Nirbhaya revisited – by India’s daughter


Be the change you wish to see in the world.

– Gandhi

              No, I haven’t seen the documentary. I did not find any compelling reason to. As one of India’s daughters, I know exactly what the conditions are that drive seemingly ordinary looking men to commit horrendous crimes against women. This is what I had pinpointed at the time of the incident more than 2 years ago: mindset.

              Let’s look at what happened since then.

              – There were massive protests cutting across class, gender, regional barriers.
              – Nirbhaya became a symbol of resistance and bravery (e.g. 2013 International Women of Courage award by the US State Department), but also a symbol of the massive failure of our system and public rage around it.
              – Public outrage forced the then UPA government to appoint Justice Verma Committee appointment. Sexual attack laws were redefined and strengthened.
              – Several apps and services were introduced to strengthen women-safety.
              – The Delhi High Court found all the adult accused guilty and reconfirmed the death-sentences by the fast-track court. The case is pending in Supreme Court.
              – Modi cabinet approved a bill to try juveniles as adults for heinous crimes in August 2014
              – Parliamentary Committee rejected the above proposal in Feb 2015.
              – The minor involved, who was the one to call out to Nirbhaya and her friend to the bus, will walk free in Dec 2015 after spending 3 years in a reform home.

              Let me narrate a true incident here. It is comic and tragic at the same time: The year was 2001. It was my maiden trip to any foreign land and I landed at the JFK airport in NY with a female colleague of mine early in the evening. Due to some misinformation about flight timings, those who were supposed to receive us at the airport were not there. We spent more than 2 hours with our luggage, not venturing out of the airport even once. We tried to call up the rest of the team at various numbers; spent time being skittish at the unfamiliar sights, accents, currencies. But never once did it appeal to two women in our early 20s  to take a cab to the address given. In hindsight, it was a simple thing to do really. But for the 2 of us Indian women that grew up hearing things like ‘Be safe; don’t go out at odd hours; avoid strange places; always remain with the crowd; avoid deserted areas’ – the possibility that any new place could be safe at night simply did not exist!

              Subjugation of women is not endemic to India; it has been done all over the world since time immemorial. But what ails India in particular are these: low conviction rates, justice delayed (and hence, denied), no fear of the law, patriarchal mindset, big social and economical divides.

              What are some of the solutions? Fast-track courts, swift delivery of justice, efficient and gender-sensitized police force, gender equality, bridging the gap between haves and have-nots.  While a lot of these are beyond our purview, we can do a lot as ordinary citizens to transform the mindsets, and even more importantly as parents. The encouraging fact is that many Indians are and have been already doing this:

Respect everyone: What every child in my son’s preschool in the US was taught is this: Respect and treat everyone equally. The first year there was full emphasis on behavior and very little on ABCs or numbers or months-of-the-year. This is what they teach 2-3-4 year olds here like a Mantra: Respect others; Be nice; Follow the rules or be ready to face the consequences; Learn to share with others; Be responsible; Understand and Express your feelings. Initially, I was a bit concerned about the lack of rigorous academic curriculum in the schools here. But now, the way I look at it –  you can live with some crooked handwriting, but not with crooked mentality. You can live with imperfect grammar, but not with improper treatment of others. Your degrees are useless if you don’t have a minimum level of empathy for others.
              Women do not need worship or protection or special status in the society. What they need is respect and equal treatment just like anybody else. Respect for everyone – irrespective of their gender, paycheck, physical appearance, class, language, culture, religion. Respect…not because she’s a woman, but respect – because she’s a human being first and foremost.

Raise equally: Indian PM Narendra Modi nailed it in his maiden Independence speech in 2014, and I quote verbatim: “Parents ask their daughters hundreds of questions, but have any parents ever dared to ask their son as to where he is going, why he is going out, who his friends are. After all, a rapist is also somebody’s son. He also has parents. As parents, have we ever asked our son as to what he is doing and where he is going?” We have to totally do away with the sense of entitlement males are given in a large section of the Indian society. Both boys and girls should be raised to be able to cook a meal, to make their own beds, do the laundry; in short, to be able to take care of their own basic needs. I have had both my son and my daughter help me in the kitchen and at home, right from age 3. They enjoy peeling eggs, sorting out utensils from the dishwasher, cutting vegetables (under my supervision, of course), watering the plants, cleaning up after a meal. The list of chores will increase or decrease with time, but my kids can rest assured that it will not at least be based on their gender.

Name and Shame: There’s a lot of social stigma associated with rape-survivors. Change the equation. Let rape or pre-marital sex not be made into an issue about a tissue. Name and shame the perpetrators of the crimes, not just for rapes but for molestation (euphemized as eve-teasing), female infanticide, dowry, acid attacks, honor killing, domestic violence – all these are symptoms of the same malaise. Take a stand; refuse to give or take dowry. A lot of these social ills is due to the ‘Chalta hai’ attitude we have.  The laws can do only so much, but the real change has to come from within the society.

Redefine customs: If there’s a tradition that you feel is discriminatory, either discard it or redefine it so that it goes with your values. e.g. Karva Chauth (observed in some parts of India) has traditionally required only the wives to fast for the well-being of their husbands. However, I know of several friends that do observe this as a couple and for the well-being of the entire family. I personally celebrate Rakshabandhan in US every year, where each kid ties a Rakhi to the other. This is a way of saying to each other – I’ll be there for you in good times and bad. And who says that brothers do not need the support of their sisters? See further examples here of women as priests and performing last rites, again done traditionally by men.             

Basis of Marriage: Let marriage be a beautiful union of two souls where each connects with the other based on shared values, understanding, love, trust and respect. A lot of times, the decisions about marriage are based wrongly on factors like biological age (as opposed to maturity age or readiness for marriage), physical appearance, social status, parental pressure, astrology, ability to give and command dowry – in short, everything except the will and personalities of the two people that should matter the most. Unless the husband and the wife are on an equal footing in a marriage, the next progeny will grow up seeing the same misogynist attitudes being propagated and will continue the cycle.

Be a Role Model: We do not realize this that often, but each of us influences the other. Especially educated, liberal, upper middle-class, urban elites in India can do a lot for the economically disadvantaged by just being socially aware and responsible. The cooks, drivers, gardeners, delivery guys, repairmen, security guards, maids – they all may be looking upon you and learning from your behavior while you are not looking.

Redefine culture: A lot of discriminatory practices are perpetuated in the name of culture. What we fail to realize is this: Culture can never be stagnant. Culture shapes us, and we shape it – in turns. Culture is what we choose it to be. India, especially, is a land of mind-boggling number of cultures, traditions, customs. What is true in one part at one time, may not hold true for another region at any time. So the argument of not changing for the better just for the sake of saving your culture holds no water at all.


              While change of outlook/mindset takes time or may happen instantly, the one thing that can be seen for sure is the judgement in all these cases. So coming back to the Nirbhaya case, I would have preferred if the juvenile had been tried as an adult, as done in some countries on a case-to-case basis. I definitely hope it ends with the strongest punishment for all the accused adults. I have seen the following arguments against it by various people:

Human-rights activists: They shed tears for the human rights of the accused. What about the human rights of the relatives of the dead? Don’t they have a right to closure, a right to see a just punishment in proportion to this kind of rarest-of-rare crime meted out to their own blood? Let the message go out strong and loud – The moment you violate others’ rights, be ready to lose yours.

Statisticians: They argue that there are not sufficient statistics to show that death-penalty acts as a deterrent. One can argue on the contrary too that there is not sufficient evidence to prove otherwise. We have had the lackadaisical attitude towards convicting and delivering justice for gender-violence crimes for decades. Let’s try the other approach at least for brutal crimes, even if for symbolic value, before dismissing it altogether.

Spiritualists: They are concerned about healing for the accused, who are ‘spiritual beings having human experience‘. This is a dangerous notion camouflaged as compassion. I too believe that we are all spiritual beings and Hinduism considers every being at a conscious soul level, not just human beings. Yet, two of our Itihaasas, the Ramayan and the Mahabharat, deal with atrocities on women – abduction of Sita and disrobing of Draupadi – in very unambiguous terms. And, what is our duty, what is the central message? As Krishna says very clearly in SrimadBhagwadGeeta – Fight Adharma.
              A lot of times, we see misogyny and gender-violence being justified in the name of traditions, scriptures, religions. But, in my opinion, our scriptures or our traditions have been absolutely clear on how to deal with the Ravanas and Duhshaasanas of all times. The question we should be asking ourselves is: Are we?


Wanna change the world? Change the mindset…


                “We are what our thoughts have made us, so take care about what you think.”

– Swami Vivekananda.

                Our thoughts shape our mindsets, which in turn influence our actions; our actions determine how society and the world at large is shaped. Every act of violence begins in the mind, so take care of not only what you think, but what your friends, your neighbours think; what your family thinks. When you think you have seen it all, out comes a crime so depraved in nature, so chilling in its details that shames you to your core! It makes you wonder whether the perpetrators belong to the same species as you. What kind of monster will walk into a classroom and spray 6-year olds with bullets? What kind of monsters will rape and torture a woman with an iron rod in a moving bus and throw her out to die? As the year draws to a close, and we try to make sense of the recent horrendous crimes, there is one thing that may give a clue on how to minimize them: Actively try to change the mindset of yours and those around you for the better. Even if one life can be saved or changed for the better, it will be well worth the efforts.

Gun-culture in the US

                 When I wrote earlier  “..And so the stalemate will continue and human beings will continue to be butchered…”, I never imagined that the next victims of a mass-shooting will be innocent 6 and 7 year olds in their classrooms. For the families of the 26 who died that day, the rest of the their lives will never be the same. The parents of the 12 girls and 8 boys will live the rest of their lives with a hole in their hearts. I have written about this issue earlier, where we looked briefly at how powerful the Gun rights lobby (including NRA) has been aided by money and power. But it is also the mindset of its supporters that enables the NRA to have such a clout.

Weapons of Murder

Weapons of Murder

                According to Wikipedia, USA has about 5% of the total world population but its residents own about 42% of all the world’s civilian-owned firearms. The homicide rate in US is 30 times higher than in other advanced countries. Gun laws vary from state to state. So in some states, it is perfectly legal to carry guns anywhere from school to church to a pub.

                A question on everybody’s mind is about Nancy Lanza, the murdered mother of assassin Adam Lanza. What was she thinking?  Teaching a mentally ill son to use guns, stockpiling assault weapons whose sole intent is to kill people – all these enabled the massacre that followed. An oft-repeated argument by Gun Rights activists is : ‘Guns don’t kill, people do’. True, it took a madman to kill children, but what definitely aided the process was possession of guns by the mother. The same day the Sandy Hook massacre occurred, another madman in China went on a stabbing spree attacking school-children with a knife. 22 kids were hurt, but every one of them survived. See the difference?

                I had mentioned this earlier too – As opposed to the rest of the world, keeping guns is seen as a right by a large number of Americans. A lot of this thinking comes partly from history, partly from tradition, partly from movies and games that glorify guns and violence. May be it is a time to reconsider those traditions, change that mindset. If not now, when?

                Many of us had signed a petition to the White House to immediately address the issue of Gun Control through stronger laws. You can go here and look at the petition as well as see the response from the US President Obama and from the Chief of Staff to the US Vice President.

Rape-culture in India

                Many of us Indians might take offence to this seemingly blasphemous title – What!? How can our great Indian culture be a rape-culture? Yet, that is what it is at present.

                Rape is but the subjugation of a person in a most depraved manner. It is not about sex. It is about humiliation, perversion, torture, violation, cruelty inflicted on a body and a soul. I am no psychiatrist to decipher what causes one to rape, but even I can tell you as a layperson that – Rape starts with the dehumanization of the victim by the rapist – the attitude that the woman or child or man(in rare cases) in front of me is ‘easy meat’, with lesser rights as a human being than I am entitled to.

                What I have termed as a ‘rape-culture’ prevalent in India is actually the collective mindset of people – A mindset that treats women as subservient to men. It starts at the womb really and continues till the grave.

                It is our mindset that allows new parents to kill their infant or unborn daughters instead of cuddling them and showering them with kisses.
                It is our mindset that allows more than 70% of women to face some form of sexual harassment; it does not matter whether the ‘woman’ in question is a 2 month old infant or a 75-year old grandmother.
                It is that mindset which enables 57% boys and 53% girls in India to think that a husband is justified in beating his wife, according to Unicef’s Global Report Card on Adolescents 2012.
                It is the kind of mindset that makes a highly educated doctor in Andhra or an IAS from Bihar or an engineer from Maharashtra ask for dowry as a sort of ‘fundamental right’, the ‘rate’ of dowry being dependent on the status of or income from the position.
                It is the mindset that makes India the 4th most dangerous place for women after Afghanistan, Congo, Pakistan, according to a Thomson Reuters Foundation Survey.
                It is the same mindset that allows a politician to refer to another woman politician to speak in derogatory language thus – “चार दिन हुए नहीं आपको राजनीति में आये हुए और आज आप चुनावी/राजनैतिक विश्लेषक बनके घूम रही हैं! कल तक तो आप टेलीविज़न पर ठुमके लगाये फिरती थीं और आज आप नेता बन गयीं?” ( It’s just recently you’ve stepped into politics and today you’ve become a psephologist! Till yesterday you were dancing on TV screens and today you’ve become a leader?)
               It is the sort of mindset that makes an Indian in USA exclaim after the birth of his daughter – ” I’ll have to go back and settle in India now to teach my daughter proper values; with a son it would have been different!” (You see, sons in Indian families do not need to be taught proper values :-), the onus of carrying on Indian cultural traditions is always solely on the womenfolk.)
               It is the kind of mindset that makes everyone from politicians to police personnel to ministers to judges to your everyday road-ruffian remark after every single incident of rape/molestation thus – she must have worn inappropriate clothes; or she must be of loose morals; or she must have provoked the rape somehow; or she must have asked for it; or she must have been inebriated; or she must have been in the wrong company; or she must have been out at an inappropriate time. No dearth of excuses to hide the inefficiency and complacency and utter uselessness of the system, if there is ever one.

               There is a lot that can be done through legal and judicial means…and this goes for curbing both gun-violence and sexual violence. But the ultimate change in mentality must come from within us. Many of us would be able to come out of it in our lifetimes, but the vast majority will probably take generations to change this mindset. If the recent incidents jolt even some of us into action, if they result in a safer society in the long term one step at a time, then only there is some meaning in saying ‘RIP Nirbhaya, RIP Sandy Hook victims’. Finally, this is the song I dedicate to the memories of the victims:

Photo credits:

Aapka KBH


(This is a letter to Aamir Khan and team at Satyameva Jayate by fictitious Dr. KBH. Any resemblance to real people, living or dead, is purely coincidental. If you do not like sarcasm, read this at your own peril).  

         क्या यार आमिर & टीम? और कोई काम-धंधा नहीं है क्या?  पहले रंग दे बसंती, फिर तारे ज़मीन पर, 3 Idiots, और अब सत्यमेव जयते ! क्यों नहीं लोगों को चैन से जीने देते ? क्यों ऐसे मुद्दे लेके आ जाते हो समाज के जो (कुछ) लोगों के रातों की नींद उड़ा दे?  क्यों हमारे ‘culture’ को ख़तम करने पे तुले हो ? वही – हमारे ‘चलता है, चलने दो” culture को |

               वैसे एक बात की तो दाद देनी पड़ेगी – क्या power है आमिर खान brand की ! कितने NGOs ने हमारे business को ख़तम करने की कोशिश की, कितनों ने मुक़दमे चलाके हमें फँसाने की कोशिश की – सब मुश्किलें हमने हँसते-हँसते झेलें, अरे सबको ठिकाने लगा दिया (बस cases को ठिकाने लगाया, लोगों को नहीं ! वैसे ठिकाने तो हम सिर्फ अजात लड़कियों को लगाते हैं अपने clinic में) | एक आप आ गए अपना शो सत्यमेव जयते लेके, तो बस शुरू हो गयी गली-नुक्कड़ों में discussion; यहाँ तक की अब अपने ही बच्चों से आँख मिलाना दूभर हो गया है | peer-pressure है उनको – कहते हैं उनके friends ताने देते हैं यह कहकर  कि तुम्हारे parents clinic में यही घिनौना काम करते हैं (जी, सही अनुमान लगाया – हमारी अर्धांगिनी भी डॉक्टर हैं | एक सच्चे भारतीय नारी की मिसाल – सब कामों में पति की सहायता करती हैं)|

               अब बताइए हम जैसे समाज-सेवी के काम को घिनौना कहके धुत्कारना ! हाँ, तो इसी बात पे मैं यह चिट्ठी लिखने पे मजबूर हो गया हूँ – अगले किसी episode में बात को ज़रूर clear कर दीजियेगा | हमारा मानना है कि कन्या भ्रूण हत्या का काम एक तरह की समाज-सेवा है | अरे, चौंकिए मत ! हमारा यह भी दावा है  कि मसले की तह तक जाने के बाद आप भी इसे सराहेंगे  –    क्या है न कि  एक लड़की को जनम से लेके मरते दम तक इतने सारे मुसीबतों का सामना करना पड़ता है कि हमें  तो लगता है कि उन्हें जनम से पहले ही मार के हम उन्हें एक तरह से राहत ही दिलाते हैं |

1) (Female infanticide)  जन्म ले भी लिया तो क्या फ़ायदा कोशिश तो कई लोगों कि यही रहती है कि किसी तरह से बला टल जाए – चाहे  ज़हर देकर या   दांत से काटके या cigarette से जलाके या दीवार से पटक के |

2) (Discrimination) चलो, यह माने कि वह बच भी जाती हैं, तो घर पे ही उसे हर पग पे  उसके लड़की होने का एहसास कराया जाता है : खाने-पीने से, शिक्षा से लेके vaccination/ स्वास्थ्य – हर जगह एक लड़की की ज़रूरतें एक लड़के से पीछे ही रखते हैं उसी के खुद के माँ-बाप |

3) (Sexual Harassment) – कितनी आसानी से eve teasing के नाम पे कमेन्टबाज़ी से लेके अश्लील छेढ्ने तक,  acid-attack से लेके मौत के भी शिकार हो जाती है लड़कियाँ; कोई उन्हें बचाने की हिम्मत भी जुटाएं तो भई वोह भी तैयार हो जायें अपनी बलि चढ़ाने के लिए |

4) (Sexual Violence/Rape) लड़कियां कहाँ सुरक्षित हैं? कोई एक जगह आप गिना सकते हैं? घर(1, 2, 3) से लेके मोहल्ले में, स्कूल (1, 2) से लेके hospital, road से लेके Mall, train से लेके Pub  – कहीं नहीं!

5) (Honour killing) अपना जीवनसाथी चुनने का हक़ तो खैर कितने लड़कों को भी नहीं है, लड़कियों की तो बात ही क्या है! तो इसलिए उन्हें भी पाल-पोसकर बड़ा तो कर लेते हैं, लेकिन जहाँ यहाँ-से-वहां शादी कर ली, तो बस पड़  गए उनकी जान के पीछे (1, 2) – आखिर ‘इज्ज़त’ का सवाल है!

6) (Dowry deaths) कानून जाए भाड़ में ! हर एक घंटे में लड़कियों को दहेज़ के लिए मारना कोई हमसे सीखे ! दहेज़ खुले आम लिया-दिया जाता है; कम हो तो मार दो इसे ; दूसरी मिल ही जायेगी |

7) (Domestic abuse) लड़की चाहे पढ़ी-लिखी हो, चाहे अनपढ़ | चाहे पैसेवाले घर से हो या गरीब | चाहे शहर की हो या गाँव में रहने वाली | घरेलू हिंसा का शिकार कोई भी हो सकती है – शारीरिक, मानसिक, मौखिक, आर्थिक हिंसा का |

वैसे तो हमारे क्लिनिक  की दीवार पे माँ सरस्वती, माता लक्ष्मी – सब मौजूद हैं| लेकिन कथनी और करनी में फर्क रखने वाला मैं कोई दुनिया का पहला इंसान थोड़े ही हूँ ? ऐसा कीजिये आप एक country-wide poll ले लीजिये सब लड़कियों की, किसने ऊपर दिए गए किसी भी स्थिति का सामना नहीं किया होगा life में एक बार भी ? हमारा पूरा विश्वास है कि आपको आपका जवाब मिल जायेगा और यह भी यकीन हो जायेगा कि मेरा काम समाज-सेवा ही है |

आपका Dr. KBH (Kul Bhushan Holkar , कुल भूषण होलकर)
PS :  वैसे हमारी निंदा करने वाले KBH को ‘कन्या भ्रूण हत्यारा‘ कहते हैं |