I have never been proud of being Indian. I have never considered it an achievement— I made no contribution to being born, and I entered the world in a country where the likelihood of my existence was statistically higher than most other places, given the population size and birth rate of our people. My only accomplishment was being conceived, and I had nothing to do with it.
As a child, when I was introduced to the word ‘patriotism,’ I was overawed. What a noble emotion it seemed to be— one that drove people to the extent of pledging to lay down their lives for their motherland! And as school introduced us to Indian history, I fully expected some figurative mental door to open and feelings of nationalism to come gushing from within. Nothing happened. I continued to be impressed by the dedication and determination of the defence forces and everyone else who took it upon themselves to ensure that India progressed beyond the superpowers of the world to the very top of political, economic and social hierarchies … but I never understood it. I never felt that love for the soil of our country that patriotic songs talked about.
Slowly, I began to understand why. When I was younger, I was only struck by the legendary Indian lack of civic sense. The incessant spitting and littering disgusted me. I found it absurd that people could rave about how beautifully clean USA is while simultaneously chucking plastic and ejecting entire mouthfuls of paan-stained spit from their mouths. At first I thought it was plain stupidity, but then I came to realise that it was, in fact, unwillingness to change and an uncontrollable urge to complain.
As I got older, I was introduced, via books and television, to more shameful aspects of our society— corruption, several forms of violence ranging from vandalism to gruesome murders to massacres. And all I could do was wonder how people could find it in themselves do such things.
And then, when I was 9, came the real shocker. My mother had educated me well about the ‘danger areas’ of my body. Nobody was allowed to touch me over my chest or anywhere below my navel. Furthermore, no boy was allowed to show me the parts that made him anatomically different from me and all my other girlfriends. No boy could even talk about these things until ‘a certain age’ that for all practical purposes was several years into the future. And so when I was touched by a man at an age when I was pretty much flat as a board, I knew that something bad had happened. That was when I learnt the word ‘molestation,’ though, being only a child, I didn’t understand the full extent of terrible things it encompassed.
5 years later, just after sex education began making its appearance in our Biology textbooks, I heard of ‘rape.’ And I was appalled. As time passed and I was exposed to more knowledge of reproductive biology and sexual crime, the terror became almost constant. And, like any other Indian girl, I was taught to dress a certain way when out without parental supervision, to come home at a certain hour and never to let a male person inside the empty house unless he was my father.
Soon, it became clear that none of these precautions was enough. Rape happened to women in burqas. Rapists attacked in broad daylight. Worst of all, fathers raped their own daughters. It seemed that the only thing I could do to guarantee that I would never experience the horror was to die.
Forward to the present day: a girl who was raped by no less than 7 men in a moving vehicle and thrown out naked onto the streets of our capital city to die— alone, injured, naked, traumatised, violated— has succumbed to the brutality that had been inflicted on her, after 12 long days of suffering. And I, like every other sane person in this country, feel a terrible, aching loss.
Though it was a horrifying story to even read about, I’m not sure why this particular story has affected all of us so intensely. There have been so many incidents— the first to come to my mind being the girl who was raped by a policeman at Marine Drive in Mumbai. And there are so many more we don’t even know about. Besides, we hear of so many other ghastly tales from other countries that we assure ourselves we are, overall, better off.
Maybe it’s the brutality of the crime. Maybe it’s the detailed news coverage. Or maybe it’s just that we’ve had enough. We have seen more crime than I think it was possible, for me at least, to even imagine. Assault. Molestation. Extortion. Rape. Murder. Terrorism. But the most disgraceful of them all remains indifference.
Whatever we call it— moving on, picking up the pieces, ‘the Mumbai Spirit’ (I find this one the most shameful) — we are merely fooling ourselves. Something happens. We protest. We demand. We wait. Nothing happens. We ‘move on.’
And whether we can admit it or not, we are ALL guilty of this most terrible of crimes. Sure, it is sad that courts still uphold archaic laws while failing to implement the more important ones … that politicians get security enough to keep a small community safe while criminals run rampant amongst the masses … that so many important figures still hold sexist beliefs about women’s status in society while failing to blame the minds of men for creating the discrimination … that communal, casteist and regionalist views are freely perpetuated while citizens are arrested for using their right to freedom of speech to voice their opinions … that civilized citizens are arrested for frivolity while people are killed in the apparent safety of their own homes … that young lovers are harassed for the tiniest form of expression of their love while reports of sexual harassment or assault are lost in translation … that laws dictate victims of crimes to live to remember the atrocities they went through while perpetrators must die without actual punishment …
But are we any better? Do we raise our voices against injustice? Yes. Do we sustain our protests until our demands are met? No. And do we then complain about the government? Yes.
We are liars. We lie about caring. We lie about wanting to make a difference. We lie about working towards progress. If we lived up to our promises, things would be different. Mindsets would change. Thinking would progress. Discrimination would regress. Criminals would fear. People would be safe. Justice would be served.
I sincerely hope I am proved wrong, but I do not believe we are capable of sustaining this uprising. Not just because this incident will soon fade from our memories, but because we fail to realise that the girl whose sacrifice has sparked this anger was not Amaanat, Damini or Nirbhaya but a young girl with her own name, face and identity, studying towards building the life of her dreams that is now just a could-have-been … because we fail to see the thousands of faceless victims that this girl represents, whose cries for help have snuffed out either by the criminals themselves or by the laws of our nation … because we fail to understand that crime happens by us, to us, amongst us and is a constant threat to the safety of our own families.
I have never been proud of being Indian. Today, I understand why.