She was a bright, determined, hard-working girl from a poor family. She persuaded her father to sell his only plot of land to pay for her dream to become a doctor. She promised him he would never have to work again as a labourer once her ambition was fulfilled. She worked nights in a call centre to help pay her way.
That girl is now dead, killed in the most horrific way imaginable. I refer to the victim of the heinous Delhi bus gang-rape, whose death has convulsed India and appalled the world at large.
I will not go into the details of the attack – they are almost too gruesome to contemplate. The only good thing about this girl’s death is that it has exposed, for the first time, the rot that lies at the heart of India’s treatment of women.
This has come out in a number of ways. First, in the alarming rate of fresh rape and murder cases now hitting the headlines. This is not because India’s men have suddenly gone mad with crazed lust; it is simply that the Delhi case has given new courage to women and their families to report their own incidents; and generated fresh zeal in the media to report them.
Second, we are all able to listen in disbelief as senior Indian males articulate their feelings on the case. There was the “guru” who suggested the girl was to blame for the ferocity of the attack because she resisted it and fought back rather than seeking mercy; there was the senior politician who referred to “painted-dented” women who invite attacks; and let’s not leave out the suspected assailants’ lawyer, who suggested that “respected” women are not raped.
Add to this the many voices that advocated that women should wear traditional clothes and overcoats; that they should not be allowed to use mobile phones; or that western lifestyles and junk food are to blame for this malaise.
After listening to such idiotic, primitive and offensive bile, it is all I can do to stop myself from throwing up.
There’s more. It was also revealed that 68% of Indian judges surveyed a decade ago believed that “provocative attire was an invitation to rape” and 55% felt that the “moral character of the victim” was relevant. Those are judges, please note, not illiterate drunkards. But they might as well be.
These men are not alone in such attitudes, and this is not India’s problem alone. Those thoughts, whether expressed in public or not, would resonate with reactionary males everywhere. But here’s the thing: these viewpoints have no intellectual basis, and no moral standing either. They are simply backward. They come from the male desire to dominate and control women and keep them obedient at all times. That is all.
Every society that tolerates such retrograde sentiments keeps itself underdeveloped. The freeing of women to make their own choices and to enter the workforce as equals is not a ‘western’ concept; it is simply an enlightened one that every society has to embrace if it wishes to develop. Look around you: the societies that most oppress their women are also the ones languishing in medieval attitudes and zero competitive advantage.
Who does India need more: the young, educated, industrious woman who was murdered; or the perpetually drunk idlers and hate-filled beasts who committed this crime? Who will help any country more: senile old men giving out moronic decrees on how women should behave and dress; or educators and entrepreneurs who allow women full and fulfilling involvement in the economy and in decision-making?
The time for this nonsense is gone, and it must go for all of us. For me, the best placard of 2012 was carried by India’s women: “Don’t stop your daughter from going out. Teach your son how to behave.” Let us light a candle for that brave Delhi girl, and hope it shows us all the way out of this darkness.