It’s official. Mumbai, masquerading as the exception in a country that boasts of daughter-in-law burning, honor killing, female infanticide and as of December, gang-rapes in metros, has been outed.
Yesterday, a young female photo-journalist was raped by five men while her colleague was tied up and forced to watch. This happened in the dilapidated, Shakti Mills compound where the two had gone to cover an assignment. Like most places in Mumbai, this one isn’t very far from a bustling area. And note, this happened around 6pm, that nightmarish hour when an already overcrowded city explodes into rush hour. It would have been broad daylight too, considering yesterday was a sunny day.
What, what am I to say? The Delhi gangrape last year left us outraging and screaming. Somewhere at the back of my mind, I tucked it away and went about my life. My family got difficult to deal with in the weeks following that, constantly curbing my going out. I was working at that time, at a job that demanded long hours and traveling for about two hours either way. I told them about the safety precautions I take – using trains rather than lonesome autorickshaws & cabs, getting into ladies compartments only if there was at least one other woman in there. And beyond that, I shrugged it off as, ‘That’s Delhi after all, the rape capital of the country.’
Earlier this year, Kolkata’s Park Street rape case made national headlines. I shrugged again. After my only visit to Kolkata in 2011, I stopped buying into the notion of it being a city that respected women, anyway. I got unabashedly stared at, motorcyclists leered at me when I passed and in general I received the kind of unwelcome attention that makes me turn my nose up at the capital. I was a Mumbai woman after all. We didn’t do things that way in my city.
I’m shamed, shamed from my proud stance into submission now. The strength and independence I took such pride in, stemmed from believing that I lived in the only place in this country where a woman had a chance of living a full life with a career of her own. No more. Mumbai, my beloved homecity, you let me down.
This is not a generic rant aimed at an amorphous idea of a place. My city is its people. It’s the police force, charged with protecting me and keeping my city free of crime and attack. It’s the civic authorities, holding responsibility for public spaces being clean, safe and accessible. It’s companies and offices, the nuts-and-bolts of India’s cash cow, bearing the onus of a safe, respectful world for their employees to be able to function beyond being warm bodies in office cabins. It’s other dwellers in this city, carrying the responsibility for being and nurturing morally sound human beings. It’s my friends and neighbors and family, treating me like I deserve basic human rights such as safety and independence and ensuring I get them. You’ve all let me down. You’ve let every one of this city’s women down.
I want to know about the five families that produced these men who perpetrated this act. I want to know who they are and how they feel about destroying the one ideal this entire country had. Yes, I hold them responsible. Bad people are created by the societies that breed and nurture them. I already know that we live in a country that shackles, abuses, gags and violates women. I also know that this same country encourages men to be self-obsessed, controlling without being responsible for, and simultaneously being dependent on and hurting women. Its festivals are a glorification of this subjugation of women. Its leaders get away with excusing human rights crimes on chowmein and victim blame. This is a country where men get away with pretty much anything and blame passes onto women. I really want to know what the parents, siblings, neighbors and friends of these five men are like.
I want to know this because this is what my fellow countrymen (and women) are like. I’d better start learning to accept their ways of life before they decide to punish me. This country doesn’t like a woman, especially one that believes she has the right to life and dignity.