“You have not been raped though?” – this was not what I expected to be asked when I asked for advice about my skin at a cosmetic counter in Germany. This lady does not know me, only thing I told her was that the skin products I used to use in Germany do not work in Indian weather and if she would kindly give me a small jar of some unknown substance that would help keep my skin happy. And she asked me this. But then I should have known that people outside India would associate the country only with the word ‘rape’ in current state of affairs. This lady went on to tell me how she wanted to visit but now she is scared. I tried to reassure her that out of 1.2 billion people its always possible that there is a certain percentage of demons around but my heart was not in it. How can I convince someone that India is a safe place when every media everywhere in the world says otherwise?
Is this not the same country that gave enterprising western entrepreneurs the ticket to mint money with transparent yoga pants? Is this not the same country that gave the world Bollywood with its technicolour dance music? Is this not the same country that defined outsourcing and played a major role in people being able to afford software because its mass-produced with cheap labour? So why have the words “Indian woman” come to mean only rape? Does rape happen only in India? So why this perception?
What happened and still happens in India is not something that Indians should explain away or find excuses for. We, as an entire nation, should hang our heads in shame. Especially, the women in India need to rethink their outlook about their fellow sisters. Should anyone have a right to hurt another human because they dress differently? Should anyone have the right to hurt someone because they live their lives differently from your way of life? How can that be India? Is this not the country where a neighbour could be from another state, believe in a different God and speak a different language but still be our neighbour and an Indian?
Rape is something that occurs everywhere in the world. It has nothing to do with sexuality but very much to do with violence. It is an act of violence. It is about demonstrating a sick kind of power over another human. Let us not confuse the issue by pointing fingers or taking a holier-than-thou attitude.
What is to be done though? Accept this as fate? No, this is where India needs to change – there is no destiny or fate other than the one you make. Sometimes people end up in the wrong place at the wrong time but the society as a whole cannot say that for itself. It is how the society and government handles any violence that differentiates between a civilized and a barbaric society. If the Indian society continue to look at rape and molestation as something that should be brushed under the carpet, then we can never call this society a civilized one, let alone an enlightened one.
The Justice Verma Report came up with very many suggestions on how to make changes to the law but what about the society as a whole? Who can tell them to make these changes? I think this is where the Media should play an active role. The influence television and those much lamented Mega-serials have over the minds and hearts of people is enormous. Especially, the women at the top of program selection and production at major media companies need to encourage pro-women TV and not some junk that encourages the aggressive male-submissive female image. They should also promote the idea that rape is a criminal offence and that the victim needs support and encouragement, not derision.
The younger generation seems to want to be different, I can only hope they make better decisions than their predecessors when its their time to make the call. And mothers (in reality and in TV), please stop crying and moaning, you have the power to raise the next generation to be something better – respectful, tolerant and strong. So take up the challenge.
Perhaps then I can tell the lady at the cosmetic counter that she is mistaken, that she should not let late night talk shows dictate her opinion of India but should visit the country and make up her mind for herself. Because even making up your own mind is empowerment. Lean In women of the world!