Good girls, bad girls

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January 7th, 2013 Kanika Datta

There have been rumblings in recent weeks that the vocal protests on the roads and in the media over the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old paramedic in Delhi last year are overdone, knee-jerk reactions to an entrenched, endemic problem. The inverted logic appears to have escaped the detractors. It is surely impossible to protest enough, and vociferously too, about a shameful societal weakness in a country that aspires to global recognition. In some respects, we are little different from the Taliban, which shoots a young girl for wanting to go to school.

The cause for bigger concern, however, has been the orientation of media coverage. As she lay fighting for her life, the victim was vested with trite nicknames (a Guardian correspondent rightly called them “nauseating”) and untrammelled virtues. She was, we are informed in breathless prose, hard-working, caring of her lower middle class parents, who had sacrificed much to put her through a physiotherapy course. There is no doubt that she was all of these and more and her story was a tragic one of hopes unfulfilled. But it was the sub-text to the reports that was disturbing. Here was a “good” girl against whom a grave injustice had been perpetrated. Now, suppose she had been a swinging party animal, out on the town for a good time with her boyfriend (her father is keen to highlight that her companion was not a boyfriend, just a boy who was a friend) and, maybe, just a little giddy in her outlook? Should she have been less deserving of her fate or of the outpouring of sympathy and attention? The reason the issue needs to be raised is the marked contrast between the intense coverage of this young girl’s death and that of, Pallavi Purakayastha in Mumbai in August. She was just 25, two years older than the Delhi victim, and she died from stab wounds fending off an attempted sexual assault from a guard of the building in which she lived. She could have been saved, had her neighbours cared to answer her distress calls; she eventually bled to death on the floor of her apartment. Yet, the coverage of her tragedy was perfunctory and short-lived as has been the case with similar cases in the past. Was she, too, not “Braveheart” or “India’s Daughter” to name some of the appellations heaped on the Delhi victim?  Ah, but her narrative did not quite fit the image that many Indians want to vest in Indian women, even if it is accepted that they can be educated, independent professionals. Pallavi’s father is a bureaucrat with the central government, she was an upcoming lawyer and she had a live-in partner. Bachi Karkaria summed up the situation of women like her with annoying accuracy: “High-rise residential towers match the ambitions of these young women who come to ’shake the pagoda tree’ of globalisation’s neo-colony… They work late, and then they latchkey into their company-rented flats. Sometimes there are partners, but mostly their boyfriends come and go, like their part-time maids, to service specific needs….They don’t want to know their neighbours, preferring to barricade themselves in Manhattan-like isolation. They have no use for the camaraderie of the borrowed onion.” Ms Karkaria’s point is that their “they can also become victims of a more insidious set of rules. They may be able to safeguard their privacy, but their ‘bindaas’ independence is compromised by the mindset of their potential predators.”

Exactly so, and in my humble opinion, this “bindaas independence” is compromised by society and the media too. Just one month before the Delhi incident, a Spanish exchange student was raped in her flat in an upscale neighbourhood in Mumbai. Any word on that, after she identified her attacker and he was arrested? She may not have been “India’s Daughter” but surely her case demanded attention, even if it was not possible to fit her into the kind of narrative template that is imposed on Indian women by even the more liberal elements of society. The fact that no one “deserves” to be raped, or “asks for it” is still to percolate fully into our national psyche.

Indeed, that is why it may be better to read more closely the placards and posters carried by the women and men who braved Delhi’s biting cold to gather on Raj Path, and continue to do so at Jantar Mantar. “Good” girls or bad, party animals or home bodies, westernised or Indian, dented and painted or unmade-up, item girls or paramedics, they understand better than anybody else that real freedom lies in being allowed to be themselves, safely.

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7 Responses to “Good girls, bad girls”

  1. Ajay Tyagi Says:

    Mr. Lohit,

    If it’s only ill-bred, uneducated, patriarchal types who brutalize women, why do women get raped in US/ Europe? Sexual perverts exist in all societies and it’s our collective responsibilty (including women’s) to thwart irresponsible sexual behaviours of these beasts.

  2. Ajay Tyagi Says:

    Mr Lohit

    It seems You have done doctorate on the psychology of rapists! American and Western socities are not patriarchal but women get raped there too. So it’s not ill-bred uneducated types alone who indulge in irresponsible sexual behaviour as you would have us believe. I’m not defending the beasts who brutalized young innocent girl. Only pointing out that everybody, including women, hve to be careful against sexual perverts.

  3. Ajay Tyagi Says:

    Dear Lohit,

    No need to call names. Males all,over the animal kingdom, ARE sexually aggressive species. Chimps procreate 50% of times through forced sex only. Homo sapiens too DO indulge in irresponsible sexual behaviour. In a lawless country like ours, thus, prevention becomes the only way to avoid problem. That’s the short point I’m trying to make. I do realize that it could happen to my sister, daughter or niece but that doesn’t change my stance.

  4. Lohit Jagwani Says:

    Mr. Tyagi,

    I am sorry to say its not yours or anybody else’s business what women in our society do. Its a free country and women are no longer subservient to men, or second class citizens. This ill-bred, uneducated, patriarchal thinking needs to change, because rapists think the exact same way, only they are more patriarchal and believe women owe more subservience. I appeal to you and all educated men, please change your thinking. Men are not sexually aggressive animals. Rape is an inhuman and criminal behavior. A woman does not invite rape, a woman cannot invite it. There is no invitation for such horrific and disgusting act of violence and it is violence! Its no longer enough to stand in your living room and say, ‘oh thats too bad but maybe she brought it on herself’…she can be your wife, daughter or sister next time. Then maybe we ought to ask you if she could have done any better and not invited it on herself!

  5. Rajesh Dhawan Says:

    Good, bad, girl, boy, old, young - the issue is all individuals should have the right exist without being subjected to violence. The day we see individual interest take precedence over the public interest is when we will see the a truly free society where the state protects each person regardless of which group they belong to. In a society where individual rights are not respected, we see the most vulnerable being preyed upon. When you have given the power to the mob, the individual becomes irrelevant.

  6. Aditya - New Delhi Says:

    Dear Ms. Datta,

    Your point is rather valid in that the difference has been that in the Delhi case, the girl was perceived to be ‘good’ while the in the case of Bombay, the girl was perceived to be ‘bad’. However, the public outburst was not about good or bad or on the character of the person. In recent times, Delhi has been a hotbed of social issues starting from corruption, political apathy and now womens rights. This case was just a spark that was needed to liven up the debate. Traditionally, Bombay being a more cosmopolitan city has not seen the need for such outburst as in general it is perceived as a city which is not in sync with India’s reality. Hence, if such a case arose in the city, the general public was not ‘enraged’ enough to protest and fight for their rights as it may have been a one off case in a relatively ’safe’ environment. In the national capital, women face worse issues daily and hence this was just waiting to happen.

    Your main point about letting Indian women be truly independent is something which can only be done when women across the country fight for rights, equality and freedom. This entails braving police lathis, cold weather and having a clear outline of what is desired be it castration of rape perpetrators or be allowed to rampantly use pepper sprays. Untill this December, when have women really come out and fought for a common cause and hence the societal malaise continues.

  7. Ajay Tyagi Says:

    Bindass independence doesn’t mean license to promiscuity. Single footloose women would always be vulnerable to sexual assaults. Everybody in the society is not civilized or cultured to be a gentleman. Nature has made males sexually aggressive species who would try to take advantage of a woman not carefull enough.

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