Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"Getting Home"... a Missive from India by Anuradha Roy

Earlier this week I asked my friend the novelist and publisher Anuradha Roy about the recent protests over the gang sex attack in Delhi.  She offered this account, and then gave her permission to publish it here:
I came back to Delhi from travels elsewhere on Christmas eve. The roads were windswept and foggy and, unusually for any Indian city, almost deserted. Through a drive of about 20 kilometres, there was not a single pedestrian for long stretches. There were fewer than usual cars, hardly any auto rickshaws. Enormous state transport buses sailed past with no occupants other than the driver and conductor.

In response to the brutal gang rape in Delhi on 16th December of a young student, the state had taken several steps, the results of which I was witnessing from the window of my taxi from the airport: the Delhi metro, by which an average of about 1.8 million people travel every day, had been shut down; the state had cordoned off the entire central vista of Delhi where the protesters had been attacked the day before by the police, with water cannon (in freezing December weather), tear gas and batons. It had also set in force something called Section 144, which makes it punishable for more than five people to gather anywhere.

Gandhi described British colonial rule over India as ‘satanic’. It is hard to find any other word to describe the way India is ruled now.

The daily violence against women in India is nauseating enough but people are yet more livid because of the state’s routine indifference to it. The Home Minister has said that if he went to meet the protesters at India Gate today, as was being demanded, he might some day be asked to meet ‘Maoists.'  Both he and the police commissioner justified the violent action against the thousands of students agitating for justice, claiming that the protest had been taken over by hooligans.

The prime minister made a brief statement *eight days* after the rape. It was delivered in his usual robotic manner, successfully dispelling the notion that he had any capacity for  human anguish. The PM is not given to making speeches, he is said to be a reserved economist. Not many days before, he had addressed industrialists – for about twenty minutes. It appears pretty clear what he feels passionate about, if anything.

Meanwhile, with reassuring predictability, another man from the ruling party wagged a paternal finger at the raped woman: she should never have been out at that hour. Just because India became free at midnight did not mean she should have been out at midnight. (Factually too, this was wrong. She and her friend had got on the bus at 9.15 pm, after waiting an hour for other public transport.) This is not unusual. After almost every rape that makes it to the headlines, someone in power usually chastises the victim for going out/ dressing too provocatively/ staying out too late. A survey in June 2011 named India (alongside Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan and the Congo) as one of most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. As a woman you know the truth of this every day on the streets of Indian cities, particularly Delhi.

I came to Delhi at 26 for a job, a migrant, just as this young woman is. My housemate, also a migrant, a student from the north-east of India, would tell me she was molested almost each time she stepped out in public transport and was often flashed. We’re used to being groped in buses, leered at on the streets. It’s normal for cars to slow down and for sleazy men to roll down windows and invite us in when we’re waiting for public  transport. We are used to walking with our arms close to our bodies, making no eye contact with men. We don’t stroll, we walk quickly to our destinations. If it’s after dark we try and have someone we know accompany us home. Even so, when we get home safe we count ourselves lucky. Of course many girls and women aren’t safe in their homes either.

It’s impossible to feel remotely celebratory on Christmas day knowing that a young woman who came to Delhi merely to train as a physiotherapist is now on a ventilator in a hospital not far from my house. Most of her intestines have been removed because six men, not content with shoving their penises into her, used an iron rod. They carried on torturing her with the rod even after she fell unconscious from the agony. Then they threw her and her friend, whom they had also beaten unconscious, out of the road and drove away. The woman and her friend were naked and bleeding. That was how they remained at that roadside for the next hour until the police reached and covered them with bed sheets borrowed from a hotel nearby.

Transport restrictions make it hard to reach central Delhi where the main protests are. But in my neighbourhood today, there was a procession of men and women. Not a big one that would stop the traffic, just about thirty or so people holding lit candles and placards, shouting slogans seeking justice. If there is no metro and the roads are blocked by riot police there is no choice but to decentralize the protests. The tragedy is that the Indian state has perfected a system of delaying justice so infinitely that while most of the world thinks of India as the world’s largest democracy, it is actually among the world’s largest and most corrupt tyrannies.
For background, an early account of the attack in Delhi last week, here.

An account of the shooting death of a journalist covering the protests, here.

About Anuradha Roy and her work here, and here.

UPDATE: The victim of the attack has died, as report here.  Meanwhile, it should be noted that the immediate neighbors of those arrested have strongly condemned the attack and the attackers.

Track backs, and thanks to those who've linked to this post: The Browser, 3QuarksDaily, and others.


Lindy said...


Anonymous said...

But Ms Roy! The Indian government is ferocious! It attacks, unrelentingly, the real enemies of the State: the landless peasants, those thrown off their traditional lands or out of villages because trans-nationals want something; those that dare challenge their authority! Surely it can't do both? Protecting what really matters to themselves obviously has to come first. What's endless violence against 50% of the population or endemic corruption when there are ordinary people putting real obstacles that challenge their ability to squander the country's life-blood as they please? If people keep protesting about basic human rights, and you keep raising issues like this, it'll be time to let of another nuclear bomb, or spark more inter-communal atrocities!

Anonymous said...

The world is watching and aghast at this tragedy...and for the women of India who receive/expect this treatment. We urge action, this has sickened us all. From San Francisco, CA, USA

Nasir Khan said...

Nasir Khan: Indian 'democracy' is said to be the largest in the world because of the size of India’s big population and its massive electorate. On paper India has a democratic constitution that enshrines basic human rights for all and provides for a parliamentary system of government. But India has democracy only in form, not in substance. In practice, the whole democratic process in India has gradually become so corrupt and moribund that Indian politics is said to be akin to a big business where leading parties make political and economic deals and horse-trading for power. The only law that prevails in the union is the universal rule of corruption from the lowest levels of officials to the top officials and politicians. That's where Indian stands. The protests and sustained pressures from the common people and workers and peasant organisations is often negated by big economic interests. But such voices and people’s movements are the only hope in a deeply flawed and corrupt political system.

Unknown said...

Why has the land that flowered many spiritual movements sunk so low?

One big culprit is both Bollywood n Kollywood havewith their regional bretheren reduced women to sluts who titilate and arouse men to their base instincts. Are women merely tramps to be trampled
Upon . Clearly the Indian entertainment industry need to own up to their debauchery and the men who perprated this crime were merely taking the next step from slutdom to extinguishing the life of a young soul. Shame on you Bollywood Kollywood and all the regional variations for transforming our natural love for Divine Mother into a deep disgust for sluts and rapidly sliding downwards to beastly violence.