was not a silent march. People started sloganeering that echoed from the beginning to the trailing end of the line. Things started getting ugly once the crowd moved towards Park Street. I found hawkers meandering their way through the waves of people, selling candles, matches, plastic whistles and even street food. People stopped to gorge on them. Some were calling their friends over for a reunion during the march (and possibly dinner together afterwards).
Suddenly everyone was taking out their cellphones to click photos of themselves carrying posters. There was a young man in front of me who asked his friend to put on a more sombre look while he was being clicked. The environment was nothing short of a carnival, where people shouted out slogans for fun, cracking jokes in between, posing for pictures, which I gathered from their conversations, they would want their virtual communities to know and “like”, and all the while munching on titbits. I was particularly appalled when a bunch of teenagers were questioned by a news channel about a similar rape case that had taken place just a few months before in Park Street. Fumbling for answers, they appeared quite ignorant about this incident that had occurred in their own city. Ironically, the crowd had just crossed the Park Street intersection at that point of time.
How far was Damini from their thoughts all this while? How many of the people in the crowd thought of what they were doing? What were we really protesting?
In this age of constant Facebook updates, no one wants to keep things private. We all need to tell the world of our pettiest of achievements and earn some attention. And we can. There are ways to be a virtual hero. Rape should not be used as one of them. I find it very disturbing that the youth of the country like participating in a protest march just to increase their glamour quotient and earn some false sense of pride among their peers.
I agree there were diligent people who had gone there for a cause; because they could sympathize, if not empathize. But ultimately it was a rather appalling picture with the festive mood, the Profile-picture clicking euphoria, and the food.
Secondly, there are many ways to organise a protest. It need not always have to be a traffic disrupting, sloganeering crowd. Radical protests can take place through publication of pamphlets, staging of street shows. The objective is not to walk a certain distance for a few hours to grab media attention and gain some popularity among friends. One must understand what the situation is. Nirbhaya is just one case that the media popularised. Women are being subjected to brutal crimes all over the country everyday. Some sexual assaults are never reported because they do not fully conform to the legal definition of rape. Our housemaid, for example, has been the victim of marital rape for a long time. Marriage does not give a man the license to assault his wife whenever he wants to. I searched the net and discovered that 2/3rds of married women in India, aged between 15 to 49 have been beaten, raped or forced to provide sex. It is alarming that marital rape is not counted as an offence in India where the legal age for marriage of girls is 18.
The point is to attack the problem at the root. Rape is one of the many many physical manifestations of gender discrimination and sexism that plagues our patriarchal society. The inferiority of women is continuously emphasized in very subtle ways. For instance, as a girl I am always prevented from staying out late, whereas none of my male friends have to face such rules. The advice is always “Don’t get raped”, instead of really understanding what causes rape and trying to prevent it in the first place. Education should emphasize on equality of sexes, so that children do not grow up thinking that it is quite natural that men should be given more privileges than women.
I am not suggesting in any way, that the Nirbhaya case should not be highlighted by the media. It must be. And people should come out in the streets to protest. However, they should not forget all about it as soon as they get home. Gender discrimination does not simply disappear after one rally. The crimes do not stop. Neither should the protests.

Street Protests

Street Protests

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