December 30, 2012

Besotted with violence: Who will change mens' attitudes?

Mount Elizabeth Hospital Singapore where the victim
passed away
By now most of you know that the victim of the New Delhi bus gang rape in India has died. Along with the Indians a lot of people across the world are still reeling from the shock of the cruelty and utter barbarianism that was meted out to her. A lot of people are still pondering why?

Let's just remind ourselves what happened to her exactly. On December 16, she along with her fiance was coming back after watching a movie. They wanted to go to Dwarka, a place in southwest Delhi when they were tricked into boarding a bus by some men. What happened then is a tale of truly horrendous proportions.

6 men raped her for almost an hour. As if that wasn't enough, they then beat her with an iron rod tearing her intestines. They then threw her, and her fiance from the moving bus onto the road. She was then flown to Singapore where she faced multi organ failure resulting in her death. A 23 year old life, snuffed.

Terrible as it is the pertinent question here is indeed why? Sexual violence against women has long been a characteristic of the subcontinent (both India and Pakistan). Men have traditionally tried to dominate the society and when they have been unable to establish their writ they have tried to do so by harming innocent women. On the other hand people who are supposed to prevent such incidents from taking place (police, state agencies etc.) are usually directed and run by men and that's where the second conundrum starts. Because the society as a whole has failed to educate and evolve, their mindsets are hard coded into laying the blame squarely on the victim.

In this case however, the backlash has been strong and unusually robust. The epic proportions of cruelty notwithstanding, the government of India has still failed to pacify the large number of protestors. Any remedial measures will only serve as a band aid, a temporary fix. Even if the 6 accused are found guilty and hanged, the failed policies will continue to chew away at the social fabric of society.

So how can change be emancipated here?

The dead honest answer is: Through education. You see these heinous crimes take place because as children these men were never taught to respect women, or told that by defiling women's bodies they do not somehow establish their superiority. If the concepts of right and wrong, of equality, of respect, kindness and forgiveness are instilled in children from the get go, society will gradually begin to change. Chemically castrating sex offenders for example, is not going to stop the rape of women. Hanging culprits might silence the large number of protestors but that will not end the stressful lives women have to endure in our part of the world.

Of course there is the fact that while there is talk of some change taking place in India in response to this abhorrent incident, the same cannot be said for Pakistan where women are buried alive and senators stand in the galleys of Parliament and say that it is our customs and no one has the right to talk about it.

It saddens me immensely that people only raise their voices in the subcontinent when innocent lives have been taken. In India it had to be that nameless 23 year old medical student who was going back home after watching a movie. In Pakistan it was the 20 year old Shahzeb Khan who was going to visit his friend. In both cases the voices for change came to late. How long before they die out and we're back to square one?

A version of this blog post appeared on The Express Tribune Blogs: Click here to view it.