That Delhi Girl!
In the last couple of weeks India has been witnessing an unprecedented public anger and grief over the brutal rape of a 23 year old girl, a medical student, in Delhi. She was gang-raped by six men in a moving bus on the night of 16 December. She was returning home with her friend. The six men, including the driver of the bus, beat up the friend, raped the girl, beat her up and brutally tortured her and finally threw both of them out of the bus. She was admitted in the hospital in a very critical condition and finally on 28th December she succumbed to death. The name of the girl is not revealed (though the media have given several psuedonyms to her).
She would have been just one of the thousands of rape victims in India. But the unprecedented public reaction over the incident made her an extraordinary girl! Just consider: the prime minister, the president of India, the chief ministers, political party leaders, religious and social leaders invited people to pray for her recovery, made several times public statements joining the grief of the people, on her death expressed grief, the prime minister of India made official media address a couple of times on the incident, assuring strong action against the culprits, requesting people to remain calm... The prime minister, the president of the congress party and other leaders went to the airport to receive her body and paid homage, when her body was returned from Singapore where she was taken for treatments.
People's protest following this heinous crime was unexpected. No political party or no organisation took the initiative. Without any formal organisation people came (perhaps initiated by social media). They came... they came in hundreds... they came in thousands... youth, students, people of all classes and age groups, men and women, shouting slogans against the violence on women, against the inaction of the authorities, against the patriarchal structures that inflict violence on women, against the failure of the legal system, against the insensitivity of the police,... lighting candles, praying for the victim, after her death, for the repose of her soul, with tears. There was no one to lead them... but they were/are resolute and fearless. The police used all their force - blocking the roads, closing down the metro stations for days, beating up the protesters, teargas shells and water cannons, but nothing could deter the people. We never saw the government authorities so disturbed and shaken, not knowing what to do to regain the confidence of the people. Though sporadic violence occurred (perhaps due to some hooligans who crept into the crowd), people said that they wanted only peaceful protests.
Perhaps she was known only to her friends and family. But, she has become a national symbol! A national symbol of women's struggle for dignity; a national symbol of the dissatisfaction with the ruling class that ignores the safety and security of the people; a national symbol of people's power.
This brutal crime, though one among hundreds of rapes a year, has touched the conscience of the nation. It has shaken the pillars of power, leaving them directionless. Two of the accused themselves admitted of the crime and demanded on themselves death sentence. Many hotels and organisations have cancelled the new year celebrations as an expression of solidarity. The government is urgently working on a reform of the law to ensure safety and dignity of women and more severe punishment for the culprits.
A few reflections:
1. Democracy, has in many ways failed to respond to the hopes and needs of the people. In many countries we find a self-centred ruling class, concerned only about their power and gains. If this is not addressed urgently, deep dissatisfaction in the people may lead to political instability and even violent reactions.
2. The legal system often fails to ensure, leading to distrust and anger in the vast majority. What can be done about it?
3. In spite of the sense of anger, grief and despair and the brutality that the girl was subjected to and her sad death, she has become a symbol of hope - that nothing can suffocate people's thirst for justice and dignity, that people will rise against the structures and a ruling class that ignore their responsibility to people. This is nothing but the working of the God of Justice, who continues to be active in the history of humanity. This is the ray of hope even in the darkness of grief, anger and despair that enshrouds the society at the moment.
4. The absence of the Church in these protests has been conspicuous. The Church leaders condemned the violence and condoled her death. But, many noticed the absence of Church leaders in these protests, though some say that perhaps a few nuns participated. I do not intend to say that Church leaders should take part in all demonstrations. But, when a nun is molested, we organise public protests and invite others to join us in solidarity. When such an incident which deeply touched the conscience of the nation, we have remained almost spectators. This is indicative of our style of functioning, unless such issues are of importance for our institutions.
5. Any structure or system that discriminate women will weaken our stance against injustice and violence on women.