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New assertiveness

Print edition : Sep 07, 2012 T+T-
Members of the All India Mahila Samskritik Sanghatan (AIMSS) protest against the molestation of a girl in public in Guwahati and demand that the government implement laws to protect women, in Bangalore in July.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Members of the All India Mahila Samskritik Sanghatan (AIMSS) protest against the molestation of a girl in public in Guwahati and demand that the government implement laws to protect women, in Bangalore in July.-K. MURALI KUMAR

Women are demanding their place in the sun and usually getting it, but there are also packs of louts who see them as easy prey, so clashes are inevitable.

In recent weeks, in fact in recent months, and, if one were to step back a little more, in the last few years, atrocities against women, especially if not exclusively against young women, has increased, perhaps more in the northern States of the country than elsewhere. They have been assaulted, sexually and otherwise, tortured and murdered. Some have been kept imprisoned for months on end, others sexually assaulted repeatedly by more than one man.

While a number of these cases have been reported to the police, many have not been for fear of repercussions, of social ostracism and other factors. In other instances the police themselves have not registered cases because their reports may look less impressive and they may be required do extra work (go and look for the accused, apprehend him if possible, bring him back, start a case, write up the investigation, get the medical reports required and other tiresome details) or because the accused is influential.

One has only to look at the way the police have handled the case registered after the suicide of Geetika Sharma, a former employee of MDLR, a defunct airline owned by Gopal Kanda, a Member of the Haryana Legislative Assembly. The girl named Gopal Kanda in her suicide note as one of the two persons responsible for her suicide. The other person, a woman called Aruna Chadha, has been arrested. But Kanda, who was until recently a Minister in the government run by Bhupendra Singh Hooda, has not yet been touched. He has given a number of television interviews, and the channels knew where he was, but the police claimed they could not trace him.

One is not judging him before he is tried; but surely in such cases those accused directly by the suicide victim should be questioned, if nothing else, to determine the actual facts? The Delhi Police, in whose jurisdiction the suicide took place, claimed that they could not find him, and the less said about the Haryana Police the better. There has, at around the same time, been a report of a young woman being gang-raped by some nine men in Faridabad, Haryana, bordering Delhi. She apparently knew one of the men. He, according to media reports, called her up late at night and asked her to intercede and resolve a quarrel between him and his girlfriend, who was a friend of the victim.

A few days later the media reported the murder of Pallavi Purkayastha, a legal adviser to a leading film production company, apparently by the security guard of the apartment block where she and her boyfriend lived. According to media reports, the security guard switched off the power to the flat, forcing her to go down to ask him to call the electrician. When he came up with the electrician, he seems to have removed the house keys that the victim may have left on a table or somewhere. Then he came back, let himself in and tried to assault her; when she resisted, he slit her throat.

Some years ago, there were two terrible cases in Delhi. Soumya Vishwanathan, 21, was shot dead as she was driving home late from the television station where she worked. Jigisha Ghosh, a manager with an Information Technology (IT) office, was kidnapped as she got out of her car when she returned from work late at night and murdered.

These are some of the shocking, tragic cases that were reported. There have been others, many others, as terrible and as tragic. And apart from those, thousands of instances of louts, who always move in groups making obscene remarks at girls, openly, in public places. One horrifying account by one such lout given to the police was that he and his fellow louts got together and drank, and then felt they should get a woman. So they cruised the streets until they found a young woman returning from work, or coming out of a restaurant or pub, and then forcibly picked her up and gang-raped her, after which they threw her out of their car.

Disgusting though these are as examples of young men whose births are greeted with much celebration, the point of this article is slightly different. It is what one has, as an old man, witnessed with admiration over the last few years the emergence of young women as educated, employed individuals who are not afraid to take their rightful place in society as equals to men and women their age. It is not that there have not been young women who have been pilots, even commanders, of jet aircraft operated by different airlines in the country; or in managerial positions in banks and IT companies and in media companies. But there is a difference between those who were there and still are a generation ago, and those getting to such positions now. The difference is that members of the earlier generation did their jobs and kept a low profile, hurrying home to a husband and children, or to elderly parents. The present and emerging generations are more assertive, demanding their place in the sun, and usually getting it. They are in the thick of several agitations and protests, playing leading roles, and they refuse to conform to the stereotype of the young, accomplished woman eventually settling down, that is, getting married, having children and becoming both home-makers and working women.

One can see more and more young women leading more active social lives, as their male friends do; more and more having live-in relationships, of which one lot were, until recently, rather secretive but others today are not. Young women go to bars and nightclubs as men do, except that they are, from what one hears, always part of a group or with a male friend. They do go home alone, but not too late, and, as one young financial executive told me, she locks the doors of her car which she drives herself and does not pay too much attention to traffic rules. I have to survive, she said, meaning, of course, the Delhi traffic, but I think she also meant it in a slightly wider sense.

There are also packs of louts who have emerged, chiefly in the new metropolitan cities. They have money to spend their families having sold land for the rapidly growing apartment complexes have little education and no need to work. When they see young women whom they consider easy prey they think nothing of trying to molest them if they are not with a group, and if they are the end result is often a vicious brawl, with the police treating it as such and not bothering to establish who the louts were and dealing with them.

Some brave womens groups have now been formed to combat such attempts to dominate, which is finally what it is about, as is the brutal killing of young women who have dared to love someone outside their caste or community and which the media, with their usual distortion of English, call honour killings. Until we stop being content with expressing outrage and indignation we will remain a sick, diseased society. There will be stronger, more assertive young women, but also more troll-like, barely educated young men. And there will inevitably be clashes, in which the young women will pay a heavy price.

The solution is in the hands of the young and the not so young. Perhaps solution is not the right word; there cannot be one really, but what there can be is enough mutually expressed anger through the media and protests that frighten our usually complaisant, morally malleable political class to take some concerted action.