Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Woman Who Wanted to Live

First, not so long ago, in October 2012, Savita Halappanavar, who died begging for an abortion of a much-wanted pregnancy gone wrong, denied it by the power of a state that decrees that the life of a fetus outweighs that of its mother-vessel.

Next, a sad reversal of the title,  Jacintha Saldanha, who lost her yen for life, committing suicide partly over the scorn directed at her inability to distinguish a fake Brit royal accent  from a real one, which ended up in a much publicized radio hoax over the Duchess of Cambridge's hospitalization for severe morning sickness. New reports suggest that she was already battling depression and had attempted suicide before, but that the prank call was a final instigator to her attempt to leave this life. 

Third, the still unnamed Delhi gang-rape victim, called euphemistically by the Indian media 'Nirbhaya' (fearless or brave heart) , 'Damini' (lightning), 'Amanat' (trust or faith). She continued on bravely, naming her tormentors, and averring that she wanted to live on, not just give up as so many victims had done in their despair at justice denied.
( Is the not-naming giving the mass movement against rape and brutalities against Indian women more power?)

The earlier events prompted India-wide concern over her daughters living and working abroad. There was much editorializing and soul-searching going on, along with a faintly self-congratulatory, moralistic turn- If they had been living in India, rather than going abroad in search of a 'better life', they would still be alive and happy, albeit poorer, went the reasoning in many a comment and letter to the editor.

But the brutal gang-rape of a young medical student in Delhi generated a different nation-wide outpouring of revulsion against the violence and the culture underlying it, and endless compassion for the victim. What, I wondered, caused this sudden movement and demands of marching women to 'take back the night', in city after city,town after town, all over India? Why now, when so many others, thousands and millions of suffering women over the centuries, had been ignored or minimized?
Was this an effect of the new media, or was it just, as my friend Ruchira suggests, the last straw on the camel's back?

I think the answer lies in the events preceding and the world-wide spotlight on the three different Indian women. The first two were the precursor to the uprising sparked by the third event. That explains the unprecedented public outpouring and reaction to the gang rape. The pseudo-superiority of  "Women are revered in India", and the glaring truth that worse can happen in India than abroad, was  revealed . Veneration of women in India has been revealed for the shallow veneer concealing a horrid underlying reality.

Ireland responds to the death of Savita by reviewing its laws, perhaps even moving towards a legal amendment that would provide an exception for abortion to save the life of the mother, even counter to the hardline taken by the Catholic church.

In the case of Jacintha Saldanha, the resolution of a repetition of prank calls would likely be decided in the British courts, with charges brought against invasion of privacy. It will just be too late for Jacintha.

What will India do over the death of She-who-is-not-yet-named ? Will they create a law with worse penalties for such incidents? Such a law's deterrent power will depend not on its formulation and penalties, but on enforcement.  Lax enforcement caused by centuries-old cultural biases will not  change anything for the vast majority of the women.

 Each politician should now be called out on misogyny, whether it be a male or female, as is already happening. Each person indulging in such a crime must be promptly prosecuted and sentenced, not to death (which is likely to only ensure that rape victims become murder victims), but to a painful lifetime in prison.  Each victim must be supported and helped build new lives, not subjected to another rape by a prolonged inquisition by the police and judicial system.

Will all this happen? I don't know, but I'm hopeful, in this new year, that it will eventually come to pass, that there will be less and less Savitas, Jacinthas and 'Anamika's.


Ruchira said...

Thanks for removing the veil of the 'holier-than-thouness' of Indian hypocrisy. As for your last question, whether India will now respond to the shameless and heartless brutality against its women by enacting laws with some teeth, make sure that the police is the protector and not the predator and whether dumbass misogynistic politicians have learnt their lesson, remains to be seen.

Sujatha said...

'Holier than thou' describes it exactly, Ruchira. I think that the older generation still have their reservations about the up-and-in-your-face nature of the protests.
But I'm glad that the younger generation understand what this is all about- Its' not about blaming the victim, but about changing a culture that deifies its 'Raja betas' and sees women as expendable.