Will a nation awaken?

This morning I woke up and checked twitter & facebook on the phone as I do first thing everyday.

Except today wasn’t ‘any day’. The news waiting for us was the most saddening one possible. The young lady in Delhi, who was brutally raped and assaulted in the bus from hell a few days back, who since then was fighting for her life against all odds, had finally lost her battle. This anonymous girl, who became an unfortunate symbol of the atrocities that women in India are subjected to, had breathed her last.

Murdered by the six monsters in that ill fated bus.

I flinched the moment I read the news. My first thoughts were about what must have happened in the bus and what inhuman brutality the young lady was subjected to. If the very thought of it made one cringe and recoil in horror then one cannot even imagine how the girl who actually went though it and tried to fight it out suffered.

A fight which seems to have galvanised the nation as people are stepping out in protest all across India. Sometimes one cynically wonders what is the point of it all but this time one hopes things are different. People stepped out in waves, day after day, as they prayed for the young lady and clamoured for the ‘safety of women’.

The term ‘safety of women’ might sound patronising. In fact it is shameful that a nation which aspires to be a world leader needs to discuss the ‘safety’ of its women but that is the bitter reality. And it affects every one. Not just women. Having to wonder whether people out there are safe is no way to lead ones life and yet that is a reality.

It is convenient to parcel off what has happened as ‘oh that’s Delhi’ but the truth is that the malaise infests the entire country. Yes, in Mumbai we do feel that things are a lot better….but ‘lot better’ is not good enough.

As one sees the protests across the country, and across gender and age groups, one can only hope that it brings across a social awakening. A realisation that women are not there to be leered at, groped, molested, raped.

One cannot depend just on the police, the politicians and the judiciary for this. People need to change. We need to change. It is more about social change than anything else. And it has to be all pervasive.

I must admit that I have not gone out to any protest march. But I doff my hat to all those who have been there braving the cold, the tear gas, water cannons and police highhandedness and have travelled from across to protest in Delhi. Inspiration to people across the country, including in Mumbai who are stepping out in protest.

With so many citizens out on the streets, the government has to realise that this time is different. It is not another case of ‘life will go on”. People are angry. People are concerned. People are affected.

Of course waiting for society to change is somewhat utopian and definitely long term. Just a few hours after the young lady breathed her last there were reports of men feeling up women in the crowds that had gathered to mourn her death. Even journalists were not spared.

Perhaps an immediate answer lies in what happened in the drive against drunken driving in Mumbai.

What years of ad campaigns and news of deaths caused by drunken driving couldn’t do was fixed by strict police action. The past few years have seen the Mumbai Police do a stellar job of manning the roads at night, checking people for drunken driving and enforcing immediate penalties including locking up those who drove after drinking. If people have stopped drinking and driving, for many it is the sheer fear of the law which has worked more that anything else.

It is this sort of vigilance and  enforcement of law which is the need of the hour. Just as the police have driven the fear of god into those who drink and drive the same needs to happen to those who would even think of lifting an arm on women.

Will this be foolproof? Nothing is, but unfortunately, and rather embarrassingly, this might be our only  hope till ‘enlightenment’ happens.

What will not change though was the fact that a young lady’s life was brutally cut short for the nation to awaken.

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