‘Don’t lose faith in India’ were the dying words of my father when he breathed his last almost a quarter century ago. He was 80+. He was the descendant of an indentured labourer who had left his home land in the late XIX century. The reasons for his departure are as picturesque as your imagination would let you believe. Whatever they be, they compelled a man to leave everything and accept being enslaved and bear a number. His was 354495. He managed to secure his freedom and build life once again with determination and success. I am proof of that. Forgive this aside but it needed to be said.
Papa died a few days before the demolition of the Babri Masjid. I am grateful for that small mercy as it would have broken his heart and maybe who knows shaken his faith, the very faith that I consider a legacy. Had I remained ensconced in my comfortable, ordinary and insipid life, it perhaps would have been easier to hold on to that faith, but I chose to walk the untrodden path that questioned that faith far too many times and needed me to hold on to it drawing on shreds of logic and passion. But hold on I did as I could not forget the sacrifices my parents made for the country they loved unquestionably. My mom was even willing to sacrifice motherhood to the alter of freedom. She chose to give me life in a free India thus making its freedom sine qua non to my very essence.
I grew up on foreign shores but the love for India was lovingly woven into the fabric of my heart and soul by my two love stricken parents. The image of India that is seared in my heart is one of a land of tolerance, understanding and humanity. My parents never failed to teach me to respect the culture and values of the countries I grew up in and to me Indianness meant all embracing. I was proud of my heritage.
For the past years I have slowly had my faith put to the test. I held on to it. When the going was too tough I shut my eyes and remembered my parents or looked deep into the eyes of a very deprived kid and knew I had to carry on just for that child.
We humans are strange bods! We have the capability of getting inured to things and even stop seeing them. I guess that happened to me too as I saw a beggar child, read about a rape or a killing and turned to my fragile coping strategies. But recent events have shook me to the core, as all the values that made India what she is, seem to have been hijacked and are being mercilessly destroyed.
Where is my tolerant land?
Today you are killed because someone suspects you of eating something that ‘their’ faith finds offensive. Today a baby can be burnt alive because someone in her family did not do something another asked him to do before she was even born. You can have your face blackened for reading the wrong book, seeing the wrong film; you can be harassed for the clothes you wear, the drink you consume, the game you watch and so on. Intolerance is the flavour of the day and you better get used to it. Your life has been hijacked.
So where to you go to keep the wavering flame of your faith alive? The usual coping strategies seem to be floundering. New ones need to be sought if you do not want to live your life in fear. One option is to be fatalist and we Indians are privileged as we have karma to explain what cannot be. But what is the karma of a two year old that is brutally gang raped? Another option is to hope that someone among those who steer the country will intervene and say: ENOUGH but sadly that too seems to be a chimera.
You look helpless and almost hopeless for some ray of hope as you surreptitiously find yourself reading what you wrote twice over lest it upsets someone, something you never did before in a land where freedom was your right. Alas today freedom takes on a whole new meaning with far too many caveats. You want to scream, to rant, to rave, to shout: STOP.
We are tired of the intolerance we see. We are fed up of the political games that surround every occurrence and never address the situation. After seven decades of Independence there are still 5000 children who die every day for want of clean water and adequate food, child labour and abuse flourishes, women are still second class citizens and millions are deprived of basic dignity.
But what I would want to say to those who hold us to ransom today is that you cannot kill the spirit of India. What your aberrations are doing is waking up the deadened consciences of far too many who cannot keep mute anymore. There is an anger slowly brewing, an anger that is breaking the seemingly impregnable walls of comfort and finding its voice.
India is a blessed land. Let us not for get that, and yes Papa, I for one will not lose faith in India till my last breath.
The horrific rape of two toddlers, one age 4 and the other a tiny 2 has once again brought to the fore the disturbing issue of child abuse. I do not know how many posts I have written about this monstrous reality. One time is too many. Each time I sit down to pen my words I feel hopeless, helpless, sad, angry and terribly guilt ridden and tormented by my inability to do something to stop this horror. Erin Merryn wrote: The very first part in healing is shattering the silence. Her words ring so true as in India today we need to shatter the deafening silence; not only the silence that too often surrounds the victim in the name of some brand of misplaced honour, but the ear piercing silence of society as a whole. In the past week 3 toddlers have been raped! One is just 2 years old. She was raped by two juveniles age 17. They have been arrested and so have the perpetrators of the rape of a 4 year old. All lived in the neighbourhood of their tiny victims. Children are normally abused by friends and family. That is a reality we have to accept and own.
I watch with a sick feeling the usual drama that follows such abhorrent crimes. The pain of the family, the short lived anger of the neighbourhood, activities and society at large crying for blood, the rabid talk shows, the blame game where all that matters is who gains the maximum brownie points and photo ops, the slewof articles trying to find some logical explanation, the aberrations expressed by the guardians of patriarchal morality who are quick to lay responsibility on the victim and so on. Then the din stops. Some other occurrence gains the attention of one and all. All that remains if the silent pain of the mother and the quiet anger of the family.
The slow and inadequate legal system crawls in the emptied space and takes over. We are all aware of the dismal number of rape cases that see any trial let alone conviction at all. This happens again and again and again. I wonder why we have stopped asking the disturbing WHY.
I do not have awards to return or any such flamboyant action to register my intense distress. I just have this space and I use it again and again and again. Not doing is not an option.
The question I ask myself is why are the number of rapes and abuse against women increasing. And please do not talk to me about social profiling. The malaise is across the social spectrum. A friend recently told me about a game being played by three six year olds in one of the most upmarket school where two boys pinned down a girl (all classmates) and parted her legs and then declared she would have a baby. These kids were from wealthy and educated homes. One often quotes promiscuity in the cases of slum children who live in one room spaces and thus see more than they should. I guess the kids in richer homes access inappropriate information in multiple ways too.
The bottom line for me is that the sex education, if there is any, has not kept pace with the day-to-day reality children of today live in. If at one end of the spectrum it is lack of time of the parents to guide their child through life, at the other it is lack of knowledge. In both cases parents are not fulfilling this aspect of child rearing.
And please do not come up with the No Sex Please; We are Indians quip, I am sick and tired of hearing about the hydra headed monster called morality! In today’s world sex education should begin at a very early age and accompany the child through her/his adolescence at least. A wishy washy lesson on human reproduction is not sex education.
The crux of the matter is age appropriate. This should be instilled in children as soon as possible. The morality preachers cannot put a stop to the hormonal upheaval that plays in every body, male or female. This is natural. What one can do is explain these and give the required and age appropriate skills to our young ones.
One also needs to explain to them the consequences of deviant behaviour and warn them’ but one also needs to absolutely stop condoning any inappropriate behaviour as was so well exemplified by one of our political stalwarts in his Boys will be Boys comment.
Our society is going through a difficult phase with the advent of information at the speed of light. Everyone has access to the net, to social networks, to You Tube and so on. What we do not realise is that what is seen as a tender age and not processed in the right manner can lead to disaster.
These boys were caught and will get what they deserve. Will the punishment serve as a deterrent. The answer is no. That is because the punishment will take time, and with children time is something we do not have. You cannot begin to imagine how many little girls will be molested by raging young hormones and never tell the story.
We need act now.
Today’s children do not read books that are inspiring; they do not have role models in their parents or teachers; moral studies is off the school menu; sex education is taboo. No one has time for them.
We have to as a society, as a political dispensation, as an education institution and as a family find quality time for our children. That would be the first step to breaking the silence and healing society.
A four year was most brutally raped and left to die a few kilometres from where I sit to write this post. I need to be graphic today in the hope that the horrific details may awaken our benumbed consciences and deadened souls that too often remain mute when faced with child abuse, a crime that has not place in any civilised society. The problem is that this child was poor, and anything qualified as poor leave us indifferent. Yet I will tell her story. This little girl was raped, sodomised, bitten, hit with stones and left to die. All it took to lure her was a packet of noodles and a paltry ten rupees. Then man had planned to throttle her but had to run away as he hear voices. The child managed to crawl back home to tell her story. Imagine her pain. She is alive but barely as every single part of her tiny body has been mutilated: she has several genital injuries a torn rectum necessitating a colostomy and has cuts and bite marks on her face, abdomen and chest. Doctors say she will need six months before she recovers. But the scars on her soul will never heal. In the words of Herbert Ward: “Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime.”
The statistics of child abuse and child sexual abuse in India are staggering and having reached epidemic proportions. 48,000 child rape cases were recorded from 2001 to 2011 and India saw an increase of 336% of child rape cases from 2001 (2,113 cases) to 2011 (7,112 cases). (Asian Centre for Human Rights report 2013). One child gets raped every 76 minutes. Do you understand what that means! I do not think so as if we truly did we would be up in arms. The reason that we, who have the power to change things do not budge is that most of these tiny victims are POOR so faraway from our reality.
My thoughts take me to the closing scene of the moving movie A Time to Kill, where the defence attorney describes to a all white jury in slow and painful detail the brutal rape of a little black girl and then in the final words of his summation simply says: and now imagine she is white!
I ask you to do the same thing. Imagine this little girl lying alone and mutilated on a hospital bed was yours.
We seem to be reacting at everything these days. Eminent personalities are returning their prestigious awards to mark their protest against intolerance. Everyone is talking tolerance and freedom of speech and thought.
Can a society be called tolerant, free and even sane when it allows children to be raped and mutilated and abused in all ways and perpetrators to go free.
I just ask you to imagine she was yours.