Thursday, May 23, 2013

Our Battle Against The Cause

Let us not protest just this case of rape, but the cause of it.

The infamous incident of 16 December 2012, when a woman was brutally raped by a gang of men and subsequently murdered, has turned India and the world's attention to questioning the monsters that hide within "Indian Men" or maybe in all “Men.” From the 17th we have stood arm in arm in protest at the mainstream social conventions and legal obstacles that make our country so very unequal at its core. Some voices ring louder than others.

As for myself I have been on the streets, discussing the issue with parliamentarians and working together with Delhi Police to create a new platform for change. All of us want to solve this epidemic of rape in our country. However, as we embark on implementing the right solutions to tackle this crisis, I am beginning to worry that our focus has become too narrow, our perspective too murky as we become entrenched in the details of the case of 16 December 2012.

We must not forget that this represents ONE case amongst MANY and there remains a rotting cause. This particular case is currently being heard before the court where the accused men have been arrested and hopefully will be punished as severely as possible under the Indian legal system. However, as an Indian man who cares deeply about the well-being of his female family members, friends, colleagues and for that matter, women in general, I am not only protesting and standing up for justice for this one woman, I was, am and will keep on protesting against the “cause” of rape in general. I shared a similar line of thinking to a packed hall full of government officials, with one very important decision-maker asking me, with a smirk on his face, "Ok, so you tell us, what the cause of rape is? Why does rape take place?" Now, is there possibly an absolute and comprehensive answer to such a question? In my view, probably not, but I can surely highlight the larger core issues that surround this dire issue:

  • It’s a perverted mutation of deeply-entrenched patriarchy: how dare she step out at night with a boy/she ought to be taught a lesson/or she must be a prostitute and therefore she must want to have sex with us;
  • Society’s hypocritical position on the one hand suppressing sexuality and on the other hand, allowing the media's advertising engine to keep churning out adverting copy reinforcing the message and narrative that the only role for a man is to have sex with a woman;
  • The concept that interacting with the opposite sex can lead to healthy and safe relationships, based on respect, is neither taught in the home nor at school. Left without any instruction as to how to navigate our relationships with the opposite sex we are left reliant on what we see in movies; and
  • The fact that the law fails more often than it succeeds. As a result, there is no fear of conviction and men “learn” to believe that anything goes when it comes to women.
Indeed, the list is quite long.

As I highlighted these issues there were a number of eyes rolling, smiles breaking out and people playing with their mobiles. This packed room was filled with individuals claiming to want to solve this problem and yet there were very few ready to accept the problem at hand. They did not want to accept that we as individuals, as families and as a society need to work on ourselves. They were searching for kneejerk solutions such as putting up an informative billboard, or conducting a workshop with men of the locality in question. Short-term goals.

Men did not start raping women on 16 December 2012 in Delhi. Consequently, instead of dedicating all of our attention and resources into examining the details of this one case, I implore us all to broaden our perspective to the root causes of the act itself. We need to approach this issue from the spectrum of equality rather than that of the “angry feminist” or the “macho savior.” There needs to be an inclusive multilateral approach to attain sustainable change. Moreover, with no criminal deterrence, there is no real way for our society to become more law abiding. Then again, this may be our opportunity to introduce a new set of sentencing objectives into the Indian legal system, namely deterrence, retribution, and rehabilitation.

The Government working alongside civil society, the media and the academic establishment, would represent a positive step forward to examining the issue from a variety angles. I believe that such an inclusive and multilateral approach is the only way we can identify, isolate and cure the root causes of sexual assault in our society. The last thirty days have represented a much required catalyst for the gender movement in India. Now this can be converted into a positive movement if our leaders demonstrate the honest will to do the work that is required. There are many fears of failing when we try out new methodologies, but it's clear that our old ways have to be done away with.

The will of the Government stands in question, as a majority of our parliamentarians survive on vote banks existing on lines of religion and caste (both known to propagate the false notion of patriarchy). So if they work towards change, they must also confront the fact that there needs to be a change in their political ways in order to move away from the politics of identity to the politics of ideology and progression.

In all honesty, with my vast experience interacting with our country's so-called leadership, they do not have a clue of how to undertake such change. The reason why our politicians could not present a coherent message to the public for seven days, after the rape of 16 December 2012 took place, is due to the fact that they have no clue how to address an urban and educated crowd, which does not represent a single religion or caste. None of the political parties have put forward a 10-point plan, let alone a 2-point plan, to make India safer for our women. Not because they can’t develop it, but because until today they never had to.

The activist in me predicts (and hopes!) that the next election will bring about a constellation of new candidates on the ballot and a new generation of voters based on the urban educated youth. Despite only constituting 5-10% of voters, they will represent the positive step forward that is necessary for the change that is required. I hope the parliamentarians are listening, because the slogans are getting louder.

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