A woman is abducted in Ghaziabad every 20 hours. None of them make the front page of newspapers, get wall-to-wall coverage on television, or a top-trending hashtag dedicated to them.
The few that are found find scant mention, often buried deep in the inside pages of newspapers as single-column stories or snippets.
So what was so different about Dipti Sarna, the Snapdeal employee whose abduction triggered a massive police manhunt and an unprecedented outpouring of solidarity on social media?
Was it because it was she was one of us, someone we could see a friend, colleague or family member in? Was it because she checked all the recognisable attribute boxes – young professional, works with a multinational, takes the Metro, 20-something urban aspirational person?
As a legal executive working with a billion-dollar e-commerce firm who crisscrossed the national capital region on her way to work every day, Sarna’s abduction should have triggered important questions about policing, safety of women in public spaces, the state of our transport system and last-mile connectivity.
But the media focused on none of those questions. TV channels didn’t wonder how her abduction was an indictment of our lifeline, the Delhi Metro, and if it made sense to celebrate car-free days – her abduction coincided with the first such event in Ghaziabad – in the absence of safe last-minute connectivity.
Instead, print, television and digital media jumped on her Snapdeal and urban credentials, gaining sympathy from the young Delhi crowd. The news about a billion-dollar company’s employee getting abducted was enough to send everyone in a tizzy.
Later that evening, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav tweeted the case details as Snapdeal launched a Twitter campaign to find her. Yadav said he instructed the state police headquarters and top cops to monitor the case, possibly understanding that this case was linked to his state’s prestige.
That prestige – linked to the company name, the prospect of scared multinationals and irate urban professional crowd – is not present in most of the 426 cases of female abduction in Ghaziabad last year. That is why we haven’t heard of them.
If Dipti Sarna didn’t work for Snapdeal, if she wasn’t a mobile urban professional, the news wouldn’t have hit the headlines. Her abductors wouldn’t have been spooked by the massive police manhunt – a rare occurrence for abduction cases that may have only happened due to the chief minister’s involvement.
Abductions have become so commonplace that they have stopped shocking us. Discussions about women’s safety and hostile public spaces is at best a tea-table topic. Rampant murder and rape of lower-caste and tribal women across the country, even if they happen a hundred kilometers away from our homes, are dismissed as regular events.
The only reason the Snapdeal case was different was because the media picked it up, sensing in it a potential for the sensational. We connected and cared, not because we want an India that is safer for women, but because we recognized ourselves in the story – that it could be us the next time.
If she didn’t work with a e-commerce giant, we wouldn’t have cared. Just like we didn’t care for any of those 426 women.
(Views expressed by the author are personal)