Editor’s note: A 23-year-old woman raped and brutalised with an iron rod in a private luxury bus in Delhi has stirred the usual expressions of shock and outrage. The woman’s ‘crime’ ? She got on to the bus with a male friend around 9:15 pm after watching a movie. Every time a sensational case like this hits the headlines it’s an unwelcome reminder of another India where a woman is at risk because she is out late, she wears tight jeans or wandered onto the wrong bus. But as Lakshmi Chaudhry pointed out in this piece the very notion of this “other India” is misleading because it implies there is another India where women are safe. The curtains on a private bus are usually regarded as a marker of its luxury status. In this case, the curtains gave the rapists all the privacy they needed.
Om Prakash Chautala offers child marriage as a solution to rape. His fellow Haryana politician, Congress spokesman, Dharamvir Goyal insists 90 percent of all rapes are consensual. Mamata Banerjee claims rape is but a natural consequence of excessive fraternisation between the sexes. Khap leader Jitender Chattar blames it on fast food, especially chow mein. Then there’s the routine finger-pointing at girls who visit bars, dress provocatively, stay out at night, blah blah.
Each time we hear one of these sound-bytes, we think, “What world do they live in?”
But the better question may be: What world do we live in. As in we the urban middle class who spend our lives shuttling between offices, bars, malls and our carefully secured homes. We for whom ghunghats and girl brides is a saas-bahuserial. We who rarely wear saris, and prefer leggings or jeans to an unwieldy salwar. We who sometimes or often smoke and drink, irrespective of gender. We who think nothing of heading out for a meal with a male/female friend.
The popular catchphrase for our world is “new” India. And for decades, the media has colluded to convince us that this is the India that more real, the India that matters, where it’s all happening, and where we’re headed. The other India is but a relic of
the past, separated by time and distance. “Medieval” is our favourite descriptor of choice each time we speak of this India and its citizens, who safely exist elsewhere: in remote villages ruled by khap panchayats, in “bad areas” of our sprawling city, in states like Haryana and Punjab where swaggering, macho men rule the roost.
Each time a sensational rape hits the headlines, each time a politician opens his or her mouth, it is an unwelcome reminder of this other India, of our slower, more dangerous twin that stubbornly refuses to grow or change. It is also irrefutable evidence that it is our world that is not entirely real, existing solely in a carefully guarded bubble built on the delusion of safety. A bubble that can be breached at will by the other India that we try so hard to insulate ourselves from.
The angry security guard who kills a young working woman in Mumbai because she yelled at him. The rich, village boys from Rohtak who gang-raped a young woman in Gurgaon after following her out of a nightclub. The housewife raped by a shuttle driver in Kolkata. The men who attacked a young girl on the street in full view of a television camera in Guwahati.
And we acknowledge the fragility of this bubble — albeit unwittingly — when we blame women for getting raped: for being out after dark, wearing skirts or tight jeans, drinking in a bar, wandering into the wrong part of town. For all our claims of progress, what we’re really saying is that the other India — the medieval one — is everywhere, and can strike at any moment. That the bubble is a mirage and so is the comforting hypothesis of ”two Indias”. The very phrase is misleading, suggesting a separation, a reassuring distance and insulation of one from the other.
The reality is that there is only one India, a Darwinian nation where there is no rule of law; where might is always right, whether the power derives from gender, money, caste, or sheer numbers, as in the case of a gang rape. And it’s right there beside you, sitting at the next bar stool, hanging around at the street corner, opening the gate to your apartment building, or driving your taxi, sidling up to you on the commuter train.
This the real India, and our “retrograde” politicians represent it. And that’s why their “solution” to the rape problem is simple: Shove the new India genie back into the bottle, and herd its women back to the nunnery, chaste, covered up and behind high walls.
And that brings me to the only bit of good news: It ain’t never gonna happen. Indian women have come a long way, baby, and they have no intention of retracing their steps. Be it call centre workers, sales clerks, mid-level managers, or high-ranking executives, they know that their new-found freedom can be hazardous to their life. We women have merely decided that we’re not going to let that little fact hold us back. And there’s nothing a Mamata or Chautala can do about that.