I was quick to get back to the daily walk, as soon as I got home from the 10 day break in Bangalore. Into my track pants, socks and shoes and out the door. But I stopped in front of the mirror and looked at myself. Turning around, and craning my neck awkwardly, to look at my bum one last time before I stepped out. Are my pants too tight? I wondered. Will people stare? I asked myself.
Once outdoors, thoughts about why I stopped to check myself out bothered me. I have always gloated about feeling so bloody safe in Panjim, its ridiculous. Never having to think twice about what I am wearing, never having to dress deliberately modestly, depending on where I am going or whether I had able-bodied male friends with me. Why then, did I suddenly care?
Twenty minutes in, as the back of my sweaty tee shirt clung to me, I began to get increasingly conscious. I felt like all eyes were on me. I looked at every man passing me by suspiciously. I didn’t care who walked by me, just the previous week. Why then was I suddenly giving every one a once-over? Glaring through narrowed eyes, trying to read every small move they made?
Panjim has always made me feel safe. Venturing out for a drink with myself, driving around on my own even on nights the husband is travelling, going out for my run past 7.30 pm — all things I have done with great discomfort and trepidation in Bangalore (this is not to blatantly say Bangalore is unsafe and Panjim is, I am drawing a parallel only because it the only other city I have lived in). Panjim is still safe. Nothing has changed overnight, but because I returned from my trip home, in the wake of this heinous event, I found myself wanting to set out sooner, so I can get back before it is too dark, worried if people were looking at me, and believe it or not, turning my iPod off so I could be more aware and alert in case something untoward were to happen.
A lot has happened, been said, and done about the Delhi gang rape case. The issue and the aftermath, the furore, the inaction on the part of the government has all weighed down on me in ways I didn’t imagine news could. I suppose its because with their palpable increase in frequency, things like this have stopped being just news about some arbit victim somewhere, but more about someone like you and me, right in our vicinity.
It really was the last straw for me, in a year of hopelessness, as far as the direction in which we are headed as a country goes. Maybe I am a cynic, and I should look on the bright side — that people are finally waking up and will not take no for an answer — but what bright side, I ask you? The growing outrage with which twitter and blogdom erupted in the days after the horrific incident left me numb, not knowing what is right or wrong anymore.
Yes, we’re angry. Yes, we’re singing online petitions. Yes, we’re spewing out views out on twitter, lighting candles, feeling such immense fury at how a bunch of idiots can just sit back in apathy and discuss the course of action. But really, I’m not sure anymore if that’s a good beginning or just another shot in the dark, which will only die down in time. Because I don’t know if an amended law is going to stop rape overnight. I don’t know how I can wish for a stronger, better 2013, unless I feel safer. If the law and punishment hasn’t stopped men from doing it so far, I don’t know why it will now.
I have refrained from discussing this issue here because the more I read about it, the sadder I get. I don’t think rape is curable overnight. And certainly not by signing an online petition that demands for laws to be amended. Certainly not by outraging on twitter and fb, threatening to lynch mob Tihar Jail (yes, I read this on my twitter TL — sometimes I think our citizens are as crazy as our criminals). Rape will only go away when we speak up the right way, when we teach our girls to stand up for themselves, not to be ashamed, not to feel like victims, and definitely not to accept, tolerate and move on because of fear of being blamed. When we learn to wipe away the fine line between freedom of expression and a filthy attitude; and call a spade a spade. Things will change when we stop favouring our sons over our daughters. When we bring up our daughters as we would our sons — independent, able, free to stand on their feet. So despite shutting off the media and all the hype I have read, I couldn’t help but share this piece I chanced upon on Annie Zaidi’s blog this morning. Because she articulates pretty much what I have silently mulled over all week.
In the midst of all of this, I was most astounded by the reaction of the government. I am just aghast that those who chose to stay silent, did. That those who spoke up, made utter fools of themselves. And the people that matter most, who we as a nation look up to for action and justice, stood around for over ten days just watching like inexperienced parents dealing with boorish, bratty children — not knowing what the appropriate reaction to something like this is. How does this continue to happen to us?
In another precise and incisive open letter to the UPA ladies, Annie asks many of the questions I’m sure most of you have turned over in your heads already. All of us have questions. All of us have opinions. If only we could be heard.
I’m going to quote Annie’s closing line in the letter, because to me it is the crux of the issue.
“Show us that you’re in charge. Talk to urban planners. Talk to psychologists. Talk to women’s groups. Fix this.”
We have to move past the outrage and the vexation, and really just start to fix this.