Monday, December 31, 2012


The afternoon of the Sandy Hook shooting, I was working from home. When J came home, I was sitting on the stairs and crying - it had been over an hour and I could not stop until I had hugged my baby. Never felt so grateful to have a day end normally and have my family still intact. It was an unnerving experience. When DB came home, we talked about empathy, perspective and the anxieties of parenthood. He suggested that I stop watching the coverage of the event and try to think about it in context of the atrocities on children around the world - in my home country. Not to minimize the loss of life, the shattered innocence of childhood and the real concern of something like this happening in our own community; but getting a real sense of the denominator would help reduce the pain I was feeling. It was good advice.

Then a few days later, I read the news of the woman gang raped in a Delhi bus and of her subsequent death. Being on vacation at the time, I did not catch most of the news coverage of the story but read several opinion pieces like this one and this a few days later. I have lived in India most of my life, have been harassed by men in buses and trains - experienced the bewildering mix of fear, paralysis and anger that I could not fully express. I have written about growing up female in India before - it is something painfully close to my heart.

In my generation, girls pretended it did not happen to them or somehow whatever happened was not "too bad" and somehow they were lucky to escape the "worst". Truth is we preferred denial because that was the only way to keep our sanity. I have been "eve-teased" on my way to college and work. Felt unsafe traveling alone, had nightmares from bad experiences many years after the fact. Recently, I found out that unexpressed anger transitions into unmanaged anxiety and then long term depression.

I have not been to India in ten years now and have no desire to visit anytime soon - specially with J. My parents have no interest in hosting J for the summer being that they would be responsible for her safety - and I can appreciate that. I could have been this woman, any number of Indian women I know could have been this woman. My mother at sixty plus is leered at if she decides to take a walk alone in the evening so she is part of a walking group  - she says she would need to become completely decrepit physically before she can be "safe" from men in India. 

I found myself not wanting to read about the victim - there is no profile she would need to fit. Being a woman is an invitation to being raped in India. It has always been the case for as long as I can remember. You are lucky not to be a victim. Your parents prayed for your safety, grandma gave you an amulet to wear, the family astrologer was consulted for safe travel dates and the rest was left up to God - He has a larger than life role in the life of an Indian woman but often God is not around when we need Him. The prayers, charms, horoscopes and such had failed for this sister who fell victim. Next time it will be one of us. The logic is as simple as it is brutal. The public outrage will die down in a bit, the volume of atrocity is simple too large - the sympathy fatigue point has been reached a long time ago.

The proximity of these two events and how different my reaction was to them gave me pause for thought. The media frenzy in the wake of the Sandy Hook incident is something we could use a lot more of in India. Maybe if they ran the Delhi gang rape story in an infinite loop in every possible channel for days and months until the most resigned, defeated and fatalistic of Indians were forced out of their emotional coma, change may yet be possible. The challenge here is to whip up a frenzy over something that has happened countless times before, and keep it at fever pitch until change actually happens. Every day, newer more terrible atrocities will demand our collective attention and yet we must find a way to remain focused on this particular one.

This is an ancient country with many millenniums co-existing in the same space and time, there is no simple way to bring and carry change through.Giving up is something we have mastered over the generations - we called it our Karma. I could cry for a dead sister, I could cry for the million others who are being molested every day- escaping rape and death for now, for my own childhood and youth blemished many, many times in India - and there would be no tears left to cry. And what would that help anyway ? Feeling like a victim individually or collectively only empowers those who victimize us. Maybe anger and action is a more useful response.Maybe finding a way to get more women out of India to safer places is the answer.

1 comment:

ggop said...

Ugh I completely understand your parents feeling scared of protecting J.

HC - request, don't use the euphemism "eve teasing" any more for sexual harassment. It is harassment in the subway in New York, it is harassment on the streets of any town in India.
The phrase Eve teasing kind of sugar coats the whole thing.