Amrita Tripathi is a news anchor with CNN-IBN, and also doubles up as Health and Books Editor. An MA in Philosophy from St Stephen's College, Delhi University, she has also taught a few undergraduate classes at her alma mater, informally! When she is not tracking health issues, Amrita is busy chasing the literary dream. Her debut novel Broken News
was published in 2010. Before joining CNN-IBN, Amrita worked with The Indian Express
It's no surprise that our national capital is a horror story - or a series of horror stories that play out, often far from the limelight. Often we turn away. Women duck their heads and scurry away. I see it, I do it. I mean, I use public transport, and despite heaving a huge sigh of relief at the efficacy of the metro, am well aware that metro stations are the weakest link. I've been stared at, scoped out, and am always on my guard. If I'm not, I know that I'll be blamed. "She was asking for it" has morphed beyond syndrome into cliche. I've not been groped on the metro, thank goodness, not like DTC buses of yore... not like years ago walking back from Defence Colony market to the house I was renting in C block. Not that there was anyone to hear me yelp (I couldn't yell, I yelped), but I grabbed my hand back and ran across the street, luckily, away from my drunken would-be molestor. The aggressor. It might be the first time I'm using that term in this instance.
Let's stop the shame. I was embarrassed to talk about my groping incidents to most people. And true to form, I did hear from a friend-at-the-time that I "really must stop this habit of walking around". No one in Delhi walks, don't you see? Women really mustn't walk around. At 7 pm? 7.30 pm? In Defence Colony? Having been mugged (or "bag-snatched", to use another cutesy term) around the same time, around the same area, I can safely now tell you...it's true. No one should have to walk around. Not for fun, not if they value their lives or their belongings.
What a city.
Let's stop the cutesy terms we use: 'eve-teasing' for abuse, 'assault' for rape. It's an act of brutality. It's the mentality behind that act that must be changed.
We've seen and heard of assaults, dis"honour killings" across the border, the skewed sex ratios, and we just mutter about them, feeling disillusioned and depressed at the way things are. There are few people who will stake out their territory and make a ruckus, who will go public, who will take part in pink chaddi campaigns, and slut-shame walks, and will go public with an item of clothing that was worn by them at a time they were molested (part of a public art project if I'm not mistaken, by the Blank Noise project)... I admire people like that.
I'm much more used to silence about these things - why draw attention to yourself after all? Much better in a city like Delhi to stay quiet, hope to sneak by under the radar, and above all, not call any sort of attention to yourself.
That's just not good enough. How long will we duck our heads and walk, eyes averted? What a revelation to be free to walk around in a city, in a place you live in, and make eye contact, not worrying that someone will translate that as an invitation to stalk or assault you?
What have we let this city reduce us to? The more you bow and keep mum, the harder it is to remember that we have rights. And speaking of rights and remembering, no one in their right mind, no one in this channel ever forget how CM Sheila Dikshit stunned us into not-quite silence by declaring that our former colleague Soumya was essentially asking for it, being adventurous to be driving back late at night (from work, I might add) to her residence, when she was attacked and murdered.
No, silence is not an option.
A 23-year-old student is battling for her life.
Four people have been arrested? That's not enough. There needs to be dialogue, we need to understand what the hell is going on, when brutality and violence are increasingly commonplace.
I spoke with leading psychiatrists Dr Achal Bhagat and Dr Sanjay Chugh. Here's what I gleaned. Neither of them of course trying to justify the violence, but trying to help us understand the mindset of the rapist.
It's the "politics of violence", Dr Bhagat agrees, "and it's about control and disparity". It's someone trying to exert control when they feel helpless...using this mechanism when they feel impotent, not in the sexual sense but the psychological sense, he explains, adding that he's definitely not trying to justify the act of violence. "It's not about sexual fulfillment, it's about control, about teaching a lesson," and in this case it's that you have a girlfriend and I don't? I'll teach you a lesson. (The 23-year-old girl's male friend was also brutally attacked, let's not forget.) It's the need or desire to be powerful.
It's not new, the stories are new and the context is new, he tells me, but the phenomenon is not.
Dr Bhagat adds rather chillingly, it's the violence in our homes that is more prevalent. But we will talk about that some other time.
What is it that needs to be done? He says it's long-term help that is needed - to teach people, to create a gender-respecting and diverse society, not just at the level of psychology but also when it comes to livelihood and the economy.
Dr Sanjay Chugh says that exemplary punishment is called for. He feels there's a rise in not just in cases of rape, but also a "rise in this mindset that you can get away with it". He cites official apathy, also saying that it's not that people are "more repressed". "The opportunity for sexual release has in fact increased over the years - it's this concept of invincibility, and getting away with it," he tells me.
"The mindset of the perpetrators of gangrape is an amalgam of Mob / Herd mentality, disinhibition, utter disrespect for social norms and a certain knowledge that the so called protectors of law will either turn a blind eye or can be pressurised or simply bought with a certain sum of money. This makes them feel as if they are wearing a cloak of invincibility and can get away with anything," Dr Chugh explains.
And so he says "Hang these people" -- The perpetrators should be "hanged" and the media should "splash that news for a year", to get the message across. Dr Chugh feels there is a need for exemplary punishment to set the deterrence, to set a precedent.
Remember that while Delhi is considered the rape capital of the country, with 635 rapes this year, and 572 last year, compared to 221 in Mumbai, according to the National Crime Record Bureau, that the number of cases are most definitely under-reported. For many reasons...including the fact that women (often the victims of rape) feel shame, guilt, and are made to feel like they are on trial, not the rapist.
It's not a question of victimhood and it's not just a quick-fix in this quest for justice. It's about ending the silence, flipping the shame and reclaiming our safe, making it safe.
It's not a feeling women in Delhi are used to.