WE are living in turbulent times. We seem to have woken up to the fact only after the events of December 16, 2012 when a 23 years old paramedic travelling with a friend late at night in a bus was molested and murderously raped by over a dozen fellow-travellers. It was a heart-rending happening that came as a shock to every Indian citizen. Since then rape and molestation cases of all kinds are making news on a daily basis.
Delhi is standing out as a particularly dangerous place for women to stir out at nights. Between March 2012 and March 2013 there has been a 127 per cent increase in rape cases. Additionally some 587 cases of molestation have been registered by the police. The Chief Minister of the city, Sheila Dikshit is even quoted as saying that her own daughter feels unsafe in the city. Is this development peculiar only to the capital or can it be presumed that more such incidents are taking place in every State capital and urban centres as well? What is the truth? When a father rapes his own daughter, an uncle his niece and a female child of ten is raped by an elder, isn’t it time to ask what is wrong with our society? And why and how conditions have deteriorated in Indian society?
One explanation given is that with the break up of joint families the security of women has taken a nose-dive; another explanation is that late marriages have left single women unprotected. Yet another explanation is that thanks to access to higher education and thereby to jobs, women have become more noticeable and open targets to physical attacks. One hears of times past when sex-obssessed men had easy access to prostitution; presently with empowerment of women being the order of the day, houses of ill-repute have all but disappeared. In a strange way empowerment of women has created its own set of problems undreamt of in years gone by. The new middle class woman has turned – at least in the eyes of the lower classes – more aggressive and self-assertive that males find it hard to get adjusted to.
When India became Independent in 1947, the Middle Class averaged around 2.4 per cent in a population of around 300 million people. By 2011 this percentage has risen to an astounding 37 per cent in a population of 1.2 billion. It is this middle class that rules the country and consciously or unconsciously lays down social behaviour, in terms of dress and deportment, man-woman relations, inter-caste marriages and the like arousing envy, jealousy and hatred among the lower castes and classes, which feel frustrated. It is this frustration, one suspects that is the main cause for the kind of violence we see today in everyday life. Unlike western developed nations which are largely mono-cultured, India is sharply divided along caste and class lines each functioning along established and well-laid out rules of social behaviour. It is when such classes co-exist with the middle classes literally cheek by jowl, as in Delhi that tension prevails which, in turn ends in violence.
Our middle classes don’t seem to realise that they are living in a multi-cultured society functioning under different sets of values, often in contradiction to each other. It is a fact that we ignore at our peril. And yet it is a fact that the middle classes constantly forget only to be reminded of it when violence takes an ugly turn. Then all hell is let loose. Instances of rape and molestation are not confined to one class or caste. They seem to cut across all social group. But why? And how come? A woman accuses her brother-in-law of raping her. A 22-year old woman from Delhi was allegedly raped and dumped in a Faridabad jungle by the driver of a car who had offered her a lift. A report from Gurgaon noted that a 27-year old woman employee claimed that she was gang-raped by two persons, including a colleague, in a moving car.
According to Hindustan Times (March 8 ) a woman in Delhi is “molested or raped every two hours”. What pushes people to commit such crimes? And that, too, not against the very rich or the very poor but against women of the middle class? What is it that warps male minds? Can we blame the media itself? One presumes that Sheila Dikshit reads the leading dailies in Delhi which publish the most horrendous pictures of semi-nude females is seductive poses, on a daily basis. Does Smt Dikshit approve of them? If she doesn’t, has she conveyed her views to the editors and publishers of the concerned media? If she hasn’t, why hasn’t she? Also, has anybody questioned woman’s organisations in Delhi in this matter? It is time they did. If anyone is guilty of corrupting the minds of the young, the charge is best laid at the English media which is literally allowed to get away with murder. But no one seems willing to face the media. Not even Markandey Katju, chairman of the Press Council. It is a matter of shame.
At the same time, can one expect the large and growing class of the educated middle class woman to do some self-introspection? She is seen to be getting westernised in many ways and word is going round that pre-marital sex is no longer considered taboo, nor is late night partying or heavy drinking. One learns, for instance, that there once were some 500 pubs in Mumbai catering exclusively to women, in a country where certain provinces are notorious for “honour killing” (does one remember the shocking Manoj Babli honour killing case?) it comes as no surprise that an educated middle class woman who clings to her own values as by right, ends up being a target of aggressive males. The killing of Manoj and Babli was ordered by a Khap Panchayat which could not accept Babli marrying a man from another caste. The two were kidnapped and strangled to death and their bodies wrapped in gunny bags dumped in a canal.
From what one hears, in certain sections of society, for the average middle class male, an educated, self-reliant and self-confident female is an anathema. Unlike Khap which is largely prevalent in the inner regions of north India states like Haryana, west Uttar Pardesh, parts of Rajasthan and Punjab, the aggressive middle class male is a common phenomenon throughout the country. It is for our active women’s organisations to address themselves to societal changes in India and do something constructive. Laws can only lay down rules, they can’t change mindsets; to achieve the latter should be a matter of immediate concern to our thinkers.