Last year, I was on night duty in the obstetrics& gynaecology department of a hospital and towards the early hours of morning, when all the babies that were supposed to be born sometime in the night were born and lying snugly against their mothers, and the doctors were enjoying a rare moment of calm, a young girl of fifteen and an EMT wheeled in a girl who was completely drenched in blood from her waist down.
She worked in a call center. A cab dropped her at the gate of her house every night. That morning she had told the driver that he needn't take the trouble to turn into the her lane, he can drop her there, which was just a minute away from her home. Hers was the second house to the right. I keep repeating this sentence in my mind. How many times I had said it myself. It's okay, I can walk from here. It's okay, you can drop me here. But that night sixty seconds away from her home someone gagged her, pulled her into the bushes and raped her. When she didn't reach home at her usual time and her phone turned unreachable, her younger sister called the cab. When the cab driver replied that he had dropped her half an hour ago, she called her neighbour and they went out into the street, already fearing the worst. They found her unconscious and bloodied right in the middle of the road.
I saw her injuries. Her vagina didn't stop spurting blood. Her blood pressure was barely measurable. I had witnessed so many emergency medical scenarios at the hospital. But this stumped me. I was too shocked to react. If this can happen a few metres away from your home, where can you be safe anymore? She had an emergency surgery to arrest the bleeding. She regained consciousness later that morning. She didn't emote. She didn't even cry. Her parents arrived later that day. The police came in for questioning. The matter was hushed up at the family's insistence, who will marry their daughters! It never made it to the papers.
Nor did the case of the seven year old girl who was raped while she playing near the brick kiln where her mother worked. Professional ethics and humane responsibility don't allow us to discuss about the rape victims even among ourselves, so as not to threaten revealing their identity and ordeal to the public. So we quietly watched as they got discharged after a week or two. I have no idea whether the criminals got caught and convicted. What shocked me is that the staggering number of rape cases that are reported is just the tip of the iceberg, so many go unreported and hushed up due to a collective shame of the victim's family. That realization was hard.
I did it too, when I was molested in broad daylight in a shared auto while coming home from my college. I didn't go to the police, I went to the psychiatrist. The psychiatrist nervously laughed, "so the lesson is never to get into a shared auto. Think about the bright side, you weren't raped". I didn't know how to react to what was being said to me. It's been four years now and I am in a position where I can talk about it with some detachment and without any suffocating and nauseating disgust. I no longer re-create the various scenarios I could have come home that day without getting into that auto, I wasn't in hurry whatsoever. The only remnant is an intense fear for letting my sisters roam around in this world.
A few months earlier of what happened to me, a friend of mine was stopped on that same lonely stretch of road on the way to our college by a man, who took out his penis and ejaculated on her dupatta. When he heard a car approaching, he escaped into the surrounding forest. The police was informed. They came three days later, and searched the forest for a 'supposedly' madman (because in this ideal world only a madman holds up a young girl and shows her his penis? Ya, right; keep telling yourself that!) and didn't find anyone.
When a Manipuri girl was raped a few years ago, near DU (or was it JNU), even my cousin and his father had raised questions about her character and then at her carelessness instead of anger at the heinous crime of which she was the victim. And I am ashamed to admit that I had nodded in affirmation then.
I don't know why I'm telling you this. I don't know what is the solution to all these. It's just that fast track courts and death penalty are only solutions for the aftermath. How to prevent it? It's our mindset, our upbringing, our thoughts, our perceptions that needs changing. While growing up, I was told of the bad things a man can do to a woman; and it was passively accepted that if I will ever be careless enough not to abide by certain precautions, I will have brought upon myself the consequences of whatever might happen to me. I walk alone at night in skimpy clothes, obviously a man will rape me! That is what we are warned about at home and at schools and colleges.
No one warns the men. What about teaching them to respect women? I was aghast recently when I heard from my thirteen-year old cousin that the new girl in their class had taken a mid-term transfer to their school, because she was raped by her boyfriend in her previous school! I don't how much of it is the over-active imagination of hormone-ridden teenagers, and how much of it is the truth; I am afraid to probe. I did ask my cousin how and what did he know about the word 'rape'? He sniggered as if it was a joke. They don't even understand the ugliness of the word. And if they aren't taught about it at this stage, they will be the one leching at women in a few years.
It's all very distressing when you think about where to start, even the attempts seem so futile. But small changes at home and school, if each parent/teacher made genuine efforts to inculcate a mutual respect among the genders, without any discrimination, without any one feeling that they are powerful enough to do whatever they want with the other, maybe things will change few generations from now. But as of now, it all looks very glum.