The incident in which three well-built men were molesting two college girls in a running, crowded Rohtak bus and no passenger helped the victims in the fightback is a mirror to Indian society. The driver and the conductor didn’t do their duty, which was to drive the bus straight to a police station to turn in the culprits. The mirror shows a society with a culture of “male entitlement”, a nation of onlookers, and callous public servants.
Repeatedly it is getting established is that women in general are insecure in public places and even within the four walls of their homes. This is a sad commentary on the social milieu and a cause for serious indictment for every Indian. We, perhaps, do not realise the huge social, psychological and economic cost of ignoring women’s safety, now and in the future.
While we address the mistakes, we have to put in place composite redress mechanisms to respond now and correct these in the long term, to minimise reoccurrence, if we have to stop it eventually. In my life, I have seen and experienced the Indian mindset, backward, medieval as well as modern. My parents, were modern and visionary, my grandparents medieval, and neighbours backward. India has lakhs of people in all three categories. The challenge is to reach out to the population without further loss of time, beginning with the minds that are closed and medieval.
After the Nirbhya case aboard a bus in Delhi, girls seem to be awakening, becoming conscious of their rights, place, and responsibilities; but boys seem to have been left behind in adapting to the changing times. Are some parents ignoring change? Are the teachers paying attention to the need to fill the gaps? Are their own mindsets updated? Are the political and social leaderships in tune with the times? Do they realise that society isn’t about vote banks alone but also people lives, and their words and actions will live beyond them. I hint at the need for them to be responsible in making public statements.
Bringing up boys
Today all what people say on television or radio or in the print media is stored for perpetuity in the “cloud” and retrieved easily. Earlier, we did not pay attention to the holistic upbringing of girls, because of which they were being left behind. Now we seem to be correcting, sometimes perforce, that historical wrong; but while doing so, we are overlooking the boys apparently and not working with them for nurturance. Today’s parents seem to be afraid of guiding their sons. The fear is of the son’s running away or answering back, being rude or violent, or taking to drugs or rebellion. In that case, what would happen to their old-age security, is the fear. The son is considered prime support in old age, while girls remain a migrant population still.
Girls have had enough and now will tolerate no more. It is evident from the way the two brave sisters fought back their molesters with their belts. They were in easy jeans and light footed, not always the case with girls aboard public transport; that too girls from a rural place.
The real harbingers of change are the parents, grandparents, teachers, social leaders, public servants, political activists, and the media’s unsparing alertness. India holds back her demographic dividend by limiting women’s mobility. It limits their potential and world. Whose loss? Everyone’s.
For clean society
We have to drive change by education, relentlessness, and sustained mass movements. Put in the culprits the fear of being caught, identified, exposed, and penalised heavily. Along with Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, we need a Swachh Samaj (clean society) Abhiyan, starting from every home, school, college, university, religious place, social institution, or congregation. We need a new wave of care and respect for all, to replace the old apathy of indifference and being onlookers. Let schoolchildren starting from Class 9 learn to serve, be it in senior citizen’s homes, cancer hospitals, orphanages, shelters for the poor, Shram Daan campaigns, neighbourhood watch, literacy programmes, environmental drives, rural work, blood donation, or for any other cause.
Use technology to put the fear of detection in molesters. Install cameras in public places and buses, as in Delhi Metro. In some developed countries, bus drivers can see the entire coach and have a wireless connect with the local traffic police. This will help us prevent and detect crimes against women; respond to the situation, and give exemplary punishment to miscreants.
All change makers have to begin from wherever they are. There’s no time to lose in waiting for others to start it. We all do with whatever we have, whoever we are, and be non-sparing in our effort. We have nothing to lose but everything to gain by contributing to a better quality of life. Here’s for a healthier, happier Indian society.
(The writer is a former IPS officer and Magsaysay Award winner. The viewsexpressed are personal.)