Friday morning, August 23, I was taken aback hearing about the rape of a journalist in Mumbai. Social media was abuzz with people in shock that such a crime could still happen after all that we had witnessed a few months ago in Delhi.
The first thing that we need to change is the mindset that city X is safer than city Y. Maybe it was true 20 years ago. Not anymore. There are various reasons to it.
The first reason I can think of is the unprecedented migration that has been happening in India over the last two decades. I do not have any data to support it right now but it seems plausible that with the growth that has taken place in our cities over the past 15-20 years, we have witnessed people, of all classes and professions, moving around across the cities for jobs. Bangalore has software engineers from Delhi and Bombay while the security guards that I have met have mostly migrated from the east. Delhi has migrants from Tamil Nadu just as it has people from Bihar. The typical one-city guy, that stereotype is no more. Everyone is everywhere.
Secondly, the behavior of our society which I believe reflects our morals (or the lack of it) is more or less the same. Reason being that our morals, across geographies, have that common ground. Haryana and Tamil Nadu, states that have had little in common in terms of culture and language have witnessed numerous cases of honour killings. Moral policing in a town of, say, Uttar Pradesh, is more or less of the same brand that exists in the southern port city of Mangalore.
The only exception to the above two reasons could be India’s North East. Look closely and you will find the reasons — their culture is more open, a boy and a girl holding hands is not a social taboo. And largely, the movement of people for jobs from the rest of India to the North East, it is safe to assume, must be negligible (It has been mostly, east to north/west/south but not vice versa).
Before I go any further, I must tell a small story here that a friend shared with me a few months ago. He had gone to Goa on a holiday. One of those days, in the mornings when the beach was deserted and the shacks were just opening up, a shop-helper sort of a guy was opening a shop. Mornings in Goa beaches are usually sane, with less crowds and all. A few foreigner tourists, all women, were walking by. This guy, suddenly exults, gives a smile and positions himself to be ready for a series of “high-fives”. The ladies obliged, perhaps smiled too and moved on. After the ladies had left, this guy, happily proclaimed something to the effect – “Back in the village I never get to touch a lady and here? wow!” (“saala wahan gaon mein koi choota bhi nahi hai!”).
I hate generalizing but it seems that to me, people who do the ghastly crime of raping a woman, have tendencies like this guy had, only magnified a few times.
To be honest, I am a little surprised that all the “change” that I am hearing about on social and traditional media has something to do with the law, or the Government, or the policing. No one is looking at what could be driving a 20 year old guy to commit this ghastly crime. It is almost naive to think that a law or a stronger police force is the ultimate answer to this menace.
A few months ago, I was at the Bangalore town-hall to witness the protest and the candle light vigil that happened just after the Delhi rape. People demanded justice and justice for them meant that the state give capital punishment to those six men. With the Mumbai rape, people may still ask for a similar punishment as the outcry right now suggests. There have been equal (if not more) calls for a more stringent law that would deter someone to commit this heinous crime. While I think that a strong law is the need of the hour, I also believe that giving someone death for this crime would not really bring about the change we want, in the long run. If that had to work, our society must have learnt its lessons after the Delhi rape case. It has to be a combination of a stringent law AND a social change.
The social change that I talk about here is about not making a deal out of a boy and a girl holding hands. To not look at young, unmarried couples in contempt. To make it reasonable for a young unmarried couple to stay together. The urban society that we are so used to may have learnt to agree with it but there is a lot to India than just the few big cities. It is only when our villages and small towns come out of long held social but irrational beliefs would we be able to see a real change in our society.
Maybe then that guy in Goa will stop raising his hand for high-fives everytime he saw a group of white women on the beach.