I have been holding up on writing about this because I have just been so angry about it that putting it in words was fruitless.. That coupled with the shame and embarrassment of belonging to not just the country but the city this happened in, I just did not know what to say. Did this incident surprise me? Not at all. I have heard about & read about such rapes for years. There was even a graphic scene in the movie “Bandit Queen” where they showed how Phoolan Devi (who later turned a daciot and then politician) was gang raped by several men in her village. I remember watching that scene and just not be able to get that image out of my head for months. I sometimes even imagined the pain she might have endured. And reading about this gang rape has done the same. I have been imagining how hard it must have been for that woman to physically go through something like that. But what I can’t imagine is what could possibly have been going through in the minds of those men that could lead them to not only rape her but also damage her forever with the rod.
I grew up in this city – Delhi. Inspite of my single mother’s efforts to keep me protected at all times, I did experience sexual harassment on a pretty regular basis. While walking to the grocery store, traveling on a public bus, out in my neighborhood with friends. From guys on scooters/bicycles touching my chest and speeding away, to groping in crowded buses, all of this was very common. As I grew older, I got stronger and learnt how to deal with these things. I even grabbed the shirt of the guy on the back seat of the scooter once and beat the shit out of him. Most of the time making a lot of noise would take care of things. The decent men and women around us in a bus would get alerted and keep a watch on the guy. But, nothing prepares you for when while making an ice-cream run with a friend, you experience a middle aged man just whipping IT out. My heart is racing right now just replaying all of this in my head.
It was a constant fear that you lived with, and dealt with. It was this fear because of which my mom was very strict with me about going out, I was not allowed to be out at night. I hated her back then for it, but I see it now. Because going to watch a movie after sun down could turn into a gang-rape that eventually kills you. And who in their right mind wants to even take that risk! Every single time I have visited India in the past, I have felt that fear again while taking cab alone to the airport or just shopping around. I would look for a pen or something sharp in my purse in case the cabbie was going to kidnap me. That is the kind of fear I’m talking about. For women that grew up there and still live there (few of my friends), they have learnt how to work around this without giving up their freedom. But for me its quite a claustrophobic feeling to not be able to roam around where and when I please.
I thought this past trip to India would be different, since I was going to always be with my husband or my brother, who were both visiting after a long time. But, if anything, it was worse! Incidents which I would have otherwise ignored, where a couple of guys were staring at me constantly turned into the guys confronting them. This happened EVERYWHERE! When we were hiking up to visit the Vaishno Devi temple, or just taking pictures at Qutub Minar (an old monument in Delhi). I think the rape incident had put both the men in a more protective stance than usual. They noticed way more and confronted it. All the attention this rape incident got via media is good, and does bring the issue of the protection of women to the surface. But, what has happened in the end? There were 2 or 3 other rapes just days after the protests. One of a 4 year old, and another of a 45 year old. What are these men thinking? And what do they really get out of it!?? Why not just pay for sex if they are so desperate?!
But its not about sex, its about the power they feel after doing this to a woman. In a society where women are growing more independent, and are refusing to put up with stuff, this is a way of instilling the fear back in her mind. An incident that I was a witness to in India while the protests were still going on proved this and was at the least expected location – an Apple Service Center where I was getting my laptop’s hard disk fixed. A group of 5-6 goons showed up and started a brawl about the screen of a new iPhone 5 which the guy believed had been cracked by the Service Center. After quite a ruckus the cops came and resolved the issue. But as soon as they all left, the receptionist broke down in tears and told us that the guys had threatened her. They told her that they knew the route she took home every night, and that she shouldn’t forget the Delhi rape case so soon!! Can you believe it?! Can you believe that for an iPhone screen, these men had threatened to sexually assault her!? I tried to comfort the girl, but I didn’t know what to say, and quite honestly I just wanted to get the hell out of there because I had started to feel scared as shit inspite of my Husband, Brother & Uncle being right next to me. That’s the kind of fear that you live with.
And its unfortunate that the government chooses not to deal with this head on, and you still find some congress members (even some women) criticizing the women for being out at night and wearing western clothes. In a nation where they address the country as “Mother India”, they can’t even protect their own women. Its shameful, and I am embarrassed to call that country and city my home.