It was a welcome change to hear Bollywood actor Kareena Kapoor Khan speaking in favour of reassessing the existing laws in the country in the wake of the brutal gangrape of a young medical student in Delhi last Sunday. Earlier on Tuesday, Rajya Sabha MP Jaya Bachchan was in tears while speaking on the incident that has sent shock waves across the nation. Another star Salman Khan also sought strong action. Is India slowly coming to terms with a harsh reality?
Feels nice to see big stars speak but what's their perception?
It feels nice to see onscreen stars speak for the common people. It is a rare occurrence in this country. But when Kareena Kapoor said being a modern woman, she did not believe that a woman should not go out at night and that she liked to party till late night, all emerging hopes get dashed. The Bollywood actor's idea of 'modernity' could augur well for herself and her tribe, but in the big and dark India outside, it is an outdated currency.
A rape in a bus in a winter night is just not a law and order problem in a modern city. It is a consequence of the evil interaction between two unequal Indias living in the same India. And people from the glam industry, no matter how much they speak in a voice of sympathy, are no less guilty in making the situation worse.
Modernity doesn't come in a day
Let's go back to the basics. Traditionally, India has been a closed society marked by great many taboos. Rapes and violence against women are not new today. It is just that they are getting wider coverage today owing to the multiplicity of the 'liberal' media. Historically, we are not known to value our daughters and sons are our more profitable social capitals.
We have developed a system of gross gender inequality at several layers of the society where women have remained a weaker side in the brutal socio-economic power relation. Our society has nurtured this utterly unjust equation over the ages. Foeticide had been rampant and those girls who had survived the pre-birth atrocity were left at the mercy of powerful custodians and from a social liability, their roles changed more into an instrument of (biological) production. Skin colour mattered during the time of marriage of girls and none else but our parents were found creating racist divides.
The demeaning treatment and humiliation of rights and dignity have never been taken up seriously. We formed law to prevent domestic violence but never tried to understand why such violence at all occurs.
We never prepared our society to meet the liberalisation
When this closed society with a markedly unequal power relation suddenly found itself exposed to new external forces, disaster simply struck.
The external forces which also speak of Khan's so-called modernity, have brought a lot of positive things but at the same time, it has also caught us at the wrong foot in many aspect. One such aspect is clearly the social treatment of women.
The post-liberalisation era India has seen a huge social churning, which has been fuelled by an economic upheaval. The distinction between city and village, urban and rural, rich and upstarts has become blurred beyond recognition. The new India has more grey shades than black and white. This marriage of striking reverses has brought closer aspects that don't really fit each other.
When modern meets the medieval
Today, the liberal India comprising a booming middle-class, thanks to economic good fortunes, are thriving on an unprecedented scale and consequently, is asserting itself more and more, strengthening the forces democratisation. Women are equally participating in this 'success story' of new India.
But those parts of our national whole that are not covered with the lights of democratic progress have remained a major threat. Since our country's growth has not been inclusive and uniform, there are sections in the population who have remained feudal in approach, educationally deprived and emotionally disturbed, yet have not parted with the feudal mindset of preferring traditional power dominance. And when these sections come into direct contact with the constituencies of the new India because of modern economic factors, an unhappy encounter is most likely.
Women, who have been traditionally weaker in the power dominance, earn the wrath of the 'under-achiever' elements more because they are no more confined within four walls. We have seen incidents such as mall staff secretly shooting women in the change room, watchman raping resident of the building besides the regular crime against women. Even certain chauvinist political activists have been found thrashing girls for partying.
What else do we expect in a society that has not learnt to honour its women and taught its male children to prefer only white-skinned women who are sexually attractive?
Too careless attitude is costing us
The other significant consequence of India's opening up has been a very casual and careless moral approach. The result is that our own family is landing in trouble because of some other's carelessness.
When a Kareena Kapoor Khan or a Shilpa Shetty dance on the screen in provocative attire, the sight pollution impacts our younger generation (older ones are not exempted either) and with the modern social life getting narrower everyday, there is little net to filter their minds from harmful effects. We see a dangerous trend of minors raping women. Many will call this abnormal. But this abnormality has been given birth by our own irresponsible social senses. Can't our icons be a more judgmental while conveying messages through the media?
If the liberal media is creating a huge uproar over the Delhi rape, it is also its unrestrained liberal ethos that is ruining our values of responsible citizenship. Who will rein in the media's onslaught? I do not find any goodwill to control the sale of pornography video CDs in my locality's shop. Who will take the responsibility if another misdirected youth rapes an innocent child tomorrow?
Law, hanging will give little solution, so will pepper sprays and chastity belts
The story of new India has not been scripted perfectly and we are facing serious challenges that are impossible to meet just with the help of legal mechanism. How many policemen can the Indian state deploy and how many rapists can be hanged? If a rapist is found to be a member of an influential political party, who will dare to hang such criminals? Even the sympathisers of rape victims make atrocious display of sympathy at times. Why do we need to publish illustrations of devastated women while talking about a rape story? Is it urgent to project a rape victim as a numb object?
High time we address our social problems
We are already late in addressing our softer concerns that can lead to hard consequences. Rape is one such aspect. Can we, for a moment, do some soul searching and revise our strategy to improve our human rights records? Education could be a key step and we need a little cultural uplift. Only commercial values aren't enough.