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It also happens here: Women in India fight indifference

Saturday July 14, 2012 12:39:13 PM, Minu Jain, IANS

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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 uncaring people.

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 spine.

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 perpetrators.

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




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