Second sight

Syeda Hameed | April 27, 2013, Times Crest



The shocking rape of a child in Delhi must force us to re-examine exactly how we’re bringing up our youth

We are all numb with the events of the last five days, when the five-year-old child’s cries were heard by a neighbour in New Delhi and her small bloodied form was discovered in the basement, forty hours after the heinous deed. Manoj and Pradeep, the two alleged perpetrators of bestiality on the five year old ‘Gudiya’, were migrants to the city from Muzaffarpur and Lakhi Sarai in Bihar.

Around 15 years ago I had gone to these two districts in Bihar. Manoj and Pradeep must have been five or six year olds at that time, growing up in their hometowns. What schooling, what upbringing, what values were being imparted to them? Did they or their families ever imagine this tragic scene in their lives 15 years later?

In Muzaffarpur I had gone to see the work done by an activist, Viji Srinivasan, with the children of sex workers. Muzaffarpur has a famous red light area called Chaturbhuj Sthan where a certain congested row of houses has nameplates bearing names like ‘Neelam Kumari, dancer’ or ‘Pooja Kumari, dancer’. On entering the houses I discovered that all these sex workers, were Muslim girls with ‘concealed identities’. Viji’s organisation was training their daughters in skills which would help them escape the pressure of entering the sex trade.

Lakhi Sarai was another story. I had gone there to a large girls school for their Class 12 farewell function. The place was filled with girls of all ages performing around the theme ‘Beti ki Bidai’. They had used the metaphor of marriage to say goodbye to the outgoing students. Songs and dances were mostly tearfilled;the message given was that they were now ready to be married, hence the bidai. No one spoke of higher education, careers, jobs and freedom for the graduating girls.

From this intensely patriarchal society these two young men had found their way to a metro. All their supports were left behind in the village. A grandmother, an aunt, a sister;people with whom they had shared life and who were there to offer help. The city is too large, too impersonal, too cruel. Their only friends were young (and not so young men) from their own cluster of villages with whom they could speak in their own tongue.

They learnt their lessons on coping with the city from these ‘old timers’. If they were sodomised and brutalised in the process, it was part of the deal. To forget their own pain they had easy access to alcohol and pornography. They were thus hammered and hardened just as their teachers had been hammered and hardened during their own initiation.

Then there was easy access to Bollywood films in which their icons and heroes showed them the ropes. Bollywood lyrics gave then the lessons on playing havoc with a woman’s body. Examples abound;such as a song from Akshay Kumar‘s Khiladi 786 which puts words to their mouths: Chhad ke mein aaya voh tang galiyan / Aya mein aya vekhan teri rang raliyan/ Long drive pe chal pe chal mere nal soniye. (I have left behind my narrow lanes/ to feast my eyes on your fun and games/ Come for a long drive with me, Babe)

Against this black hole of a life in a big city, these two men had consumed alcohol, watched porn on their cell phones, bought chocolate bars and gone out in search of prey. That is when they saw the little child playing outside the building.

What values we are imparting to our children ? Are we teaching them to respect women and girls from the word go? What are they learning from their mothers and fathers, from families, from their schools, from their peers? Do they have the wherewithal to cope with the pressures of moving from rural to urban? We cannot stop the movement;we have not created livelihood opportunities in their native places. We have taken away their traditional livelihoods;we have opened up the world before their astonished eyes. This cohort of boys and men will grow monumentally in the years to come.

Nirbhaya is gone. Gudiya is struggling to stay alive. Media has started placing stories of sexual violence as centerpieces. Life in the cities is being disrupted by political parties and others who are using this event to make a political killing or grab media attention for two seconds. If only there were quick answers to the anguish that is pouring out from all quarters, they are very often at the wrong targets.

In Gudiya’s pain or Nirbhaya’s sacrifice we are not seeing our own failures. The road is long and arduous but it is a road that must be taken: the road to healthy values, better life and hope. Regardless of the colour of politics, it is this slow bandwagon to which all political parties need to hitch themselves to. We, the people, challenge them to do so.

The writer is member, Planning Commission, New Delhi