"I am a man because I have the right and power to molest a teenager and abet her to commit suicide. I am a man because I have the courage to throw acid on any girl who refuses to marry me. I am a man because I have the audacity of ripping apart the modesty of the girl next door. Finally, I am a man because I was born in India, the land which gives unconditional supremacy to its masculine gender right from inception of life. In fact I was allowed to be born because I was a man!" -- Dr. Shah Alam Khan.
The streets of Delhi have been angry for the last few days. Last week, a 23-year-old paramedical student was gang-raped on a bus. Six men raped her as the bus drove around the city for hours, passing through several police checkpoints. She had been so horrifically raped and violated that most of her intestines had been pulled out.
The girl died after a heroic battle for her life in a hospital in Singapore, where she had been transferred from a hospital in Delhi.
The crowds are protesting for a larger reason though. As a protester summarized on the day after the incident: "We are not protesting here because the girl was raped yesterday. But we are protesting here because this is an everyday issue."
Women in India have a reason to be frustrated. It is a land of impunity. Rape is a common, everyday occurrence. Despite the huge underreporting of such cases, due to the stigma attached to rape and for many other reasons, more than 630 cases of rape were reported this year in New Delhi alone. The actual stories are too numerous and too savage to recount, for such savagery has become a routine part of life.
Just this Wednesday, a 17-year-old girl committed suicide. After her gang rape, she was being pressured by the police to drop the case and marry one of her attackers.
The victims of rape are not only intimidated and harassed by the police, they are also blamed for their nightmare. Highly influential public and political leaders propose to solve the epidemic of rape by lowering the legal age for marriage from 18 to 16: "I think that girls should be married at the age of 16, so that they have their husbands for their sexual needs, and they don't need to go elsewhere... This way rapes will not occur." They proclaim that "If (a girl) cannot keep her honor, it is solely her fault."
Apathy and dismissal are rampant. A prominent member of the Indian Parliament, who is the son of the current President of India, dismissed those protesting against the savage rape of last week. "Women who are participating in candle-light vigils and those who are protesting have no connection with ground reality. These pretty ladies coming out to protest are 'highly dented and painted,'" he said.
Frustration on the street is understandable. Tears shed in newspapers and the outrage expressed in the parliament are all in good measure. However, unless we recognize and address the root cause of denigration of women, and violence against them, we are just tinkering with the outward symptoms of a chronic disease without treating the disease itself.
Unfortunately, our society does not treat, or even perceive, women as equal to men. Men somehow feel in their veins that God created woman as less than man. Unless the society at large sheds the notion that women are somehow inferior, or that they must remain subservient to men, we cannot effectively address the causes underlying violence against women.
Brutalization and denigration of women is woven into the very fabric of Indian society. It is no secret that thousands upon thousands of women become victims to dowry deaths, honor killings, domestic abuse and many other modes of violence every year.
According to official figures, almost 90 percent of the recorded violent crimes in India last year (228,650 out of 256,329) had occurred against women. In fact, the fight for survival starts even before a girl is born. According to a 2006 report in one of the most rigorous and authoritative medical journals in the world, The Lancet, an estimated 10 million girls had lost that fight in India during the preceding two decades. They had become victims to sex-selective abortion. It is as if men refuse to accept the fact that women belong to the same species as them.
Quite understandably, people are asking where God is. I think we have to ask a different question. Where are God's men? Not God's men and women, but God's men. Because all our demonic insinuations and explanations notwithstanding -- that a girl bears at least some blame for 'getting' raped -- it is not a problem created by women, but by men.
Religious leaders in the world can play a meaningful role in mitigating the root cause of this everyday issue. They must remind their followers that God is not misogynistic. They must make it clear in their congregations that God created women, just like men, in God's own image.
It must be emphasized that the same Divine light dwells in women as in men. That God is as merciful and compassionate to women as to men.
The leaders of faith must strongly condemn acts of violence against women. These leaders will be heard. That will not completely eliminate the problem of considering women less than men, but will start addressing the underlying cancer, rather than just treating the symptoms caused by it.
The horrific way men raped and brutalized the woman in Delhi, and the way men violate thousands upon thousands in India every year, cannot even be described in responsible media. It is even more reprehensible that men refuse to address their own evil and blame it on women, rather than recognizing the fact that women are the victims and helping them.
My head hangs in shame.
Not because a girl died yesterday.
Because I am a man.