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Blood on its hands after Delhi gangrape, India needs to act now

This is a moment to mourn. But grieve with anger in our hearts. And remorse. And yes, do look down at your hands. Because they are red. Blood red.

All of us today have blood on our hands. Because despite the chilling statistic of a rape every 20 minutes, we took it in our stride in our third-rate obnoxious chalta hai attitude, as if it was okay for people on our streets and inside our homes to turn beasts thrice in an hour. This is a moment not to rest in peace. Because it is our attitude of moving on with life that has caused this terrible tragedy. This is not the time to revel in that meaningless phrase called 'resilient spirit'.

Just think of the parents now in that Singapore hospital. Surrounded by strangers in a faraway land, with no one in whose bosom they can cry their heart out. The government, to prevent a violent backlash, took the political decision to move the girl away. While the political establishment can conveniently claim it had the victim's well-being at heart, everyone knew it was only wishing away potential trouble from an India that has looked incensed for the past 12 days.

Hospital staff carry the body of the gangrape victim to the police morgue vehicle at the Mount Elizabeth hospital in Singapore. AFP

Think of the mother who would have smiled looking for the first time into the face of the little baby girl she gave birth to. Think of the father who would have cradled her for the first time nervously but with a great degree of pride. Think of her brother. Their memories of the many, many moments of togetherness.

Think of them now. India needs to know and imagine what they must be going through now as they hug a lifeless body, wrapped in black. A young life brought to this horrible, abrupt end by six men who subjugated her to their perverted sense of manhood in a moving bus in Delhi. Almost as if cocking a snook at all of us, daring us if we can really do anything about it.

Her family will have to now carry her once again, for one last time on their shoulders. To say they would have died a thousand deaths would be an understatement. What does India say to her mother? As a nation given more to cacophony and chest-beating than real action on the ground, we have failed miserably and exposed our impotence.

We are all sentimental and emotional about the murder of a girl and the violation of her dignity - and understandably so - but India will have to treat this death as a wake-up call. And resolve to show zero tolerance towards sexual harassment and violation of dignity. Of any kind.

What can you and I do? Here are 10 things:

1. True homage to the 23-year-old will be if the next time we see a girl being harassed or a child being abused, we do not look the other way. Reach out to intervene, help. Treat such acts with the strong societal scorn and disapproval it deserves. Whether it is the sensational Srilakshmi case in Vijayawada in 2004, where the girl was stabbed in front of her classmates by a man whose overtures were spurned by her or the acid attack case in Warangal in 2008, the girls had complained to the college authorities, the parents, the police. But it didn't work.

2. Stop advising girls and women to take acts in their stride that which we have insisted on indulgently labelling 'eve-teasing'. Those are early warning signals. Pay heed to them and act to instil a healthy respect of the law and the woman, if not putting the fear of punishment in those indulging in it. Those murderers on the bus did not turn rapists overnight. Repeat offences and no deterrence would have progressively emboldened them.

3. Every rapist is a mother's son. I am not saying this with the intent of blaming any mother, but because she is our biggest hope for change and influence. Let every mother make a conscious effort to recognise traits and habits that may be the reason for concern and worry. Speak up, get help for your child before it is too late. The responsibility is also with the teacher and the school. Not to label any child but to identify what may be problematic issues and create an environment where corrections can happen. Those formative years are the time when characters are etched out.

4. A lot has been spoken and written over the past two weeks over how we are a deeply patriarchal society and blaming our 'culture', the way men (or boys) are brought up in Indian families. An Abhijit Mukherjee, Anisur Rehman, Botsa Satyanarayana or even a Mamta Banerjee only hold a mirror to us and reflect our societal attitudes. These individuals are visible, so at this time they got noticed and blamed for their acts of indiscretion. Getting them to say 'sorry' is to buy temporary peace. Nothing inside probably changes. Not the attitude, nor the thought. They are only careful not to say it again. We need short-term and long-term changes to address that.

5. Someone joked that it is time one half of our society doesn't step out of home past 9 pm to ensure the safety of women. The men, that is. It's not that crimes occur only in the cover of darkness. But it is time to also confront the dark. Ensure safety in public places and transport. We need to invest in that. Both in infrastructure and in technology that can serve as a deterrent. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit took on Police Commissioner Neeraj Kumar over policing issues. Surely, those who operate buses in Delhi and the blatant violations by the mafia involved are surely neither unknown to her nor beyond her jurisdiction.

6. Take on the wolves who come out, hunting sometimes alone, sometimes in packs. India has been advocating the law of the jungle to be adopted in getting rid of such wolves. In a so-called civilised, democratic set-up that is not the solution. What we need is laws that are implemented, time-bound trials, quick justice and punishment. So there is fear of the law in potential violators. We also need to invest heavily in technology to prevent such crimes.

7. The proposed national database of rape convicts is welcome. What we need is a master register with the DNA profiles of regular or known offenders, so that we can quickly zero in on culprits, reach psychological help and treatment or lock them away in case they are too dangerous to be let loose.

8. Fast-track courts and helpline numbers cannot be for Delhi alone. That city may have earned for itself the unfortunate sobriquet of a "rape capital''  but sexual offences are happening everywhere and we need helplines and PCRs to reach out and fast. What we could also seriously consider is to have CCTV cameras at police stations monitored at random or round-the-clock by independent, certified agencies to make sure police stations function the way they are meant to, showing sensitivity and concern and registering complaints.

9. There is no reason for us to believe that women may be more sensitive to gender issues but there is certainly a case for having more women in uniform. Presently their representation in the uniformed force hasn't crossed single digits. A conscious effort by the government to increase their numbers has not worked out. An example: Andhra Pradesh's Home Minister said they had recently tried to recruit 2000 women, even relaxing norms. They were not able to get more than 400 women.

10. A study conducted in 2007 showed that at least 52 percent of our children suffer sexual abuse in some form or the other. A majority of rapes happen within homes and are perpetrated by people related or known to the victim. There is also research to show that those who are violated and subjected to abuse as children often grow up to be offenders themselves. We need to talk about and address this. First within our families and then our society. Encourage victims to speak out. Break the conspiracy of silence.

The night the 23-year-old was gangraped in Delhi, she was returning with her friend after reportedly watching the film Life of Pi, a film about hope. India needs to realise she gave her life in the hope that she leaves behind a more awakened India.