By Pritika Gupta:
It is not hard to imagine that every socially conscious Indian has had a conversation that included at least one of the following words and if not, was at least based on a similar vein of thought:
“Aisa Hota hai”
“Politicians are like that only”
As a sexual assault survivor, I frequently engaged in conversations on rape and molestation with a spectrum of people. For the sake of my privacy, I usually never preface conversations by revealing this fact about myself, but then again, I have never been questioned about my own experiences in order to be honest about my past. From what I have seen, there is a degree of difference in the candor of people’s responses when they know that the other person is a survivor. A few years ago, people, or rather the older demographic, would respond to my story with a bit of shock (in all likelihood aimed at the fact that I was open about it). As the years progressed, my story was met with empathy and more importantly, with strength and solidarity through a story of their own. It is a well-known fact that objectivity is the most vital trait of every issue-based conversation and something worth preserving in light of very sensitive matters. But the issues of rape, molestation and sexual assault are simply not objective anymore and nor should they be treated as such.
I want to preface the rest of this article by stating that I am entirely cognizant of efforts made by a select few to rise above the atrocities and create a better environment, but I am skeptical of the potential for social change in India, given certain actions and comments that have been previously made. Arguments and debates on rape and women’s safety reach the height of their fervor until we all back down because we either cool off a little, run out of time or more frequently because we realize one basic unfortunate truth: Improving women’s safety in India will be a product of a more hands on, top-down approach. It will most likely be the helm of a government that sees the need to prioritize the safety of their women in a nation that was described by a Thompson Reuters poll as the “fourth most dangerous place for women.” The United Nations Development Fund for Women estimates that 1 out of every 3 women will be beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused by an intimate partner during her lifetime. These statistics illustrate the painful truth we already recognize- Our government and our leaders have failed, and we, as Indian society, must redeem that failure immediately.
Unfortunately, given the recent comments made by multiple politicians such as a Member of Parliament from Uttar Pradesh Naresh Agarwal; Chhattisgarh’s Home Minister Ramsevak Paitra; Madhya Pradesh’s Home minister Babulal Gaur; the Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav and some other members of the RSS, it seems as if our expectations for stronger actions for women’s safety might have to be put on hold.
Last week, Naresh Agarwal touted the very existence of gang rape by comparing women to animals and expounding that “even animals cannot be dragged away.” Earlier this month Mr. Paitra flippantly stated,“Rape happens by mistake.” What these leaders fail to realize is that indifferent comments about sensitive matters decrease people’s resolve to create any social change. India’s response to the sexual assault of women today will determine the safety of tomorrow. Our government is meant to be a catalyst in this process but unfortunately their apathy is reducing any fervor to change mindsets and bring about more awareness. Social issues require a level of engagement between citizens and governments. In the face of the indifference that we’ve witnessed, any scope for said action and progress does not seem likely.
Limp responses to rape through demeaning comments belittle the victim’s experiences and decry the incident as a whole. How could women possibly expect justice (with visible results) when the very people likely to legislate change are the ones demeaning the gravity of the case? It is not outrageous for the women of India to demand a safer life; rather, it is ludicrous for our leaders to assume that there is no basis for this demand. In a world where we are all entitled to our own opinions, our leaders forget that by the very nature of their candidacy for office, they affirm that they will be held to the highest standard of moral and ethical sensitivity and action. Perhaps the worst result of these comments made by our elected members of parliament is that our quest for any immediate or even long-term change seems highly improbable and often unattainable. In fact, there is no worse society than one that has unequivocally given up on the biggest problem plaguing women today.
Occasionally I’m a little taken aback when people tell me about their own stories of sexual assault because we have been accustomed to hiding the details of our own. The general advice for this reason is in order for people to not look at survivors differently, take pity on them, or worse inquire about the details of the incident. But times have changed. Today, society’s real concern is the people in any sort of authority who don’t blink an eye (and instead make demeaning comments) and don’t take a stand when they are faced with the sheer mass of women who share my story, or perhaps an even worse version of it.Over the years it has been cathartic to realize that every woman that I have spoken to, whether they were survivors or not, has had the same angst, the same intolerance and more importantly, the same disgust at the state of women’s affairs in India. I think it is this shared frustration that will push for greater social changes in India. Maybe in ten years from now, I will raise my own daughters and sons in India. By then, I sincerely hope that what they read of women’s safety from these years will simply be literature that is comparable to nothing of their times.