Opinion and Editorial

What the brutal murder of Priyanka Reddy is telling us

Anamika Chatterjee (Top Post)
Filed on December 2, 2019 | Last updated on December 2, 2019 at 09.13 pm

Where do Indian women stand in the age of #MeToo?

Of all the cold December months that the Indian capital of New Delhi has experienced, the one in 2012 sent the most piercing chill down our spines. An aspiring physiotherapist, Jyoti Singh, was poised for a promising future. one that was denied to her on the evening of December 16 seven years ago. In your book and mine, it would be an ordinary evening out with a friend. For Jyoti, it was one of the last. After watching Ang Lee's Life of Pi at a theatre she and Awindra Pratap Pandey were headed home. They boarded a bus after being told it was headed to their destination. Upon entering, something didn't seem right. The bus had six men, including the driver, and was taking a different route altogether. A fierce argument ensued. Awindra was beaten unconscious, while Jyoti was raped with a rod being inserted in her body that practically dragged her intestines out. Their brutalised bodies were thrown out of the bus. Awindra survived to live with the horror of that night, Jyoti succumbed to her injuries.

The incident stirred something in India. Mass protests and candlelight vigils led to the rewriting of the definition of rape to include a range of atrocities committed against women. The Indian government also created a fund that would aid organisations working for women's safety and empowerment. On the ground, however, the seeds of fear were sown. I had been working for a news magazine in Delhi at the time, and my routine involved reaching home at odd hours. In a workplace where one competes with male colleagues in terms of quality and quantity of work, shortening the number of hours didn't seem fair. To tackle my innate fears, I began to keep a pepper spray (in Delhi, it's fairly common for young girls using public transport to carry them) and put the Delhi Police number on speed dial. We might've anointed Jyoti as 'the fearless one', but none of us wanted to be Nirbhaya. After all, in an ideal world no one should have to be Nirbhaya.
Seven years later, we are still frightfully far from becoming that society. The gut-wrenching cases are on the rise with anger and conscience-keeping being channelled largely through an odd tweet or a Facebook post. A trending hashtag, however, cannot change realities. If it did, there wouldn't be a Kathua, an Unnao, a Ranchi, or the recent Hyderabad rape case. We owe something more to these 8-, 17-, 25- and 27-year-old victims than hashtags. We owe them justice.
Last week, the violent rape and murder of Hyderabad vet Priyanka Reddy sent shockwaves across India. As similarities are being drawn between this case and the one in Ranchi and the Nirbhaya case, the ugly truth staring at us is that the nature of the crime itself is getting more gruesome. The list of these cases in India since 2012 is embarrassingly long and now we have a charred body of Priyanka Reddy holding a mirror to our collective conscience.
The state fails to inspire faith when it does not make an example of the perpetrator. When one of its own remarks that the victim could have been saved had she called the cops instead of her sister, as though a template ought to be followed when one is fearing for her life. Or when a solitary protester is put behind bars for demanding accountability. Or when a communal hue is given to the crime because one of the several alleged rapists belongs to another community. What does it do for the victim at the centre of the crime? It makes her incidental to the crime, making her another name in a long list of victims. This is how the system outrages her modesty after she has already been violated.

So, where does the Indian woman stand in the age of #MeToo and Beti Bachaao Beti Padhaao (Protect daughters, educate daughters) - one, a movement largely spotlighting the gender divide in the urban Indian workplace, the other being a campaign to promote rural women's welfare? The answer lies in another question ­- where does the Indian man stand today? What is his understanding of a woman? Where is his education on consent, intimacy, or coercion? In the absence of this awareness, a woman's body remains a site of voyeuristic pleasure for him, and the onus of protecting it from the male gaze is on the woman. Which is why if she is sitting with a friend on the roadside, something is being seen amiss or if she calls her sister instead of a cop, she is seen as being careless. What is often edited out of these perspectives is the utter lack of confidence many Indian women have on institutions that are meant to protect them. While the number of rape cases are on the rise, the conviction rates are low. Add to that the fear of how society will view the crime through its patriarchal lens, inadvertently blaming women for their own violation.

Bone-chilling cases like the Hyderabad vet rape further strengthen the shackles that many women try to break away from. At a time when they are striving for gender equality in all spheres of life, socially, it puts caveats on basic freedoms such as when they should return home, how they should tackle male gaze and what they should wear to avoid unwarranted attention. Our world becomes smaller, while nothing really changes for men. Who was it who said that it's a man's world? Would do him well to look at it from a woman's eyes.

- anamika@khaleejtimes.com

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