The Delhi rape
As I travel the length and breadth of India, the reverberations from the Delhi gang rape are more than manifest. The country's opinion makers, prodded by determined demonstrators and clever pressure groups, are expressing genuine outrage at the gang rape. It is clearly a seminal moment as Port Arthur was in Oz.
The media, both traditional and social are on fire. It was a tweet of an arrested demonstrator from a police van that galvanised the demonstrators. The television burns with fierce debates with didactic moderators eschewing the appearance of impartiality. The studio moderators acclaim the young demonstrators and berate the politicians about the lack of safety for Indian women.
The act itself was vile. A young couple was set upon on a Delhi bus. It appears that the woman, a physiotherapy student, was so appalling raped and beaten that she died. Her male friend survived the attack. They both fought back and the murdered woman now is acclaimed as "India's Brave Heart".
In one sense, it is surprising that this case has become a cause célèbre. This is a country where periodic violence unimaginable in Australia occurs. Thousand of Sikhs died after a Sikh bodyguard assassinated Indira Ghandi. Thousands of Muslims were killed after some of their community seized and burned a train with loss of life. The birth pangs of the country in 1947 involved the mass murder and the forced relocation of millions. It is not a place where violence is unknown. Delhi is infamous for the violence against women. I do not know the country well enough to explain why this act of all others has been the catalyst for change. But it has. The world knows and is appalled by the Delhi gang rape and the country is reacting accordingly.
It was not initially thus. I spoke to people (well men in Rajasthan) who were disdainful of "the fuss over nothing in Delhi". Early in the demonstration process, the country seemed more concerned with the heart attack suffered by a senior police officer at the picket line than the issue itself. But when a state governor urged girls to wear more modest clothing he was howled down. This was the moment when the momentum of the debate transformed. There now appears to be a widespread acknowledgement that things must change.
One issue is the sense of futility victims of sexual assault have when taking complaints to the police. So there are now urgent classes for the police in sensitisation to sexual assault. Our observation has been that there are virtually no woman police officers in public positions. Rather than run classes, I would humbly suggest that they employ more woman police officers and deploy them more publicly. This is a nation where the law requires 33 per cent of parliamentarians to be women. It is in this sense, more advanced than Australia. This public profile of women police has been beneficial to Australian policing and would assist in India.
The other reaction has been the lynch mob. The newspapers are full of blood curdling cries for hanging, chemical castration and other acts of vengeance. The most sober voice in the debate, the Womens' Commission rejects this. They are calling for certain, not extreme, punishment.
One final point is the question about the motives of the alleged perpetrators. Why? Some of the suspects have been identified as coming from a slum. What role did poverty play? Crime is more often linked to deprivation, mental illness and other social factors as much as punishment. Clearly the accused thought that they could escape punishment from the Indian police force. A notorious son of a politician is currently on the run after police, allegedly, let him slip away after a rape prosecution. But clearly there are some other more profound issues here which need to be teased out after the furore has abated.
This blog, "Godless Gross" is almost always concerned with issues of change. How do we move on from ancient beliefs, customs or behaviour that jar with modern attitudes? In India, a noisy and necessary self-examination is now taking place.