Going by the reactions to the news of the week, perhaps there has really been a shift after the tragedy of Nirbhaya in how the Indian public views things. But while there do seem to be attempts to ‘sensitise’ the old mindset that is unsympathetic to women, law and lecture alone may not work the desired change. As to which, is the lack of success in some previous social campaigns by the Government due to the poverty of imagination in conveying the message? Some sarkari ads have admittedly improved but most look frozen in the 1950s and are either sycophantic or as preachy as Asokan edicts.
Our hardworking administrators may not always recall that wit and imagination are necessities, not luxuries, for India; that ‘unschooled’ is not ‘uneducated’. Although their circumstances did not enable the professional-social advantage of adequate English-medium schooling, our ‘non-elite’ are not ‘uneducated’. As the longtime owner-operator of rich, subtly textured narratives, our shrewd public is possessed of lethal wit, innuendo, metaphor and simile, is most mannerly when met with courtesy, instantly detects and resents patronage and is not at all easy to impress. If we want to ‘sensitise’ the traditionally-oriented men of law whom our women must go to for safety and justice, quality, not condescension, could be the key.
In which case, in addition to present efforts, what if we also try an old civilisational device long active and influential in our culture? A device resorted to by Buddhists through jatakas, by Jesus through parables, by Sufis through teaching riddles and by other spiritual guides: the story-messenger or ‘kahani’ as ‘doot’? But there again, uninspired sloganeering and straight cautionary tales in leaden prose may fail to touch a wider public deeply nuanced in the twists and turns of the two great epics that hold up India, mother of story.
However, the tales of Rajasthani writer Vijay Dandetha may have the credentials, content and class to effectively assist in oiling out the mental rust of centuries regarding women. Mr Dandetha whom I once had the honour of meeting and some of whose profoundly moving stories I have read, passed away on November 10, aged 87. A legatee of ‘charan’ or old Rajputana bardic blood, he described himself poignantly as a story-teller, not writer. His stories, often sourced from women, are available in Hindi and English thanks to his son Kailash Kabeer and others. Many of us know their powerful quality through plays like the late Habib Tanvir’s ‘Charandas Chor’ and films like ‘Duvidha’ by Mani Kaul, remade as ‘Paheli’ by Amol Palekar, or directly through the Sahitya Akademi anthology. An excellent blog by Akshay Pathak on ‘The Bard of Borunda’ (November 19, 2013, www.berfrois.com) tells us many other interesting things. A nicely-wrapped personal copy of Mr Dandetha’s short stories may, in all seriousness, be a good New Year present besides the customary ‘goodwill’ to policemen and other functionaries in public service, to help them understand and help the women of India better.