Delhi Horror: When will women have the right to say 'No'?

Last Updated: Mon, Jul 20, 2015 08:43 hrs

Yet another aggravated sexual assault followed by a particularly brazen and brutal murder rocks the capital. 

Yet more outrage will follow, including, as usual, people who don't really care about the sexual assault of women. Yet again there'll be a clamour for the boys' heads in the form of capital punishment and a lowering of the age for criminal liability as one of them is a juvenile. And yet, things will go back to 'normal' in a little time. 

What are we not learning about how to deal with sexual assault and rape culture in this country? 

The girl did what feminists and criminal law asked her to do. She protested when she was being stalked, she lodged a police complaint. And she paid with her life for it.

The police, as usual, failed in its duty or in due process. They refused to file an FIR. They refused to implement the law. They let one brother off in a fortnight after the original complaint of stalking and harassment in 2013. They did nothing about the other because he is a juvenile when there is a set of procedures that are in place for erring juveniles (currently being foolishly re-written, only because we want to behead the juvenile in the December 16, 2012 rape case).  

And, of course, now they deny any complaint at all, yet refer to one complaint where the complainant's mother was booked for breaching the peace. We'll never know what really happened over a period of years in relation to police complaints. 

This is how the inept, patriarchal and sick police in Delhi (and arguably all over the country) deal with women's complaints and their own ineptness. Through indifference and lies.

The feminist movement, such as it is, as usual, failed once again in providing no support to the girl. We have hundreds and thousands of NGOs (with new ones coming into being every day), all ostensibly fighting for women and yet they do no work on the ground to help girls who are made vulnerable by their complaints. 

There are no local supportive networks for all women despite much talk of it after the December 16, 2012 rape. The women's movement in India is arguably dead and its corpse is rotting in NGO offices.

Civil society, in its unpardonable inaction, failed. Two young boys chase a girl stabbing her all the way in broad daylight, in the open, and people just watch. The girl's mother intervened and got stabbed and her wrist slashed but none of the hundreds of people around stop two stupid boys with knives. 

This is the culture of our cities. Recall that no one picked up the girl and the boy, both half-dead, off the road in Delhi, despite their obvious states of violation and distress. We are to blame for being the cowardly, sickeningly fearful and ultimately indifferent people we are.

But, most importantly, it is a failure of how we bring up boys and how we treat men in our societies.  

The ghastly reality that the mother of the boys was egging them on in the murder must tell us something about this. Women upholding patriarchy in this hideous manner is surely one of the unaccountable ironies which we need to learn from. 

All our popular cinemas celebrate the stalking and harassment of women as romance. If women do not eventually succumb to this (as heroines always do, like the heroine of Bahubali who is violated into romance), then they must be taught a lesson and have acid thrown into their faces (as these boys indeed threatened with the girl with at one point) or killed openly and brazenly.

The fact is that women are not subjects in our society. They have no individuality, no subjectivity and certainly no will of their own. They cannot say 'No' (because when a woman says 'No' she means 'Yes' is the popular wisdom) and they certainly cannot protest the violation of themselves. 

They must be grateful for this violation because it is being conferred upon them by men and that is the biggest achievement in a woman's life in this country. That she may not be interested is not even a question.

Unless we tackle this at its source and educate boys and men into the idea that women are human beings just like them and have a right to say 'No' just like them and have minds of their own, events like this will continue to unfold. 

This is only a more graphic account of the seduction of the heroine in Bahubali. The very structures of romance, conjugality and love in our society are predicated on such a destruction of women's agency and will. 

Till we understand that, nothing is going to change. 

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Ashley Tellis is an Associate Professor in Gender, Writing and Research at IMHST, BALM, Chennai

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