As I walked into work today, I was greeted by a visibly disturbed colleague who held up her smartphone to me with a news article that recounted the horrendous rape of a woman in a Delhi bus. I knew what was coming that very moment and felt my stomach rumble in discomfiture. I wish I had taken an off to avoid the embarrassment. The embarrassment of being an Indian.
"Why Roy? Why are there so many rapes in India? And this one happened in a moving vehicle. Like, what were the others doing when the woman was shouting for help?" asked my colleague.
Engulfed in shame and with my head hung low, I told her, "I wish I had an answer for that but I am equally disgusted and extremely ashamed that this happened."
Really, that was the best I could answer at that moment, hoping for the conversation to end soon. But it didn't and I sunk into the ignominy that came with the discussion ahead.
As an expatriate Indian, I have had to deal with the indignity of many national embarrassments. Right from the Commonwealth Games scandal, coal scam, telecom-spectrum 2G scam, casteism, female infanticide, mass-scale corruption, wildlife poaching, untouchability, dowry-deaths, honor killings, you name it and I have felt the humiliation point-blank. And I am sure I am not the only expatriate Indian to have faced this music.
I have hidden my face out of stupefaction every time an international news organization carried a story of unsurpassed shame from India. Much as many stoic Indian politicians would like to believe, the foreign media is not waging a war against 'Incredible India', and for sanity's sake, Indians should stop believing and fanning the pulp fiction of India being a land of exalted yogis, mystics and ancient wisdom. We have thrown this idiotic excuse too many times to cover up our failings and for the world to laugh on us, openly.
Personally, like millions of Indians, in India and abroad, I have resigned to the fact that we are a corrupt nation. One that lacks civic mannerisms, compassion and empathy for the under-privileged, and have sadly also accepted that our public policies are populist bandwagons meant only to satisfy political 'vote-banks' instead of uplifting the people.
All ours pillars of democracy are sullied indecently, be it legislative, executive, judiciary or press. And yet, we claim ourselves to be the next major economic powerhouse of the world, the jewel of the east, the ironman of South Asia and what have you?
This recent rape in the Indian capital, New Delhi, and all other rapes that have ever occurred anywhere in India, has put to shame not just every Indian in India and overseas, but has also mortified millions of those who have had anything to do with India. I am talking about Indians married to non-Indians, their non-Indian spouses, their half-Indian kids, people of Indian origin in other countries, Indophiles and innumerable connoisseurs of everything Indian.
To think of it that Indians claim to be the originators of Yoga, an ancient form of exercise that strengthens physical, mental and spiritual discipline, is now a jeering irony with stories of social incongruencies, corruption and rapes coming out of India.
Where have all the Indian yogic masters disappeared now? Busy selling franchisees to the Western world or neck deep in TV show appearances with other celebrities? And whatever happened to the ancient wisdom, discipline, family values, cultural superiority that we have arrogantly teased the West with?
One might ask, what it has to do with rapes? A lot. And not just rapes but every social and gender inequity that plagues India.
In one of my previous articles, I wrote that we in India hire a haplessly poor woman at ruthlessly low wages to do our dishes and clean our toilets. Without any remorse or shame at all. And on days when this woman cannot make it, we compel her to send her minor daughter or sister to do the chores in lieu of her absence. To top it, we pretend, we are granting them a right to livelihood.
As a society, we have got used to treating women in the most despicable and contemptible manner. We love to charade that our trinity of 'Shakti' is that of Goddesses Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati, yet behave in the most merciless and rustic manner with our own women.
Our primetime television serials that unapologetically show annihilation and suppression of a woman's rights, either as a wife, beloved, mother or daughter-in-law earn the highest television ratings. Lets face it; our audiences relish such tales of inequality.
Indians also celebrate the festival of light, Diwali, commemorating the return of the Hindu God Rama and his wife, Sita, from exile but conveniently forget the misogynistic latter half of the story where Rama throws his pregnant wife out to avoid public admonition and keep his imago intact. Apparently, Sita's chastity was questioned by a washerman and that was enough for Rama to banish her into the forests.
There are instances from Indian sacred scriptures and mythological text where rape has been glorified by the 'Gods' and the rape victim punished for being raped. Ahalya, the wife of the revered Hindu sage Gautam was raped in the darkest hours of night by the Hindu God of the heavens, Indra. And when the husband, that same revered sage, learnt of the unfortunate suffering of his wife, he not only abandoned her but also cursed her for failing to be a good wife.
Unfortunately, the tales are no longer mythological. They are a morbid reality in urban Indian rape capitals like Delhi. What can one expect women to do in such circumstances? Fear, and nothing else.
It is not just the society's insipid leniency towards a soul-shattering and heinous crime like rape that makes it difficult for a woman to feel secure, but the systemic failure of the legal framework in protecting women which makes the situation even more dreaded.
When I covered the courts as a scribe in India, I was appalled to see the defence counsel of a rapist suggesting to the court that the minor rape victim was characterless since she did not protest strong enough to the act, implying that she must have enjoyed the intercourse. If courts allow such character-smashing charges to be flung at a woman, how can you expect her to take refuge in law?
Even the cops in India file a preliminary investigation report of a rape incident by making the rape victim narrate the sequence of events. As if the trauma wasn't horrific enough. When that is done, lawyers of the accused jump at it like a pack of wolves, doggedly determined to prove to the courts that the rape victim was of loose character and was 'habituated' to having sex.
Even as of today, India uses the antiquated 'finger insertion' technique on rape victims to determine if they had been abused. The practice is not just archaic but excruciatingly humiliating for the victim. How, then, does one expect women to muster courage and fight for justice?
Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the nation, famously remarked,
"To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is man's injustice to woman. If by strength is meant brute strength, then, indeed, is woman less brute than man.
If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man's superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage?
Without her, man could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being, the future is with woman. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than woman?"
Sadly, Gandhi's ideal 'Indian woman' exists only in his quotes, because every other woman has either been raped or runs the risk of being outraged by a 'manimal' somewhere on the streets of India's numerous rape capitals. What a colossal shame for a country that takes pride in announcing itself as an emerging superpower from Asia.