Ever since the December 16 gang rape, many of my female friends have been clamouring for a death sentence for rapists, not because they look upon the act as a crime per se but in a tit-for-tat for "ruining a girl's life forever".
I have gone blue in the face trying to convince them that a rape cannot be treated as the end of a woman's life, that a girl's family and society must firmly stand behind her and help her pick up the broken pieces to put her life together back again. So in the gloomy atmosphere of rapes of little girls across the country, the only heartening piece of news came from Nagpur where a family wanted to suppress the incident of rape of their five-year-old child but friends persuaded them to register an FIR lest the rapist get away with the crime and end up traumatising another child all over again. Neighbours promised the parents full support and threatened anyone who would mock them and the girl for what had happened to them.
Stigmatising a little girl for something that was not her fault is not just adding insult to injury but much worse - perpetrating a patriarchal mindset weaned on rules set by men for their own convenience and self-gratification who would want women to be no more than slaves or chattels.
But so ingrained is patriarchy into our psyche that some of these women friends just did not understand, unmoved even when I argued that this could lead to every girl who is raped being killed. "She would be better off dead than alive," they argued back. I gave up.
I come from a society wherein both women and womanhood are highly respected. While I was growing up I witnessed a strike by some factory workers who brought bangles to their officers because they could not resolve demands for higher wages. One of the officers burst into tears at that -- some said that he was 'crying like a woman' and even then the comment did not sound right. Some thought chooriyan pehen lo was the ultimate insult but then there were a couple of them who just laughed and pocketed the bangles. They took the bangles home to their wives and daughters to be handed over to their maids or otherwise utilised. The attitude of those men taught me something -some might have labelled them as shameless; I thought they were just practical. Why waste some perfectly good bangles even if money was wasted on them to insult and perpetrate a patriarchal attitude towards women?
I am a journalist but I love my bangles and I could never bring myself to insult men - or even women - with that very patriarchal Hindi idiom. Wearing bangles does not reduce a woman to a non-performer and by no means is a successful woman not entitled to wear some. So I just could not understand why a woman protester in Delhi offered bangles to a policeman to express her ire against his ineffectiveness and I didn't even want to know if she belonged to any particular political party.
However, the manner in which the rape of the little five-year-old girl in Delhi is being politicised is both pathetic and despicable because how then does one explain the rapes in West Bengal, Orissa, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerala or even Madhya Pradesh where a four-year-old was raped in Seoni around the same time and unlike the child in Delhi may not survive the trauma? Should we put that at the doors of various political parties ruling these states or should we look at the mindsets of a particular kind of men, psychologically impotent, who believe a rape is an exercise of power over the physically weaker and vulnerable sections of society?
So while some women might well have marched upon Congress president Sonia Gandhi's residence in protest against the recurring rapes in Delhi, they would be better advised to sue for women's solidarity in changing the prevailing prejudices against women. For the rape law might have been passed in Parliament under pressure but how many male MPs allowed politicians to be included in the ambit of the law or even pushed for the death sentence for habitual offenders?
Clearly, it is a man's world and women must unite to make it a better place for little girls - and stop little boys from growing up to be some of these horrid men!
(The views expressed are personal.)