Tonight's (18th December) 'India Decides @ 9' on NDTV has been very interesting.
I highly recommend watching it once it's uploaded to the website. (Also, catch today's parliament proceedings if you can. I was riveted.)
When it comes to rape & India, anger, outrage and a deep sense of violation is pervasive.
But what stands out is the general state of confusion, how little we understand about violent crimes against women and how schizophrenic we are when it comes to codes of conduct between the two sexes.
The Indian news cycle in the last 24 hrs has gone thusly: Society point fingers at politicians. Politicians point fingers at policemen. Policemen point fingers at sick mindsets. Bollywood stars make statements of how the 'time has come' for change yet continue to feed off the sick stereotypes in the name of entertainment. Meanwhile us average joes & jills get our daily exercise pointing fingers at just about everybody. None of us seem to have a clue how we're contributing to the sickness. None of us seem very ready to look it straight in the face.
Things are simpler on international news channels like BBC World News, where the (Indian) reporter points out the irony of a burgeoning economy like India simultaneously treating its women with such disrespect. The report seems to pivot on the assumption that women are actually valuable and that a high incidence of crime against them speaks of an ailing society.
It does what no Indian channel does: air an interview of a Delhi citizen who breaks down while talking about being groped in a DTC bus and describing it as the 'worst moment' of her life.
I wonder if this type of shaming of India on a global scale will have an impact: to be disqualified from being a world player until we stop saying that rape is caused by Chinese noodles.
I won't lie. There's a part of me that would be very gleeful if that happened. Not gleeful...maybe just relieved that it's all out in the open now.
For some strange reason, I keep rewinding to 7-10 years ago, when Delhi's traffic system was transitioning from just another chaotic urban mess of inadequate roadways, boorish driving culture and a shocking disregard for the lives of not just others on the road but one's own safety. Then, very slowly - but perceptibly - things began to change. Things began to change in this 'north-Indian, immigrant infested' corrupt metropolis that everyone had associated with a deep-rooted aversion to order.
First, the government started to get serious about building decent roadways, immense flyovers and wider pavements. They started building the metro. Even before that they instituted the seat-belt law. I remember when that happened. We scoffed: "That'll never work. Can you imagine a Delhi cab driver wearing a seat belt? Who do we think we are? White people?" But then the thing took on a life of its own. Because at every street corner, there was a cop waiting to challan your ass if you didn't. Rinse & repeat with helmets, pollution checks, speeding.
I'm not saying Delhi's traffic has done a 180. Nothing as drastic as all that. But there's been a tangible transition effected by strict implementation of smart policy. And now most drivers in Delhi automatically strap on their belts when they get into a car. I'm not sure if most of us are doing it out of any deeper sense of our safety - we just don't want to get pulled over by a thulla.
The other day I returned to Delhi after a week in Hyderabad. It had been an intense week of being stuck in the most bizarre traffic situations I've ever been in. People rushing red lights right from under a cop's nose, drivers driving on the wrong side of the road as a matter of course, helmetless two-wheeler riders with death wishes and pointless traffic jams created just because people won't stick to the rules. Yes, the same stuff happens in Delhi too. But over the last decade, it's gotten much better. Now it's a relief to return home from cities like Hyderabad, Bangalore, Mumbai & Kolkata etc. & go for a drive here. Somehow the city's managed something even the widest eyed idealist had been cynical about.
I'm not saying there's a direct comparison between Delhi's traffic & its culture of violence - especially involving women. But there's a lesson here of some sort, isn't there?