Good intentions and cheap thrills will not change the ground reality.
3 weeks ago, a 23 year old girl was gang raped by 6 men and she died on 29th December 2012. A lot has been written about the rape, protests, reactions and a lot more will be written. So here are my views on some other incidents during these 3 weeks and how they might have cost us an opportunity to change the status quo.
First, there was Abhijeet Mukherjee (Congress MP and President Pranab Mukherjee's son) with his "painted and dented" remark. Then one Kailash Vijayvargiya wanted women to not cross the "Laxman Rekha". A Congress leader, Botsa Satyanarayana, advised women to not step out during late hours. Short skirts were blamed. Some Honey Singh got his concert cancelled because his songs insulted women. Mohan Bhagwat (the RSS Sarsangchalak) thought such incidents did not occur in Bharat, but only in India. Yesterday, it was Asaram Bapu who thought the girl was partially to blame.
Women's rights organizations got into the act. courageous, angry women who had faced the brunt of male aggression, groping, sexual abuse, escalated the brutal incident of 16th December to the larger issue of violence against women. The topics of marital rape and sexual abuse in families got effortlessly weaved in to this narrative and were debated vigorously. Free speech advocates jumped in defending Honey Singh's rights. Every noble cause seemed to have found fresh legs and each one of these out of touch, old-fashioned, narrow-minded jokers were ridiculed, mocked, shamed until their comments were "withdrawn" or apologies given, or clarified by spokespersons and apologists.
It was all happening. We were frustrated by the Government's (lack of) response, ineptness of the police; angry with a system that could not prevent this horror, a society that does not respect women; saddened and hurt by the rape and our own helplessness. There were protests on streets, fire fuelled by relentless media coverage, helped along by Facebook shares and tweets. A nation was waking up. Or was it?
I ask this because I don't see an awakening, but only collective stupidity. Each one of these incidents, our excessive attention to them, the joy over a TV anchor making a politician squirm or extracting an apology, our obsessing over ridiculous comments, were a distraction. Those who pushed forward other important issues about women's rights, sexual abuse and attitudes in society, added to the noise despite all their good intentions. While it looked like there was progress being made, we drowned the original issue - of rape, punishment, deterrence/prevention, of police sensitivity to such crimes and accountability of law enforcement officials - in a sea of larger agendas and nonsensical utterances. We tried to win wars that have been fought for centuries and would take a few more decades, even before we had won the first battle.
Wars are won one battle at a time, not by overreaching and getting desperate but by hammering away at weaknesses until the walls are breached. Issues can co-exist and battles can be fought on more than one front at a time, but it requires focus and the rate at which we get distracted makes it impossible for us to win. The next time we lose a battle, it won't be because the system is too strong to be defeated, but because we can't stick to one issue long enough to see it through.
3 weeks later, these distractions dominate the news and the dead girl seems like a distraction.