Rape has to be seen as an issue of masculinities, of how our societies are raising men. The rapist isn’t a mythical figure — he lives next door.
: : Jasmeen Patheja : :
The Delhi gang-rape survivor — I am calling her a survivor though she is dead because I pledge to stay outraged, to not forget a few months later, to follow this through. She is going to remind us of the way forward in combating sexual violence.
Yes, for once, the media made a shift in the way they shared her story — by respecting her and her family’s right to remain anonymous.
The incident jolted citizens’ conscience. Apart from the gravity of the assault (now murder), we are shocked by the familiarity of the circumstances — the cinema hall, the 9.30 pm bus, returning home with a friend, etc. She really could have been any one of us.
There was, without doubt, an outpouring of emotions like never witnessed before. The government, too, after a long spell of silence, lathis and water cannons, finally expressed “empathy” with the survivor and her family. The anger, outrage and protests — which continue — represent the tipping point. We are saying enough is enough. Our cities need to be made safe.
EMPATHY ISN’T ENOUGH.
Our cities will be safer when we acknowledge women as citizens. We must ask, “Whose city?” Can we imagine a city of women? A city for women? We need to start looking at/ designing/ building the city as a place of women instead of focusing on protecting women — without perpetuating victimhood.
In the first place, all stakeholders — from bystanders to urban planners to women and men — must take a pledge on what they could do individually to make our cities and towns safer. Pledge your role in making your city safe.
To the filmmakers: How do you construct masculinity?
To the parents: Will you ask daughters to play football?
Make that pledge, the Safe City Pledge.
We, as women, are brought up around warnings: be careful; don’t attract attention to yourself. We are taught to have a fear-based relationship with our city. Public places are not for leisure and pleasure. In my ideal city I want to be in a park and take a nap without feeling threatened. Sometimes we just love to sit, stand, walk and talk without looking available. What makes a group of boys play football on a field and not girls?
SAFETY AS TOP PRIORITY.
For the government and all other stakeholders, building safe cities has to be a priority issue and they have to factor it in even while designing our cities — mere surveillance cameras, untinted windows and fear of punishment are not enough. Some of our elected heads have attributed crimes against women in cities to the floating population from villages who have migrated in search of jobs. Such stereotyping is worrying because men rape from across socio-economic backgrounds. This means the issue of safer cities and towns has to be addressed in a holistic way from multiple perspectives.
The usual refrain is: “Zamana kharab hai (times have changed for the worse). Don’t go out at night. You are in danger of being molested and raped and mistreated.” Such warnings that women grow up with alienate them from our streets and we end up living forever in fear of becoming a victim. What we need instead is the creation of visibility for women in our cities which will in turn result in a lot more of familiarity and, therefore, safety. So ask what makes a place unsafe and tackle that.
This incident has brought focus to the issue of sexual violence that makes it to the news and creates empathy. As I write, there is a rape going on somewhere — unprotested, even unreported. I hope that the Delhi gang rape is an example in our memory that makes us as citizens pledge to make a change.
NO RITUALISTIC MEASURES, PLEASE.
The Centre and state governments have to actively involve themselves in the process of making cities safe and share ownership in the issue of building safe cities.
They can no longer afford to deal with the issue in a simplistic/ tokenistic way it has often done — like untinted windows, 11 pm shut down, questioning the character of the survivor, etc.
Statements of political leaders have been discouraging, flippant, dismissive, even lacking genuine empathy — be it that of lawmaker Abhijit Mukherjee who called protesters “dented and painted” women or that of home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde who compared anti-gang rape protesters to Maoists.
We are asking you to make a pledge. Contribute and make our cities and towns safer. What is actually in order is an attitudinal change and that comes only thanks to sustained dialogue and campaigning. It is true the death of the 23-yearold has put the spotlight on crimes committed against women in India in a far sharper way than any other incident has done before, but what is key is to sustain the momentum and not let this incident slip into short-term public memory.
I am really glad that the response of the people in our cities has been tremendous to the extent that the government of this country had to take note of the situation. I often meet people from other countries — there is a resonance in conversations. There are conversations of rejecting an ingrained sense of blame and guilt in tackling violence against women. The idea that there is “no such thing as asking for it”. No woman of any age, colour or character ever deserves to be sexually violated or what some might lightly call “eve-teased”. Rape and sexual violence have to be seen as an issue of masculinities, of how our societies are raising men. The rapist isn’t a mythical figure — or a faraway demon. He lives here in this very society.
Make it happen.
(As told to Ullekh NP)
(As told to Ullekh NP)
The writer is the founder of Blank Noise, an art project that campaigns against harassment of women.