Dear PM Manmohan Singh,
Despite having lived outside of India my whole life, despite the numerous crimes that have occurred and despite what people might say about the place, I have been immensely proud of the culture, the traditions and the values that come with being an Indian. However, over the last month, I have read some of the most horrific things about the Indian subcontinent, which have led me to question this respective pride. These are not the values I grew up with, these are not the traditions I’ve been taught and this is not the culture I was made to believe in. With an innocent girl being stripped, raped, thrown off a bus, unable to defend herself in any which way, and now, finally losing her battle to the atrocities faced, to the rest of nation standing up for her to no avail, it has made me sad, disgusted, scared and more than anything else, furious. And this wasn’t even the first time.
In July, a 19-year old girl was molested by a mob of sixteen men in Guwahati outside a pub. The accused justified this action by saying the girl was drunk and was a shame to the Indian culture and society. Earlier this month, a 32-year old woman was groped and sexually assaulted by a mob in Banaglore, including a traffic policeman. They made verbal abuses, obscene gestures and the crowd jeered on. What followed each of these cases was a call to society to stand up and speak against the atrocities to women, accusations against the women in question for a) being out too late, b) traveling alone and c) dressing “too provocatively”. Finally, the events moved out of public memory. These are only two of the hundreds of cases (most of which went unreported) that have occurred this year.
More recently, an incident everyone is extremely familiar with by now was brought to light: the Delhi gangrape case that involved an innocent 23-year old woman, her 28-year old male friend and five sexually frustrated men who “just wanted to have a little bit of fun”. What causes these incidents? Why hasn’t anything been done about them? Does the government not think this is a problem big enough to deal with? As a girl, I have a problem with it. As an Indian, I have a problem with it. As a person, I have a problem with it. In a predominantly Hindu, god-fearing and goddess-worshipping country, does it not strike you as the least bit surprising that these acts are occurring far too often?
Allow me to tell you why. The lack of sex education. India is a country that considers even the mention of the word ‘sex’ as taboo. However, this is the same country that has reported more rape cases than anywhere in the world this year; keep in mind that there are most definitely lots more that haven’t been reported. These people — I say ‘people’ because there are a large number of women who fail to understand the negative repercussions of sexual assault — don’t have the level of education required to understand the consequences of rape: unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and not to mention, the shame of the victim and her family for an act she didn’t invite, nor welcome. The National Crime Records Bureau recently released data validating that victims of rape are more likely to be assaulted by those who are known to them. This comprises of friends, neighbours and even relatives, including husbands. What makes things worse is when people don’t report these crimes. Be it victims or witnesses, they have a rational fear from the repercussions of their reports. Their families could get involved and the respective gangs find ways of seeking revenge, to name a few.
In April 2003, Sonali Mukherjee, a 17-year old girl, had a mixture of acids poured over her face in the dead of the night, burning 70% of her skin and leaving her partially deaf and almost blind. The attackers were her three neighbours who persistently harassed her every morning until she threatened to call the police. Nine years on, she continues to appeal to the Indian government for either skin reconstructive surgery or euthanasia. This case goes to show that girls don’t even have the ability to stand up for themselves without the fear of being scarred for life. Is this how you want the girls in your country to live, in fear, suffering and preferring death?
Moreover, in situations like these, it is the girls who are victimised in more ways than one. In addition to being physically and emotionally traumatised with the way in which they’ve been treated by their attackers, these girls are accused of the way they in which they choose to live their lives. Be it through the way they dress, the places they go or the people they meet, they are reprimanded with not being conservative enough and living life on their own terms. In a country that has progressed so much economically and technologically, where women stand shoulder-to-shoulder with men, is this even a valid judgment to make, just because she is a girl? This sort of backward thinking is the result of such acts as well as the ignorance of the dire consequences, of which nothing has been done. I don’t want to live in constant fear of getting molested when turning a corner just because I’m dressed how I please, because I’m on my own, irrespective of how late it is, or just because I was born a girl.
As the Prime Minister, it is your prerogative and responsibility to take a stand on the atrocities that these women face, in order to prevent them from happening in the future. This is far from saying that capital punishment needs to be implemented to punish the rapists. This would not be a deterrence nor an effective means of ensuring safety to the women of your country. However, there are certain measures that can be taken to discourage similar events from occurring in the future: drawing stricter laws, stronger police protection and most importantly, education. Despite being the national capital as well as one of the most advanced cities in the country, Delhi continues to be referred to as the nation’s ‘rape capital’. It isn’t just the small towns and villages that need lessons on sex education, it’s everyone. Condoling the girl’s family after her death was a gracious act. However, that’s not enough. What we need is the promise and the assurance that our country is a safe one.
To the politicians, election period is a busy one, and understandably so; what with making the other parties look bad and finding numerous ways to defame them just so you can reach to a desirable position. They say man is selfish by nature, so how about you spend a little less time bringing scandals to light (or hiding your own) and a little more time suggesting how you can make the country a better and safer place to live in. You’d be surprised as to how it might work wonders for your campaign.
And finally, to the rest of the country, you’ve got mothers, daughters, sisters and wives at home. Don’t wait for an incident like this to happen to them before you say something. Speak up against these brutalities, teach your daughters to stand up for themselves and most importantly, teach your sons how to behave.
I speak on behalf of girls across the nation as well as those outside of it. This is not what you want your country to become. Fix it.
With warm regards,
An Indian girl who hopes to regain the lost pride in her country