Sociologists are often ridiculed for being unnecessarily interested in questions about social cohesion.
‘What set of factors makes a collectivity, tick?’
I am not a certified sociologist.
But I did spend a considerable chunk of my valuable 20s engaged at least formally in its study.
THE DREAM OF BELONGING
And I find I am struggling to apply what I had heard, picked up, learnt during those years, especially the time I spent under the rough and brilliant tutelage of an exceptionally insightful, original and charismatic professor, to the horrific gang-rape that has sparked a genuine mass movement in Delhi and beyond.
One of the first things that comes to my mind, when considering the brutal episode is how unconcerned and unthoughtful most of us are about the larger collectivity we are part of.
As so many journalists rightly say, most of us, (by which I mean the privileged, English-speaking, income earning, middle class) live and flourish by making it an effortless habit to curtain off our lives and routines from the ‘general public’ because we can afford to and because it does, most times, keep us ‘safer’ than we’d be, if jostling with the aam aadmi.
I mean who would I be kidding if I say walking out and getting on to a regular bus to go even a few stops from home is a truly pleasurable experience?!
And yet, I do think there is a subtle shift in the power game on the streets from the time I was a college student and used to ‘rough it out’ on the infamous mudrikas that ply Delhi’s Ring Road.
I remember even the bravest amongst us would just choose to not pick a fight when it came to jeers or leers or ugly pokes and innuendos from the numerous louts travelling on the buses.
I remember travelling usually in packs.
I remember just knowing that it was probably in my best interest to not be on my own, or as I thought to myself, ‘unnecessarily daring’ when darkness fell.
Now, when I see college students waiting to board a bus or for that matter a metro train, I see a confidence and courage that I think my college mates and I lacked.
I see it in my 21-year-old niece who travels mostly on her own, on public transport, to a prestigious school for Mass Communications.
They, like the young girl who died after an incredibly spirited fight against her attackers/rapists, do not subscribe to the gentle admonitions of their doting mothers, or aunts for that matter!
THE NEW FEARLESS
Empowered by a radically more connected world, awareness of their rightful place as equals in this society, and their very youth, they stride out fearlessly and demand to be treated with respect; fight back, even if mainly verbally, to any and every kind of abuse or harassment and are ready to demand fearlessly their right to travel, study, work and live in freedom and dignity.
And yet, entire swathes of the city are still home to women far from empowered, too often poorly educated and often ‘illiterate’; bound to debts in the village they had to leave behind or flee; bound to their men, family, children; slaving away in our homes to just make it through; dutifully tolerating drunken, abusive, disloyal husbands, who view them as their slaves, and who, in their women’s seeming submission, continue to think that the world outside is just an extension of their homes.
Ram Singh, the main accused in the gang-rape is said to have confessed that they were out on a ‘joy-ride’, hoping to ‘catch’ some sex workers, failing which any woman sighted on the roads would ‘do’.
A ‘REVEALING’ ADVERTISEMENT
There is an advertisement for an online clothing and shopping company called Myntra which comes often enough on television.
A few weeks ago, when i saw it for the first time, I thought to myself the girl who features in it does seem rather cheeky and yet pleasantly or at least entertainingly so.
Now, when I think of it, I am quite sure what Ram Singh would think.
Which is not to say that everything needs to be made keeping his demented, misogynist perspective in mind but that you can be sure, that if he were to watch it, he wouldn’t get anything about the video being a kind of victory for freedom of expression, not to mention an individual’s right to sensuality.
The problem I think is that a nuanced discussion of individual right to freedom of expression doesn’t make much sense to an incompetent, troubled, anti-social lout. (Sorry, that’s become my pet word for this post.)
What does, is possibly therapy, community involvement, skill upgradation, family counseling and a whole host of other compassionate, inclusive and reforming actions.
But who can do this?
For unless, there is greater engagement and awareness of our reality as a collectivity, such brutal instances are not going to stop. It’s a long, hard way ahead but I think the protests and the collective rage mark a promising beginning.