More than mere condemnation

| | in Oped
More than mere condemnation

Chandigarh stalking case, which is equally intense in its reverberations as in Nirbhaya's case, must prompt us to raise some important albeit uncomfortable questions

Brave-heart Varnika Kundu, the daughter of an IAS officer in Haryana, must be complimented for her audacity in fiercely resisting attempts by two rowdy youngsters to harass her in the middle of the night on a deserted road in Chandigarh. By promptly calling the police, she exhibited presence of mind and courage. What’s more praiseworthy is that soon after it emerged that the accused was not an ordinary brat but the son of a powerful politician, breaking an ethical stereotype of do-not-disclose-the-victim, Varnika Kundu came out in the open, spoke up, and asserted her call for justice. She will surely emerge as an inspiration for many girls who choose to quietly endure reprehensible attacks on them than speak up.

The associated TV frenzy comes as little surprise, with every channel promising an exclusive insight into the issue despite the fact that the case is not as complicated as they would want us to believe. The euphoria of moral indignation is more prominent on social media. Almost everyone is wanting to be seen on the side of the victim and there is an unprecedented surge of angst against the powerful. Twitter trends are the new moral anchors of our society and the umbrage in urban India is too palpable to be ignored. Thanks to high-profile status of both, the victim and accused — an ideal cocktail for the media — demand for heads of the Baralas are getting shriller even as support for Varnika Kundu keeps swelling.

The case suddenly brings to light the Indian society’s zero tolerance on women’s safety, at least in theory. Scan through Twitter and your heart will bloat with pride at our unprecedented moral unity. We are united in our condemnation of the evil designs of the rich and powerful, and in our clamour for seeking justice. We severely denounce any attempts at outraging modesty of our women. But is that enough?

The incident, equally intense in its reverberations as in Nirbhaya’s case, however, should also prompt us to raise some very important albeit uncomfortable questions. Even as our scarred and shaken collective conscience ensured justice for Nirbhaya, were we able to address the core issue of rape? Did we strengthen our social, moral and legal fabric enough to ensure cases of rape went down drastically? Far from it. Three years after the Nirbhaya incident, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, on an average, 95 cases of rape were reported every day in 2015, which saw a total of 34,651 cases. Delhi, the fulcrum of Nirbhaya’s movement, reports six cases of rape and 10 cases of sexual assault on an average, everyday. Why do we not get agitated learning about these cases, many of which are also reported in the media?

This brings us to a fundamental question: Are we getting choosy in our moral constructs — reacting in some cases, while maintaining awful silence in many others? Do we tweet equally intensely when we learn of a rape of a 15-year-old girl by her teacher in Chamba — and why should Chamba be different from Chandigarh? It may be a deplorable exhibition of our moral hypocrisy, cultural bankruptcy, and our flimsiness in getting swayed by the media-led narratives. It displays our puerile exasperation to solve a vexed issue of stalking and rape with multi-layered social and cultural implications, through a tweet, and by joining the hashtag hullaballoo.

A large number of officers, including those from IAS and IPS, journalists, social sector workers, politicians, academic and general people have exhibited great outrage over the chase in Chandigarh. However, one could ask these ‘affected’ individuals about what have they done — or propose to do — in their own circumference to ensure women’s safety. The IAS and IPS officers wield great powers, and even if each officer took to bringing one such case to the public limelight every month, and ensure action against the perpetrators, we would have stirred a unique moral revolution to tame and teach the likes of Baralas. But we are largely turning a society of hypocrites and masked revolutionaries, who prefer pontificating in the virtual space than take to the real streets of life.

Unfortunately, soon, the media feverishness would die down and brave Varnika Kundu would be left alone to pursue her case to a logical end. Our Facebook frenzy and Twitter taunts would vanish in thin air too. Nothing would matter, nor even the hashtags. Not until those who tweet, act too.

(The writer is a strategic communications professional)

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