Her death cannot go in vain
As a crime reporter who started out at the age of 20, I was jolted to a different sort of reality fresh out of a very secure college environment. My first story on a young student's suicide was enough to give me sleepless nights - I had never seen a body hanging from a ceiling fan and old parents crying inconsolably. I still remember I took a 40 minute long interview over two tapes just because I didn't know how to stop the father from crying his heart out on camera. Over the past 7 years after covering some of the most shocking and gory stories, I thought I was immune to it all... I thought!
But since the 16th of December 2012, I am not so sure.
Things one can't even begin to imagine in our wildest of thoughts were done to a helpless 23-year old girl. It makes me cringe with shock and shame, when I imagine her, screaming for her life in a bus cruising across a city that had no idea what it was going to wake up to the next morning. I find myself desperately looking for stronger synonyms for 'brutal' and 'gruesome'.
Enough outrage, enough debate and enough opinion, what have we really learnt from all this? Or are we going to learn anything at all? Do we even want to? Will this also be a headline that gradually finds itself at the bottom of our bulletins and then shrinks into a small window in the corner of a newspaper page? Even after all this, it pains me to wake up every morning to newspaper reports of more incidents of crime against women. Out of 10 headlines, 5 are on rape, molestation and assault. It's almost like criminals are uniting and sending out a joint message - 'Protest, burn all the candles you want, we don't care and we wont stop'. The ultimate tribute to the victim will not be the lit candles, the human chains, the protests and the cries for justice at Jantar Mantar or India Gate. The real homage to the braveheart would be if we all contribute in small ways in practice to ensure these headlines are never repeated and other women do not fall prey to such monsters.
And I really feel, even if we are not at Jantar Mantar, this change that we are striving towards, is not that hard to achieve. Let's start with the police and four simple steps they can take to do their bit. The police should revisit the basic duty it has to the citizen it is meant to protect - justify the salary it's getting from all our pockets. First, what is stopping a PCR van from patrolling the more remote streets of Delhi? I can guarantee, in my limited experience, a red light flashing is a strong deterrent for anyone out to commit a crime.
Secondly, and more importantly, just flashing lights won't help. The police has to follow this through - to walk the talk of 'We want you safe'. We must face it, we are scared of the police, but for the wrong reasons. The fear of approaching or being stopped by the police should not be because it's going to waste 30 minutes of our time, or that we may have cough up a fine or a bribe. The fear of the police should be equal to a fear of the law, to a fear of strict prosecution, to an admission of having done something wrong. More often than not, we come out feeling a sense of victory after bribing a cop or talking our way out by dropping names.
Thirdly, an FIR should be a right, just like right to speech, life and freedom. Let it be up to the police to investigate and prove guilt, but I as an aggrieved party reporting a missing girl, must not and CANNOT be turned away from a police station with a flimsy excuse like 'Yehi kahin gayi hogi, ek do din aur do, beti zaroor laut ayegi'. I don't think it costs the police to register an FIR, but it certainly costs the complainant.
And the last and most challenging step, it doesn't cost money to speak politely. Half of the complainant's confidence in the law would be restored if he met with some compassion at a time of utmost need. A genuine smile and some concern can at times go beyond the FIR.
Now I come to the hard part - introspection into our own selves.
While our first instinct is to blame the system, this is also a time to be self-critical and change us. Reporting from Jantar Mantar on one of the protest days I spotted two young boys, barely 18, giggling as they followed an unsuspecting female foreign journalist. It was ironic that these two boys sniggered shamelessly just inches away from loud cries for stronger laws to protect women. If I let it pass, what moral right would I have to ever demand justice or criticize sex offenders? Wouldn't I technically be a co-accused as well? I was convinced as soon as I saw one of the boys take out his phone camera as he tried to click a photograph of the girl. What if this was my sister, my friend or my mother? I found myself battling emotion and anger as I physically threw both the goons out. At my creating a scene, others stepped in as well.
We all have it in us, and this is the time to fight back - it doesn't hurt to create a scene in these situations. Those two youngsters may think twice the next time. If they are bold we have to be bolder.
This tragic incident is a god sent opportunity to make it right, to literally make a real new year resolution this time to also do our bit to stop the shame. Be it grooming boys from a young age on what is right and wrong, or giving the dirtiest glares to the man leering at your fellow passenger on a bus.
There's little difference between them and some of those in power who we have recently heard making fools of themselves with ridiculous statements. I mean, these are the people whose voices are supposed to matter, and these are the voices that are letting us down. It proves that a large chunk of our netas are perhaps being forced to condemn sexual harassment and molestation, where as they REALLY believe that it's the women who are asking for it. More than the accused, it is for this mindset, that I demand chemical castration and capital punishment.
As a protective brother, a friend, a son and most importantly - a human being, it's time we wake up. The tragic death of the braveheart must breathe life into a new resolution. If you're being given a chance to help someone, take it. And if you need strength, just think of what the 23-year old victim and many others like her have gone through. Can we not even do this much for her?
It is relatively easy to put in jail the criminal, try him and perhaps hang him - but how do you convict the mindset? Isn't it time we prove that guilty as well?