Just like so many others over the last few days, I was deeply moved by BBC Storyville’s latest documentary – “India’s Daughter.” As someone who was born and raised in Indian culture, I found it enlightening to be in the UK and have a glimpse of how the Western world responds to the heinous crime of the rapists in India.
Understandably, the unadulterated feelings of disgust and disdain for the rapists were prevalent. The documentary, while tastefully presented, was nevertheless based on a crime which arouses so much anger. This translated to ceaseless expressions of hate, hate, and more hate for the rapists, their defence lawyers and the so-called “rape culture” in India. In this spiral of hate, I believe we are in danger missing the central issues of this incident.
One thing needs to be understood: these men are victims of circumstance, as we all are. They are not merely a handful of sex-crazed anomalies in the world. They are much more than that. They are also citizens, with their own likes, dislikes, beliefs, cultures, friends, families and values, which have all been shaped by the deep-rooted patriarchal ‘norms’ that have been ingrained in the Indian society. From the way sweets are distributed only when boys are born, to dowries, and general all-round boy preference. Their consequent sense of entitlement and superiority, was manifested in the violent, fatal rape of Jyothi. It also goes some way to explain their lack of remorse, which will probably remain until their deathbeds. They have been so steeped in the patriarchy that they find it absolutely impossible to see it any other way.
It does not bode well on us to say things like, “Hang the juvenile too!!! How dare he!!!” just because we can see the twisted nature of their values. We are angered when our beliefs are offended. They too, acted rashly when their own patriarchal beliefs, ingrained by centuries and centuries of patriarchal practices in India, were offended when they witnessed a girl like Jyothi out alone with a male friend at night. That is not to say what they did was not inherently wrong to the fullest sense, but it is crucial to put it into context and to understand that hating on them is not actually going to abolish the patriarchy and change anything for the better.
My own parents were raised in a very conservative village in India. It was only years and years after moving to the more ‘women-friendly’ country of Singapore, that they could finally open their minds to the idea of equality of the sexes. Even my own mother, despite being a woman, had a deep-seated prejudice towards boys and had wished that I was a boy when I was born. Letting go of their prejudices could not have been easy in the least, but seeing how much they’ve changed moves me deeply. Twenty years ago, there would have been no chance in hell they would have “sent their girl-child abroad for education”, and yet here I am today – against all odds – across the globe in England, studying for a degree in law. There is indeed hope for these mentalities to be changed.
“We are all sum totals of our experience, products of our environment, and divided by our ignorance.”
– Samuel Adams
Essentially, my message is to try not to hate on the rapists as a lone group, as they are the consequence of India’s larger problem. It would be a much better use of our time to strive to change the circumstances of its people. The long-term solution for this is of course, to educate both young boys and the girls, show them the value of women, the power of equality, the mindlessness of ‘honour’. Crucially, this message must be brought to everyone – from the impressionable younger generation who are our hope for a better future, to the corners of India where the internet would not be able to reach, like the quarter (or so) of the population living under or near the poverty line. I believe that as humanity as a whole, we all would want to better ourselves, all we need is to see the light.
“In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.”
– Anne Frank
All that being said, I must also mention that when I first heard of this brutal rape, it was definitely not understanding that I first responded with, and strong emotions are a natural response. However, eventually we need to make sure that we don’t let these feelings get the better of us: let’s not just hate on the rapists, and instead strive to change the world, one step at a time.
Side note: I just stumbled upon this album on Facebook that shows some of the shocking quotes put forward by various politicians and spiritual leaders in India on their views on rape. When the country’s leaders’ views resonates with that of the rapists themselves, it just goes to show just how deep-seated this problem is. India is currently at the stage where prominent celebrities and public figures and the media have enough power to thwart these vile opinions. Positive action needs to be taken by all of us.