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Nirbhaya, when did we forget that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world?

Nirbhaya, when did we forget that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world?

It is amazing how one’s memory gets jogged by incidents that appear to be unrelated on the surface but have some connection in the sub-conscious mind. One such incident relates to December 16th, 2012, an incident that shook the conscience of Indians to the core – Nirbhaya’s case.

Many years ago, when I was still a part of the corporate world, the company where I worked was instructed by the global executive office to increase the representation of women in the higher echelons of management.  To inspire lady professionals to become ambitious and aim for higher positions, a special dinner party was held to facilitate a delegation of lady partners from the USA office. They shared stories of how they overcame hurdles and barriers and rose to the top. Apart from one of the speakers the rest had hard time stories to share. I noticed a common theme, each time, there was a man who believed in their potential and treated them as an equal rather than as a female. It was not so much a story of their potential but the role that the mindset of their male mentor.

Now I had a disturbing morning that day when our domestic help came to work in a battered state.  I wanted to take her to the police to lodge a complaint against her husband. She refused saying that a violent husband was better than no husband as she would become fair game to the goon element in her locality. There was some talk about social stigma and I left for work very disturbed about her husband’s mindset and the woman’s own reluctance to seek assistance.

So when the Q & A time came around, I could not help myself and pointed out that the ladies in the room came from privileged backgrounds and could afford the luxury of talking about potential and achieving The Dream.  I agreed that women needed to achieve their potential, but asked why this dream depended upon the male mindset?

I pointed out that in  India,  for many, women’s rights was still an issue of Fundamental Human Rights, not just the rights of a group of ladies sitting in a 5 star hotel drinking wine and discussing how to break a glass ceiling. That attitudes towards women had to change, even in developed countries and then quoted some statistics (yes, I do read the papers!)

The male mindset needed to change. They needed to accept that it is a woman who carries them for 9 months and goes through labor to bring them into the world and then holds their hand through the early part of their formative years.  The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. The collective consciousness has to accept that women have every right to go out and work and fulfill their potential both within the home and in the workplace.

Needless to say, there was a deathly silence. I had spoken my truth and much later, one of the partners and a few other colleagues came up to say that they agreed with me but did not dare to acknowledge my truth to preserve their potential, they had not thought of it as a Human Rights issue. I am confident they would now be thinking of what I had said in a different light.

So what does the memory of a lavish party of corporate women have to do with December 16th, 2012?

Well, I realized, to my horror, that a young lady professional on the threshold of a career could be gang-raped and submitted to atrocities in a moving bus which passed through police check posts but was not stopped. Despite complaints of a theft by a previous passenger in that bus just a short while before the incident that rocked the collective conscience of a nation.

Some men wanted to celebrate a birthday and she became fair game because she resisted. She had gone to see an early evening movie show with a male friend. Her dress was NOT provocative by Indian standards.  Her male companion had his legs broken, she had her intestines, uterus and other parts pulled out and they were left for dead on the road. Did she ‘ask’ for it? The provocation was that she bit one of her assailants in self-defense and she had to be taught a “lesson”.

The young lady died 13 days later in Singapore where the government had flown her for an organ transplant. She came to be known as Nirbhaya (The Fearless One).  Many things happened in the aftermath of her brutal rape.

Not all men are animals, not all men need to change their mindset. The population – young and old, male and female took to the streets in protest. They faced water cannons, police lathi charges and courted arrest. They demonstrated outrage on behalf of a young girl whose name was not known, who had no face. Their voice was heard in Parliament. The protests were not just held in Delhi, but nationwide and in many other countries, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and France.

The inmates in Tihar Jail beat up the adult perpetrators. Imagine how strong the outrage was! One of the accused allegedly committed suicide in March this year, another was classified a juvenile. The recent judgment in the case found all of them guilty. The rarest of the rare cases, death by hanging was the sentence for the adults – the juvenile got the maximum imprisonment and will be free to walk the streets in a year or so.

The story of Nirbhaya is one where a father dreamed that his daughter was entitled to a good education.  He encouraged her in her quest for financial freedom and an identity of her own. Coming from a small village in the Ballia district in Uttar Pradesh, he works as a loader for a private company at the airport. He sold his agricultural land to finance her education. Nirbhaya, a physiotherapy intern, supported her education by giving tuitions.  No doubt there was no mindset issue here.

Her friend, a software engineer, testified in court. He wanted justice for his friend. There was no mindset issue here.

The people of India who raised their voices and came out onto the streets were of both genders. There was no mindset issue here. We all felt the pain; we were all outraged that such a heinous crime could take place in a civilized society.

Some good, if any did come out of this tragedy.

Help lines were established for women, which were clogged within minutes of the numbers becoming effective. Rape cases will be heard in fast track courts. Important laws were amended.

A Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013  came into force from 3 April 2013 amended and included new sections to  the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012.

This new Act expressly recognized certain acts as offences which were dealt under related laws. These new offences included acid attack, sexual harassment, voyeurism, stalking now incorporated into the Indian Penal Code.

The most important change that has been made is the change in definition of rape under The Indian Penal Code. The word rape has been replaced with sexual assault in Section 375, and has added penetrations other than penile penetration an offence. The section has also clarified that penetration means “penetration to any extent”, and lack of physical resistance is immaterial for constituting an offence. Except in certain aggravated situation the punishment will be imprisonment not less than seven years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine. In aggravated situations, punishment will be rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than ten years but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.

A new section, 376A has been added which states that if a person committing the offence of sexual assault, “inflicts an injury which causes the death of the person or causes the person to be in a persistent vegetative state, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than twenty years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life, which shall mean the remainder of that person’s natural life, or with death.”

In case of “gang rape “, persons involved regardless of their gender shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than twenty years, but which may extend to life and shall pay compensation to the victim that shall be reasonable to meet the medical expenses and rehabilitation of the victim. The age of consent in India has been increased to 18 years, which means any sexual activity irrespective of presence of consent with a woman below the age of 18 will constitute statutory rape.

Certain changes has been introduced in the CrPC and Evidence Act, like the recording of statement of the victim, more friendly and easy, character of the victim is irrelevant, presumption of no consent where sexual intercourse is proved and the victim states in the court that there has been no consent, etc.

Yet it leaves some unanswered questions in our minds. For starters, did it really need the sacrifice of Nirbhaya when there have been other brutal cases like the Shanbagh case where the victim continues to be in a vegetative state and cannot receive euthanasia or mercy killing because it is not allowed under the laws of the country?

There were celebrations when the death sentence was announced. Yet one witnessed a defense lawyer speak in derogatory terms about women. Was he suffering from the Stockholm syndrome or what? He seemed to condone the conduct of his clients. Je protest!

While the law has been amended, it can only do justice to Nirbhaya and the unknown Nirbhayas’ if it is implemented and executed effectively. This is not a case of silencing the lambs by saving one lamb.

It makes me wonder; will executing the criminals bring back Nirbhaya or make a dent in India’s rape crisis? Would making the death penalty in rape cases make it safer for women in India? One of the perpetrators of the diabolical crime, and indeed the one who was most brutal was the juvenile who will walk free in less than 2 years. Interestingly, in another recent case involving a journalist, 2 of the perpetrators have claimed to be juveniles. So should we make amendments to the juvenile law and treat them as adults in gang rape cases? How many more perpetrators will declare themselves juveniles and escape hard punishment with a maximum sentence of 3 years?

In a recent news report that I read, last year, there were 24,923 cases of rape reported in India, according to the government’s official statistics. But the actual figure is believed to be far higher with experts saying women are reluctant to file complaints for fear of social stigma in the socially conservative nation. Such was the case of our domestic help.

In the same report, Kavita Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women’s Association is quoted as saying that the punishment would hardly go to serve as a deterrent. She points out that in the same court; there were acquittals in 20 out of 23 rape cases. Potential rapists can see how remote their chances of conviction are, leave alone the punishment.

So where does that leave us?

The death penalty is, I feel, still appropriate for the rarest of rare cases but there are deeper issues to be dealt with, and not reduce the law to an eye for an eye scenario. Instead of retributive punishment, we need to take constructive steps into the future.

Perhaps the need of the hour is to stop rape and that means undertaking an extensive public education campaign to change the mindsets of those who still do not respect the basic human rights of a woman – to have dignity of self and person. We need to educate mothers that their girl child has the right to live with dignity; to remind them that a rape victim is a woman, so is a mother, a wife, a daughter or a sister. Only then will they instill respect for women in their sons during their formative years. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.

We need to stop acting like ostriches that keep their head in the sand and instead accept and tackle deep-rooted social problems. The girl child should be given her right to existence. In one State, the government of that State has a scheme which encourages parents to keep the girl child and educate her with incentives. It has made an impact in female infanticide rate for that State. Likewise, we need to bring about institutional reforms that change the mindset of those people who can attack other Nirbhayas and think it is their right as men.

We need to imbibe the mindset of Raja Ram Mohan Roy to uplift women and embed institutional reforms.

That first step was taken by the Indian people in the wake of the Nirbhaya case. Now is the time to follow up and bring about the required reforms so that we do not have to take to the streets again to get justice for another faceless Nirbhaya. Only then will Nirbhaya’s sacrifice not go in vain.

And I ask again, Nirbhaya, when did we forget that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world?

Update: This post was originally written as a contribution for Blog Action Day 2013 and has been updated on 16 December 2015 on the 3rd anniversary of the incident that shook Indian Society to the core. RIP Jyoti ‘Nirbhaya’ Singh.

Update 16 December 2015 – Nirbhaya Case

Following the incident the government set up the Nirbhaya Fund to address violence against women. The Fund is administered by the Department of Economic Affairs of the finance ministry.

One of the accused, Ram Singh committed suicide in his jail cell hours before he was supposed to appear in court while the other perpetrators of the heinous crime were found guilty and have appeals against their death sentence going through the process of the courts. There have been protests to prevent the juvenile who perpetrated the most brutal assault on Nirbhaya that night from being released on December 20, 2015 because he is considered to be beyond rehabilitation. The others have their appeals against death row pending in the higher courts.

India’s Daughter, a documentary film on the subject, directed and produced by Leslee Udwin as part of the BBC’s ongoing Storyville series was scheduled to be broadcast on International Women’s Day in India on NDTV’s 24×7 channel and in the UK on BBC Four.

It was later revealed that the filmmakers had paid and interviewed one of the rapists while he was incarcerated in Tihar Jail where he states in a sotto voce tone that the victim ‘had asked for it (to be raped). There were violation of rules governing access to prisoners ’and the broadcast was blocked by the Indian government via a court order on 4 March 2014.

BBC complied but moved the transmission forward to March 4 and showed it in the UK. The film, which has generated a lot of controversy in India and internationally was also uploaded on You Tube and went viral when the Indian government directed You Tube to block the video in India and You Tube complied.

Of interest:

Deception, Lies Behind Making of India’s Daughter

Blog Action Day 2013 Human Rights

Photo Credit: Hand in Chains by George Hodan

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20 Responses to “Nirbhaya, when did we forget that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world?”

  1. Vanita Hork says:

    Thanks for a great and very moving blog. Until women in India are treated with the respect they deserve, we will never be able to truly call ourselves a civilisation. The rape of Nirbhaya is matter of shame for all Indians, at home and abroad.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank You! The intention was to make the reader stop and think about the deeper issues. Human Rights, in my opinion needs to ensure gender equality. It all starts at the grass root level – the family unit where the child receives his/her early training in respecting human beings as well as animals.

  2. Trish Samson says:

    Ahh, yes. The hand that rocks the cradle.
    This story saddened me beyond sad, horrified me beyond anything I could imagine. I agree, not all men are animals. What is it that causes some to be? Is it sex drive? I don’t think so. I know a man who has a terrible problem with sex drive, yet he would never in a million years do something like this.

    I wonder what causes this transformation from “civilized to animal.” Actually I don’t think a wild animal would do this.

    Is it a need for power? A need to control? I need to express anger or hatred? I can’t say. Is the brain genetically defective or is it background or circumstantial? Perhaps all of these things are at play in one way or the other.

    Why would a group of people behave this way. Individually any of these things can be pointed to perhaps. But a group? This opens a whole other discussion. Our societies need help as well as laws. There are doctors that specialize in this area and they need to be heard and active.

    If anyone reading this has the idea how we can bring these doctors into the mainstream and finance/support a plan/program to get to the root of this, I will lend what support I can.

    Warmest regards,
    Trish Samson

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you Trish for raising some very important questions. Bringing in the medical specialists in a timely manner might help to deter deviant behavior. Until the social stigma attached to having mental problems is removed, such behavior will go unheeded and then explode in a Nirbhaya incident. We were all horrified that such atrocities could happen at 8 pm at night. It cut through our understanding of society with a sharp jagged knife – to say the least.

  3. The story you relate is among the worst of continued atrocities towards any who are attacked because of the presumption the victim is worth less than the perpetrator. Throughout history all sorts of groups of humans have declared some other group to be not quite as human as they – the native American deemed a heathen, the African inhabitant turned American slave, Jews and homosexuals and women the world over. And yet, in the doing of insult, enslavement, theft of dignity, of future, or of life, the perpetrator proves to be less than human 100% of the time.

    Sometimes, the outrage of the act will cause people to demand changes; typically changes in laws that will prevent others from committing future atrocity. It’s rare that people will demand education to change their own thinking, even unconscious beliefs, that, in their own way, continue to create the climate for such sub-human ignorance to turn to insult, shunning, loss of opportunity and even of life.

    As Rogers and Hammerstein wrote in their magnificent play “South Pacfic” ‘you have to be carefully taught’ (and while many think it’s a colorful story of love in an exotic location, it’s the story of racism and ways it manifests among educated Americans).

    Education is the key to change and, ironically, at least in the U.S., school education is under attack as costly and inept. Sadly, it’s often parents leading the charge. Who educated them, one wonders?

    Here’s to an enlightened world where we all benefit at the hands of all the ‘others’ we meet.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you Andrea for raising the importance of education. I understand there have been changes in the curriculum of some schools in India to raise awareness of gender equality following the Nirbhaya incident. It starts with education and institutional reform. Until then, there will be atrocities against weaker sections of society, not just women. Cheers to an enlightened world!

  4. KINDA says:

    J’ai trouvé intéressant votre article malgré sa longueur. Je tiens à vos féliciter pour la qualité des informations qu’on puise. Merci de se mettre à la cause des droits de l’homme!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thank you for dropping by at the blog, Kinda. I understand you write a lot about inequality of man as a journalist! The post was long, admittedly but once I started writing, I did not stop until it was done. A blog post from the heart? 🙂

      Wishing you much success in your active efforts to raise awareness on Human Rights issues!

  5. Tamuria says:

    What a powerful article Vatsala! I remember the case and my horror. Too often people must go through unspeakable pain to help shine the light on problems that need urgent attention. Australia has a shocking record when it comes to women being hurt (2 killed every week) in acts of violence, often by men they know. There is a big move to change the attitudes of both men and women and it can’t come soon enough. The hand that rocks the cradle – it is so important that women help change the mindset when they are teaching their sons how to respect their fellow humans, regardless of sex.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thanks Tamuria. We had candle marches yesterday and even though the incident is 3 years old, we have not forgotten it. The juvenile in question honestly should not be allowed to walk free but then we have to see what the government and the courts of law decide. Changing the mindset of men requires women, especially mothers to inculcate respect for women in their sons.

      There was an interesting public service message a few months ago where a young boy cries at different points of his life and each time he is chided that boys don’t cry. In the final scene there is a very good looking man controlling his emotions and then the camera shifts to a woman, presumably his wife on whom he has raised his hand crying. A celebrity then says that we teach boys not to cry, perhaps we should teach them that boys do not make girls cry.

      We need to work together as a global village to change the mindset, Tamuria.

  6. Lisa says:

    Thank you for bringing this very serious issue to light for me Vatsala, very well written. Very sad.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      It is sad, isn’t it Lisa. We saw Nirbhaya’s mother in tears yesterday on national television and it is heart breaking. I feel the same way when I see coverage of random gun shootings on television, especially of little children in schools and I say, give more teeth to gun control laws. We alone can stop these atrocities by raising our voices against it.

  7. Thanks for sharing this very moving post on this incredible tragedy that shook the entire world. I just saw a film “I Will Not be Silenced” about an Australian aid worker working in Kenya who was burglarized and brutally gang raped (for 7 hours ) in her home in Kenya. She took he system on and the film followed the last three and a half years of her 7 year ordeal with the corrupt and untried legal system of Kenya in regards to “rape”. In the end the 5 accusers were convicted, but not of rape, of “violent home invasion” which also carries the death penalty in Kenya. The death sentence is converted to life in prison. Through her ordeal and work with women of Kenya, and thanks for one lone police officer who stood by her, she is transforming the ignorance around the subject or rape, encouraging women to band together and stand for their rights, and ultimately making changes in the Kenyan legal system. That is the short version, however, without serious re-education, it will be impossible to change the mindset that exists culturally both in Indian and in Kenya and in all the places where women are considered “property” and not respected or revered as human equals. Things are changing Vatsala, yet there always seems to be so much farther to go until we reach the destination. Thanks again for sharing this powerful piece!

    • Karmic Ally says:

      If the lady from that film had not had the courage to use her tragedy to try to change the legal system to protect other women, we would never had heard of her case, Beverley. You are absolutely right that we need serious re-education. Many times, the perpetrators of these violent crimes have witnessed domestic violence at home and hence their conditioning is already anti-social. Things are changing and hopefully we will witness the complete transformation in our lifetime.

  8. I recall this case, Vatsala. As you have said it a few times, it really makes you sick to the stomach; such a tragedy! 🙁

    I am all for a second chance and always have faith in people that they can change for the better, but situations like this one make me wonder if I’m not wrong maybe.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      I am all for a second chance too, Delia, but you are right that in such situations is rehabilitation possible? The juvenile has undergone counselling but apparently still has no remorse. There has been talk of changing the system to treat juveniles on par with adults if the crime warrants it. Right now, the public wants the face of this ex-juvenile to be revealed. Protecting a person’s constitutional rights is one thing but cannot be favored over the rights of an entire society in such cases.

  9. Renee Fuller says:

    this is a horrible tragedy. It would be great if violence would disappear and peace would surround us and be a bigger part of our lives. Hopefully one day we can all search and find peace and end the violence.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      It is indeed a horrible tragedy, Renee. The sad part is that incidents do take place violating the fundamental human rights of women all over the world but few receive coverage unless they are sensational or as in this case became the subject of a documentary where one of the rapists was paid money for the interview and the jail rules were violated by the documentary maker with scant regard to the outrage that it would cause. Speedy and efficient legal systems and a change in mindset of people to have zero tolerance for such barbaric acts is required.

  10. After reading this important article and all the comments, I can only say when will atrocities against fellow human beings stop? And the ones who read about human rights injustices are not the ones who need the mind set retraining. We are all in agreement that it will take education, family values, male/female gender issues, the courts, the outcries, everything to bring about change, in all parts of our world. And to a zillion issues- economic inequality, poverty, starvation, war. Sometimes really hard to understand what has happened that has so much in our society go topsy turvy. Thank you for being one who has spoken out and took a stand for change. Sad commentary and so well written.

    • Karmic Ally says:

      Thanks for sharing your insights Roslyn. You are so right – preaching to the converted only creates waves for a short time whereas what we need to do is retrain those who don’t understand the fundamentals of basic human rights.

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