Assam shame: How long and how many times?

We are still a biased, confused, orthodox, shameless and an insensitive society.

Ritesh K Srivastava

In 65 years of India’s independence, the country might boast of achieving several incredible feats but we are still a biased, confused, orthodox, shameless and an insensitive society. Biased because we do nothing when members of another community are mercilessly killed in the name of religion (communal riots), confused because election after election we choose the same bunch of corrupt politicians who have looted us in their previous tenures.

We are orthodox as we still cannot digest women matching shoulders with men – perhaps it hurts our male mentality. That’s the reason why moral policing brigade, radical outfits and Khap Panchayats – the powerful institution existing in rural India– are allowed to issue Taliban-like diktats imposing certain restrictions on young women and curtailing their freedom.

I call ourselves shameless because we never come out of our mute-spectators’ role. We never come to the rescue of a helpless girl, when her modesty is being outraged by some local goons for their sadistic pleasure or out of pure hatred. Fearing dire consequences, we never muster enough courage to challenge those who derive pleasure in lynching a woman accused of practicing witchcraft. We are least bothered when a minor is brutally beaten to death by a group of men on charges of theft.

The latest shocker from the capital of Assam, where a mob of around twenty men snatched, kicked, pulled, assaulted and stripped a class 11 student in front of a local bar in full public view on July 10, is yet another confirmation that we are, despite our masculinity, impotent and insensitive.

Proving this, onlookers in large numbers watched the whole incident without making the slightest attempt to help the girl, who was being groped, beaten, teased and taunted by a few men.

The question which baffles me is that whenever such incidents take place why are we always so helpless? Why do we wait for the police to come and take action? Why do we always shift the blame on authorities for failing to prevent such cases? Why do we forget that the same could happen to our loved ones if we continue to suppress our inner voice? When will the authorities wake up and take steps to prevent such heinous crime against women? And more importantly, why do the guilty roam scot free?

Whatever the circumstances may be, there can be no justification for such acts. What I want to stress upon is that our vibrant democracy despite several discrepancies, has survived several tests of time. We need to understand that our administrators are capable of punishing the culprits with stringent legislations under the Indian Penal Code and an over-burdened but proactive judicial system. What is required is the will to do so.

However, it is not prudent to take law in our own hands and deliver instant roadside judgements at all times. Each situation requires different response and treatment. We need to help the police and strengthen our belief in the judiciary. Having said that I must add that there may be times when we need to act then and there to help an innocent from being ravaged like it happened in Assam. Here we must use our presence of mind.

Enough is enough. We need to decide as to how long we can allow such distasteful acts to happen in our society. The alleged molestation of the Assam teenager is a big slap on the face of a civilized society.
It indicates that despite our country’s economic rise, there is a constant moral decline in our society. Our society has stooped so low that even good education and family name fails to deter some men from molesting women at public gatherings.

I agree that poor policing and delayed justice have complicated the situation and encouraged criminals but what can one say about those incidents where a victim has fallen prey to his/ her relative who has grown up around them, leave alone long-trusted neighbours and teachers.

Authorities might claim that crime rates have drastically fallen in their respective cities, but the ground reality is that women are still unsafe.

Why only women, the lives of ordinary citizen is also at risk, either at home or at crowded places. And what has led to such a pathetic situation is our gross insensitivity to such incidents? Apparently, those who commit crime against women are not afraid of law and have no shame or guilt either. In the absence of stringent punishments and the failure to nab the culprits, these anti-social elements have become overly confident. In some cases, fear of social exclusion also compels victims to keep quiet and not approach police. Unfortunately, lack of action by such victims also encourages the culprits to commit crime against women again and again.

Imagine what would have happened had a reporter of a local channel not filmed the whole incident and uploaded it on a social networking website. Although questions are also being asked as to why the reporter and his cameraman didn’t prevent the mob from molesting the girl.

Maybe, they did not do so fearing that the mob would attack them and prevent them from shooting, which has now become credible evidence and is helping the police to bring the perpetrators to justice. Since a massive man hunt is on, the remaining culprits would soon be arrested but the girl will have to live with the bitter memories of her alleged molestation on that fateful night.

According to a latest statistics put out by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), crime against women is on rise in the country. Assam, where the incident has occurred, has recorded the second highest rate of crimes against women – at 36.9 percent in 2011, only 0.1 percent behind Tripura.

Women living in major metros have little to cheer about as the NCRB data suggests a steep rise in crimes against women in cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bhopal etc. In the country as a whole, the year 2011 saw 2,28,650 incidents of crime against women as against 2,13,585 in 2010, recording an increase of 7.1 percent.

I must reiterate that we have a democratic system of governance, commissions to safeguard interests of women, stringent laws and a vibrant judiciary to punish the culprits but as I said we probably lack willpower to oppose what is wrong in the society. Unless we learn to respect fellow human beings and hear our inner voice, incidents like Guwahati will continue to shame us and the situation of women will remain grim.