My column in today’s DNA
On a slow news day, a girl in Guwahati got molested by a gang of men, who saw nothing wrong in groping, pinching, punching, stripping, feeling up and mauling the victim. In fact, they seemed to take great pleasure in it. A news camera crew captured the act in full gory detail; every nuance of the violence perpetuated on the victim was captured as was every hand movement, every expression; as was the pride and joy shown by the molesters in hearing the helpless girl cry for help. The mob action seemed like a rite of passage – something that got the molesters their official entry into the club of Machismo. They had done it – succeeded in stripping a girl of all her dignity, in public space; in front of cameras and a gawking public. Without censure. Without being stopped. It finally ended half an hour after it started when the police rescued the victim. But, the ordeal did not end with the molestation. The news channel decided to air the tape without masking her face. The footage was uploaded to YouTube and went viral. Mainstream media that had completely ignored theAssamfloods for being unworthy of national airtime went to town with the story.
A study conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, said that amongst the G20 nations, India, was the hardest country for a woman to live in; worse than Saudi Arabia. In the Danger Poll, also conducted by the same foundation, Indiawas the 4th most dangerous place in the world to be a woman. The first three on that list wereAfghanistan,Somalia andPakistan.India lags behind on every count that matters. It starts with birth. Rather, it starts by terminating birth. The Poll estimated that there are 50 million girls missing because of female foeticide. A 100 million women and girls are trafficked. 44.5% of all women are married off before the age of 18 – it means education comes to a grinding halt, dreams of economic independence remain unfulfilled, and lifelong servitude in a feudal set up beckons. The woman neither knows nor understands rights that she has as an independent citizen of the country. She is relegated to being part of a traditional society – which may have its’ own charms- but has never been woman friendly.
Public molestation of a woman is not new. It is to teach her and the men in her family a lesson. ‘Look I am doing this to you and yours – and you are powerless to stop me’. We have grown up hearing about Draupadi and her ordeal. Lost in a game of dice by her husband, dragged out of her chambers by her brother-in law, Dushasan , propositioned in an open court by another brother-in-law Duryodhan, she is told to take off her clothes. When she refuses the ‘vastraharan’ begins. An entire court of ‘Noble’ men stand by and do nothing while a woman is being stripped.. Draupadi was the daughter of a king, wife of another and mother to future kings, dressed modestly and visiting her in-laws. Theoretically it can’t get safer than this, yet none of this prevents her ordeal. It literally takes a deus ex machina to save her. But the story doesn’t end there. Draupadi vows not to tie her hair until it has been washed in the blood of Dushasan. Bhima swears to kill every single Kaurav prince to avenge the assault on Draupadi, to tear open Dushashan’s chest and drink his blood, and to break the thigh of Duryodhan who asked Draupadi to sit on his lap. It takes around fourteen years to fulfil all the vows – but fulfilled they are. Retribution for that act of molestation is bloody, brutal and complete.
In a modern world breaking thighs & tearing chests is not allowed nor is personal retribution. So what is the punishment for ‘molestation’? Two years. The men will spend a maximum of two years in prison and probably make bail after a year. The victim on the other hand has been handed a life sentence. What we saw in Guwahati is not new – it is a story mirrored in various cities, towns and villages. It may not happen in front of news cameras but it does happen. And, it happens for only one reason – the perpetuators know they can get away with it .That needs to stop. There needs to be smarter and better policing – surveillance cameras, more manpower on the streets, linked databases. There need to be time bound trials. Finally, where there is crime, there had better be punishment. Hard jail time. Biting monetary fines. Make the punishment hurt. Else arm every woman in India with a gun and teach her how to use it.