We cannot stand up for one without standing up for all.
The horrendous rape and subsequent death of the 23-year-old physiotherapy student in Delhi last December triggered fury across the nation, with large-scale protests calling for speedy justice and for women’s right to safety in the city. But when the outside noise died down and the analysis went deeper and deeper into the roots of a culture that allows and subconsciously promotes violence against women, one thing became clear for all to see: If we want to be safe ourselves, we cannot ignore gender violence anywhere, on any woman, in any part of the city, village, country, world. Every time we close our eyes to news stories on sexual violence, which sit on our breakfast table with depressing regularity – high-caste men gang-raping Dalit women and getting away with it because the highest court in the country believes ‘upper-caste men can’t rape a Dalit woman’; Hindu men raping Muslim women on the streets of Gujarat under the wilful blind eye of opportunistic leaders; the army raping Kashmiri women under the veil of AFSPA; police superintendents in Chhattisgarh shoving stones up Soni Sori’s genital cavities and still being awarded for gallantry – every time we close our eyes and keep the paper away, we bring the demon closer and closer home. Into our well-bred metropolitan streets, outside our malls and offices, reaching out for us with impunity and a collective lack of conscience.
Every time we ignore the plight of a tribal woman in a village in Bihar or a housewife in Orissa or a six-year-old in Haryana or a teenager in Assam, we – the empowered, the educated, the ones with a voice in the big cities, connected via a click to the rest of the world – are as guilty as the perpetrators of this violence. In our silence is implicit our apathy; in our apathy, our subliminal sanction.
The monster is us.
For centuries, women have been powerless – legally, socially, financially. But we have by no means been helpless: Women have always had each other. Revolutions have taken place when women joined hands and stood up for themselves. Emancipation hasn’t come easy – the rosy images we see today of women in the West at par with their men have come after decades of feminist struggle and it continues. But we can learn from them. We can stand up for our disempowered sisters and have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, disrespect of women or gender violence of any kind we see or hear – in our homes, our offices, our streets, our neighbourhoods, on our televisions. We have to use whatever means we have – our education, our network, our technology – and become proactive participants in this battle for all our rights, not mute spectators of crime against women we assume to be separate from us.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, said Martin Luther King Jr. We must be the change. The saviour is us.