By Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava
To whomsoever it may concern,
So you banned the documentary. I hope you saw it before. And in your role as sole arbiter of what we should and shouldn’t see, read, wear or eat, you’ve decided banning the documentary will help us in some arbitrary manner. But can you help us get rid of our sense of helplessness, our sense of frustration? And more than that, our feeling of utter and complete sadness?
I cried watching her parents speak. With dignity in their voice and pain in their eyes, only the heartless listening to them can remain unmoved. They sold their land, they lost their daughter in a way no one ever should and the Home Minister says he is upset about the film!
There are claims that the rapist has been glorified, that he has been given a platform. Is that all you see? Do you not hear the dark thoughts, do you not shudder when he says, without remorse that the girl deserved it and that future rapists will just kill? Or worse, if that’s possible, when his lawyer says he will set his daughter on fire if she were to step out like this? Ban the film, but what will you do about this mentality? Is this the legacy my country has for my daughters?
There was a time when I drove to work at 3.30 in the morning for my shift. I now look back and think – was I crazy? Being brave in Delhi is actually being stupid and if things remain the way they are, my kids will miss out on many college experiences because I won’t let them ever get on a DTC bus. Many young girls of course will have no choice.
Then of course there is this argument about women and their clothes. I recently shifted to the UAE. Not buzzing Dubai, but laid back Abu Dhabi. I expected it to be…I guess, conservative. But what a change! From abayas to shorts, women dress in what they want and happily walk the streets even as late as midnight. In Delhi my kids don’t even go to the park, which is just five steps across my house (at night). Here in Abu Dhabi there is no fear, because there is fear of law. Because justice is delivered swiftly. I have been here almost a year and in all this time there has been one major incident – and the reason it shocked the city was because nothing remotely similar had ever happened. A woman, some say with links to the jihadis, stabbed an American teacher. The culprit, who was covered from head to toe, was picked up within forty eight hours and has already been charged with the death penalty.
So my girls go and play outside but sadly I am from Delhi which means I need to keep checking on them. I have no answer when my elder daughter asks – “why do you keep coming…” even though this is a city where you can leave your wallet in an unlocked car with its windows rolled down.
The Delhi Police wanted the film restrained because it would apparently create fear. Really? Half the fear in this city is because we can’t really trust our own police. Have you ever been to a local police station? I have. Sniggering men with an air of such importance that I think our misplaced VIP culture begins right from here. It took me ten months to get a passport verification for my domestic help. I was made to call one police station after another; each policeman who answered too busy to help. So then, can you imagine the plight of a poor family that goes to report a rape at one of these police stations? I sometimes think that Indians don’t help others in distress on the road because they don’t want to get involved in a situation which they probably think will get messy. Harassment comes in different forms.
We are flawed on so many fronts that ‘it takes a village…’ may also not be enough. Our justice system is so quick to ban but so busy when it comes to passing judgement. Perhaps that’s why sections of the media and society are so quick to pass judgement. Some say no to the death penalty because it serves no purpose. It probably doesn’t if each punishment is ten years apart and loses all impact. But our justice system will take the time that it will; and nobody can question it. There are very few like Neelam Katara who have the forbearance to carry on and on. Our system can break even the strongest.
Then there are those like Meenakshi Lekhi who are more worried about how this film will portray India in a bad light, that we will lose out on tourism. May I please just tell the respected politician that our reputation is already smeared. Expats here tell me how they would love to visit India but have heard such horror stories that they would rather just go somewhere else. Once when I was travelling to Spain, I was told to watch out for people trying to steal wallets. I actually laughed. If you are an Indian, then that’s just a cakewalk to deal with. Banning a film will not take away the truth that Delhi is not just our political capital, it is also our rape capital.
So then here’s what we have learnt. Let’s bury our heads in the sand, look the other way, but let’s just never look in the mirror.
I grew up playing out in the sun and cycling with friends. My kids stay at home unless I can take them for some after-school lessons. I quit my job so I could let them have some fun. I have only female help in my house because it is always better to be safe than sorry. They are young right now but one day when my girls question me and want more, what will I tell them?
That their country failed them.
The views expressed by the author are personal. The article was first published in the blog Jo’s World. Log on to http://jomohan.wordpress.com/ for more articles by the author