Rapists and the men who take them on
An NGO has been conducting surveys on the reasons why families in eastern UP and Bihar marry their girls off early. The predominant fear these families had was that if the girl was unmarried for long - kuch ho jayega uske saath. Khap panchayats may want us to believe that the kuch ho jayega is all about love marriages and losing virginity but the NGO found out that the fear is mostly about the girls being raped. A marriage will give the girl the 'protection' of male company.
For long, girls have been blamed for stepping out alone late. Every family has a strict deadline by which their girls need to be home. And if they do have to go out late, then a male escort would provide some security. Some families insist on a male escort at all times. Perhaps the reason why we are now feeling increasing outrage over sexual harassment of women is that the men who escort them are not a deterrent anymore. These men, who stand up to the rapists, are now being brutally attacked, even killed.
In Mumbai, considered a relatively safer city for women, there was a huge outrage when Keenan and Reuben, two youngsters, were stabbed to death for defending their female friends. A boy was killed in Dombivali a few days ago for taking on eve teasers. In the Delhi rape case, the girl's male friend was with her but he was beaten with rods and rendered helpless.
It is of course sad, that such seriousness might not be accorded to the issue of sexual harassment, if it was just women suffering, as they traditionally have. The reaction then, is to restrict a woman's movements, cover her up even more and if despite every precaution she still manages to get raped, find out how she invited it upon herself and advise other women to not do the same. I have yet to come across someone telling their son, look that crook, he sexually harassed some girl and now he is jailed, his life is ruined, so don't do such things. It is always look that girl was out late, she must have worn something wrong or she must have been oversmart, so you little girl, don't do all these things.
So, a few brave men have really taken on these rapists. But they have paid a heavy price for it, so will this now make every man think twice before trying to help a girl in trouble, my NGO friends shuddered. Will we have more incidents like the Guwahati one where a crowd stood by and watched as a girl was molested? Keenan's father, Valerian Santos, says he has been telling his two other sons to also follow Keenan's path and if needed lay down their lives to protect women around them. One would like to say we need more parents like him, but the question to be asked is why do we need brave men to protect the women? To ask a clichéd question, shouldn't the girl feel safe anyhow?
A lot has been discussed about the impunity with which sexual crimes are committed in our country. Maybe the impunity with which they now even kill men who come forward to help, will spur some part of our patriarchal society to action. Maybe the police that generally looks the other way or tells the woman that if she is safe; she should forget the eve teasers and go home will pay more attention. Maybe now that it is also about the safety of their 'good' sons, this country might realise that rape is all about power and not about gender or sex. But perhaps a more likely scenario is of parents telling their boys not to interfere when a woman is getting raped; lest they get killed. We are becoming after all, a country, held down and raped by the power trip of sexual offenders.