I was driving across some desolate Arizona landscape earlier today with Agni Murthy when the news came on NPR. The unnamed gang-rape victim had died in Singapore, at Mount Elizabeth Hospital. We both fell silent. I felt really, really down.
What had caused the 6 men to believe they could assault this girl? She was out with a guy. Was that her crime? Did that, and that alone, mean she was a girl of easy virtue? ("She goes out with a man, hence she must be putting out and if she does then goddamn it I have a right to have her too")
Where does this mentality, this thought process come from? I tried pulling apart the skeins. I had written earlier that this macho-aggressive mentality was almost certainly from the guys' upbringing.
It seemed there were several threads in there. And I think that unless we tried to identify them, pull them apart and burn them at the roots there would be more deaths, more Mount Elizabeth announcements. And ripping sunshade screens off vehicles in Delhi would do nothing to stop it.
One thread is this noxious belief that a woman must be a virgin till she is married off. (A guy on the other hand needn't.) And that "if a woman has a guy friend without being married then she's a slut who actually enjoys sex instead of just tolerating it as a wifely duty, and of course extending that logic sluts do everyone because they like sex for sex's case, and so I or any guy has a right to do her too".
Somewhere behind this viciously damaging belief are mothers and fathers who brought up their daughters to be virgins (because if you weren't then you weren't a good girl any more) and brought up their sons to believe that girls who aren't 'good' are the type who would do anyone.
Our movies and screenwriters have made it worse for decades, because the woman who does guys without being married to them dies at the end while the virgin gets the hero. Perpetuating the bullshit stereotype.
A second thread is the "I don't need a girl's permission to do her" bit. Somewhere in there is the male belief that "All sluts love sex while good girls don't, so if a slut complains when I'm doing her then she's just lying and pretending to be good and, boy, I can see through that".
Some deranged parents brought up their boys to believe so. And the guys' even more deranged friends in their circles happily amplify that belief "Sluts really love it bro, anyone, all the time".
A third thread is the sheer repressed male. "My hormones are raging, I need to do someone, anyone. Good girls don't put out I am told, so let me just look for a girl who puts out so I can have some action too". Somewhere subsidiary to this is the "good girls dress decently bad girls i.e. the ones who put out are the ones who dress in tight and revealing clothes etc so they are fair game to me".
A fourth thread is the older male and female politicians' response to all this, in the early days of this furore. A quiet nod as if to say "What do you expect, this was going to happen." Because somewhere deep inside they too have brought up their kids to believe that good girls don't put out and only bad girls do and so bad girls are fair game for men.
Their reaction seemed to suggest that this case was merely something that went too far with death and all, though if it was just a rape it would be perfectly understandable, as the girl probably had it coming to her, why didn't she listen to us and live a virginal life till she was safely married to someone of our choice".
There may be more threads. But I sense some or all of these are around at the base of much injustice. See where I am leading? This isn't an isolated case of some sicko psycho rapists. This is a set of products of our parenting. This is the reason rapes happen all the time. It isn't something in the water. It is something in our upbringing.
What can we do to change this? Of course, swift and severe punishment is one part. But a small one. The bigger one is to challenge our ridiculous Manu-meets-Mother-Superior norms on sexuality.
We repress our kids, teach them sex before marriage is a sin, bring them up to treasure that apology of a tissue called a hymen, and then impute that sex is merely a marriage-related duty instead of a joyous way for two people to show their love for each other.
Why not educate kids to believe sex is fun, sex is normal, just be safe, use protection, and enjoy it with someone you love. And tell this to both boys and girls. Why make it some big sin before marriage? In fact why connect it to marriage at all?
Is this how you and I are bringing up our kids too? The second is something I've written about before - the "boys can do anything but girls can't" and "girls have to listen to boys" upbringing. See what it leads to? Are we guilty of that too?
The third is the repression: the more you suppress something the more the urge to think of it as some unnatural secret pleasure like cocaine instead of a perfectly normal human behaviour.
I do believe that unless we rid ourselves of our sexist prudish upbringing, rapes will continue to occur. We need to demystify sex, not wrap it in 9 yards of mystery. Make it a normal joy. Not some illegal pleasure.
Make boys believe they are NOT superior to girls. And that "no means no". (On the other side that typical convent school behaviour of "no means maybe, maybe means yes, and I would never say yes because I'm not a bad girl" will die soon too, I hope, with the demise of convent schools.)
Oh yes and we need to very publicly punish this and other rape cases. That stick is needed in addition to all the carrots. I have rambled a bit but will end with this:
Dear unnamed Delhi girl who just died in Singapore. I never knew you, but I am deeply sad you lost your life. If even one parent among us changes the way we bring up our sons and daughters as a result of everything that happened to you, your young life would have had meaning and impact.
I am sorry we lost you. Your survival would have been a symbolic win over the evil inside so many of us. But maybe your passing is an even bigger symbol of the battle we have to wage before we rid ourselves of the demons of our upbringing and repression.
But fight we will. And hope we will, that your life would not have been lost in vain.
(Mahesh Murthy is a Venture Capitalist and social media expert based out of Mumbai. He tweets at @maheshmurthy)