In an India that prides itself on
the surge towards a more modern tomorrow, a reality check is in
order. And it came again - as it always does with tragic
regularity - with a panchayat in Uttar Pradesh decreeing that
women should not be allowed to use mobile phones, a teen in
Guwahati being molested by a mob in public and a young acid attack
victim in New Delhi pleading for government help or just the
permission to die.
These were of course just the reported incidents, for an entire
people to read and absorb while they sipped their morning cup of
tea. Diverse incidents, diverse women from diverse sections of
society but strung together with that single thread - of the
continuing fight against a desensitised establishment and an
How else could one explain what happened in Guwahati? A young girl
coming out of a pub on a busy street in Assam's main city is
molested and stripped by a mob of at least 11 men on a weekday
night. The assault reportedly goes on for about half an hour and a
cameraperson captures in gruesome detail how she's pushed around
by the mob of jeering and leering, apparently drunk men.
The police don't come and there is nobody to lift a finger to help
her. The clip is loaded on YouTube and goes viral, prompting
outrage across the country. And it is only four days later, on
Friday, that four of the 11 men identified are arrested.
If it indeed went on for so long, why didn't police reach the spot
earlier and why were the men not caught on the spot? Did nobody
inform them or did the calls just go unheard? And if no one
called, why? Should journalists watch on or intervene? Why did it
take four days for the first arrests?
The questions are so many and so bewildering about something that
should be just a black and white situation.
But there are no simplistic answers in an India where change is
trapped in the maelstrom of regressive thought and sheer
indifference among large sections of its people.
The khap (caste) belt of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana is known to be
atavistic. Honour killings are common, women have few rights and
the patriarchal hold is complete. Yet, news of the panchayat in a
village in Baghpat issuing a Taliban like diktat that women under
40 cannot go to the market, talk on the mobile phone, roam with
their head uncovered or walk unescorted sent a shudder down my
This was not some remote corner of the country but just about 80
km from the national capital. It did not happen in the dark of the
night but in full daylight and in view of at least one camera
(therefore the television footage). So, how was the administration
completely unaware and woke up only after the media went to town?
Not that it made a difference to the villagers, who thrashed the
cops for arresting two panchayat members. The irate villagers even
threatened the media and one spoke with chilling dispassion about
this being the only way of their society being run.
Shackled by years of conditioning, it is unlikely that the women
of Baghpat's Asaara village will be able to speak out.
But it is to be seen if Sonali Mukherjee from Jharkhand, who was
blinded by an acid attack nine years ago, will benefit from
speaking out. Her features have melted into nothingness and she
can reportedly no longer see or even hear properly after her
neighbours threw acid at her for refusing their sexual advances.
It has been nine long years, but Sonali is still being tortured
with death threats.
Now in Delhi for treatment and also to approach the government
with one request - Help me or let me die!
It's a travesty. Sonali and her family are on the run, not the
Always trying to escape victimhood, women in India continue to be
vulnerable. We shouldn't be looking so derisively at Afghanistan
and Pakistan. It's also happening here.
It's a country that was not safe for one half of its people and
unfortunately is not getting much better even in this age of the
glass ceiling being cracked - not broken - in many, many sectors.
It's a shame, an outrage, a shocker, a disgrace... We've even run
out of adjectives!
Minu Jain can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org