I got this mail last year. It effectively asked me why I wasn’t willing to stand up and say something about the Indian rape. Why my blog was filled with the stories of women and indeed men who fought against the rape.
Why not my story of the Indian Rape Riots and Protests?
I had a good reason. I am Indian by ethnicity. Not by nationality and my culture is “British Asian” which is a weird amalgam. That was the story of women in India, not my story of my time on the lines.
But it’s been a year. So I wanted to write about what I did and what I saw.
I spent time on the lines. The Freethiinkers of Chennai will remember my presence at the Chennai Beach Meeting but those who came to the Adyar Gardens protest will have seen me too.
I also spent time on the lines at the Delhi protests.
And when asked what I thought, I kept quiet at both events because my thoughts are rather irrelevant to the discussion of the anger felt by the progressives at a rape and it’s handling. I am outside this looking in and my feelings are that all rape is terrible and this one polarised India into facing down the issue.
There were little marches and there were big ones. One of the big ones was a Raisana Hill.
Here the police unleashed tear gas, batons and water cannon. I remember the “hilarious” comments from people at the images. Spray the bitches down indeed.
But the bitches won in the end.
They do not get it. At every single protest, on every single day and in both cities the story was the same. Every day one person bemoaned that “the people in power did not get it”.
They JUST do not get it.
The reason for the success is the mobilisation of “India”. The protests saw women (and men) of all ages and all demographies marching side by side. Old grannies marched with their 3 year old great grand-daughters. The upper class teenagers in fashionable shoes and expensive jeans marched with the girls from slums. It was people power.
Nirbhaya had died. Gone to see the Life of Pi and picked up from the rich upper class region of Saket by a bus where people killed her. Her boyfriend was beaten savagely and left unconscious, she was beaten, raped and had her intestine penetrated by a metal rod. And this was the line in the sand.
I cared for the victims of tear gas. It’s not my first riot. I started this long journey to medicine at a riot. Where I saved white nationalists from the anger of people who looked like me. I laughed because one of the Asians at the protests the next day told me he was proud because he had seen a picture of a KKK member being treated in Birmingham Alabama after a clash with the Black Panthers. All the doctors, nurses and paramedics were black. He was proud that I didn’t see race. I was happy that one person saw I did good.
I saw young women and men taste their first lick of tear gas. A few of them who had run afoul of police batons or who had the stuffing smacked out of them with water cannon. During the 3 days of such, I was gassed twice and pulled more than 20 people from the press and the panic including a young hijra nurse who dragged three young ladies by herself around 2 km through a riot to help them. I saw young men stand in front of old ladies to shield them from the power of water cannons. I remember young ladies who tore up their dupatta’s (Scarves) to form face masks to shield the men from tear gas.
“They don’t use the bus. Their girls don’t have to go out without a bodyguard. They don’t see what we see and what we want”.
“How can we get justice and equality when we have rapists in Parliament?”
What you began to see was the gulf of power. And the self awareness of those with power.
Those with power realised that their power kept them safe and that they need to realise that. Those without realised that the unaware powerful actually had such a vast gulf that they couldn’t understand why the masses could not eat Brioche. It’s not a gulf it was an abyss.
It was cold, Delhi is cold around about now. I watched these young kids scream their anger. I watched women calmly recite their stories one by one in front of the police. The stories that they faced. Of harassment and threats and gropes and rapes.
They didn’t want protection. They wanted to be free. Free to go out alone, to travel the bus and to see a boy. Free to go out without a chaperone and free to not be raped. Azaad… Freedom.
They wanted Azaad to go out and work. They didn’t want to be told that they shouldn’t go out but have to because of the “cruel and evil world”. That in the past when women did not get raped in this ideal paradise of the past. That western imperialism brought “rape” to India. They didn’t want to hear about the wrong clothes, the wrong food and the wrong women.
And the backlash just got them angry. The backlash simply focussed the anger.
Rapes were on the increase due to women being out. Because women stopped being traditional. Because of Chow Mein. Because of Jeans. Because of Coke. Because of Western TV (I pointed out that the Indian Movie encourages the sexual harassment of women more than Western TV). Because of Women Being Outside. Because of Women Being Inside. Because they were “dented and painted”.
And these were not small and minor people saying these things. These were men and women at the highest echelons of power.
For the first time in India we saw a universal drive to question the old patriarchy. A demand for freedom and equality that united both genders and people from every social and economic classes. People who thought that the old way isn’t the only Indian way.
So what’s changed?
The protests died down but the anger and fury got hammered in the heat of the riots into something useful. Drive.
The protests created the networks needed to fight injustice.
There is a greater willingness to listen to the progressives.
There is a greater drive by the media to give voices to women.
There is a greater drive to give justice to the women of rape.
There is a greater public move to fight sexism and harassment of women.
There is progress. And that’s good.