Could the young veterinarian from Hyderabad—stranded with a punctured two-wheeler on the Gachibowli-Shamshabad stretch of the city—have been safe from the depraved violence she was subjected to had there been more like her on the road? Yes, an overwhelming number of contemporary voices say the answer to the brutalised society we live in is to have more women come out, every hour of the day, to assert their rights over their lives and bodies, over public space.
That if men are the problem, why don’t they get caged at home? And that we need a criminal justice system that is not itself part of the problem. Only that can reduce the danger, almost casually present, of women living in fear, of getting raped, brutalised and charred to death. This represents a maturing of the gender discourse.
However, in this Age of Violence, what’s hitting the headlines is a contrary sentiment: calls for violent retributory justice, for public lynching even. We hear this from a forum no less than the Upper House of Parliament. This is the language of war. To understand it, we must go to its roots. In some ways, the scenario does resemble a war.
After the Nirbhaya protests, the law had got more stringent, but to little avail. The incidents never ceased: Kathua, Muzaffarnagar, Unnao, Walayar ... we have an ominously lengthening list. Girls and women, of all ages, have been raped. Violence against women has increased—70 rapes are reported every day across the country.
Rape as a tool of social oppression always existed in feudal India. But what we are witnessing is a kind of collapse of social order, a distortion of human relations. Predatory behaviour is not an individual trait. It breeds in a system that sanctifies and promotes inequitable relations. It is Hastinapur that must change if all Indian women are not to be converted into Draupadis.