Just as I reached India gate on the evening of 22 December and moved towards the monument which is our national symbol, the first thing that greeted me was the cry for justice. Thousands that had gathered at the venue were shouting in unison – “We want justice.”
Another thing that struck me was the placards that the multitude was carrying – it said it all and encapsulated the mood of the nation. Sample some – “Enough is enough.” “It is an emergency.” “India wake up now.” “Rapists should be hanged.” “Don’t worship us – just respect us.” “Rapists are enemies of humanity.” “Death sentence to rapists – no life term.”
One did not need to talk to anyone present there to feel the anger that was palpable in the air. It is obvious that the outpouring of emotions is just not limited to what has happened to the para-medical student. The outpouring of emotions is because of what has been happening over the years. Ever since a 23-year old girl was viciously raped in a moving bus in the heart of the national capital and then subjected to inhuman and brutal violence, the reaction has been unprecented.
The crowd was either emotional or livid. An irate young girl named Jolly, who works in Wipro perhaps summed up the sentiments best when she told me – “I am the voice of India. This is not about one woman.” Another young lady said, “We are protesting to live.” And a mother of two daughters Sharda Mittal, living in Vivek Vihar said – “Let us keep our children safe, this should not happen to anyone ever.” She said that she had come on her own to express her anguish at what had happened and to convey her solidarity towards the rape victim.
What was endearing was the fact that a major chunk of the crowd comprised of young men. It is the men of our society who have to change their mindset and stop treating the women as a commodity. It is they who have to realise that a woman’s body is not up for grabs and she has the right to do what she wants to do with it and not anyone else. As a young man Rahul, working with the Delhi Jal Board said – “Respect the women who are on the road. They are someone’s sister, wife and mother.” Another young man Nishant, working with HCL opined – “Stop dominating women.
Ninety-percent of the crowd present at India gate were young, mostly college students from middle and upper middle class families, though some looked like school children too. Then there was the older generation – mothers, fathers, grandparents – who live in fear, especially in a place like Delhi, every time that their loved ones step out of the house.
What also struck me was the fact that the protest appeared spontaneous. Most of the people that I talked too clarified that they had come on their own and joined the crowd at the venue and were not part of any organisation. I too did not see any placard displaying the name of any organisation except one or two like the Designers and Creators private limited and the Indian Association of Physiotherapists (IAP).
Whereas Pramila, a physiotherapist at AIIMS wanted swift action to be taken for the brutality meted out to one of her own, the president of IAP, Prof Umasankar Mohanty, who had come from Mangalore said that the culprit should be hanged. “This is the voice of all physiotherapists of the country,” he said.
The only political organisation that I could find there was the Aam Admi Party of Arvind Kejriwal whose members were taking turns to address the crowd. However, student organisations like the AISA and AVBP have also been part of the protests.
Women have been subjected to violence and rape repeatedly in a patriarchal society like India, with the laws being such that more times than not the perpetrators get away with the crime. And even if the crime is proved in the court of law, the punishment is just a few years in prison – a few years for scarring the soul of the women forever. And come to think of it – many a times the victim does not go to the police station for fear of being ostracised by the society or for the ignominy that she suffers when uncomfortable questions are asked in court. Many rapes which are committed by family members are too brushed under the carpet. Also think about what happens in the rural areas.
In 1973, as per the National Crime Records Bureau, 2919 rape cases were registered. The data had risen to 20,262 by 2010 with 1,09,979 women raped in five years in India. Yes, there is no doubt about it- much needs to be changed. The government, the administration and the judiciary have announced a slew of measures for the safety of women. One often wonders – why do the powers that be wake up after a crime is committed. Why can’t they take pre-emptive action? And why can’t rapists especially in a case like the present one be given death sentence? Rape is as heinous a crime as can be and the doer has no right to live. Human rights activists be damned.
Post Script: On December 23, India Gate and the surrounding areas saw police resorting to water cannons and tear gas to crackdown on protesters. However, both the police and the public will have to maintain restraint. While the administration has to realize that if force is used on peaceful protesters then the anger against the system will only increase. In a democracy, people have a right to voice their opinion and ask for safety and security. On the other hand, the protesters have to be careful of the anti-social elements who may try to hijack their cause.
Amidst all this, it would go a long way in instilling faith in the system if our leaders talked to the common man and allayed their fears. In UK and US, PMs and Presidents promptly address the nation in times of crisis like this. Our leaders have to be seen to be doing enough to make the women feel that they care for them and would amend the laws as soon as possible so that nobody dares to do to another girl what was done to the 23-year old para-medical student.