A MATTER OF SHAME AND ANGUISH

Once again, the entire country feels the shame. A young veterinary doctor has been gang-raped and murdered in Hyderabad, a capital city in South India. The criminals burned the victim's body and she was pronounced dead at a hospital after police found her and took her charred body for treatment. Attacks sexual and otherwise on working woman have become a daily occurrence. Seven years ago a 23 year old paramedic student named Nirbhaya was returning home with a friend. Her friend was beaten and she was gang-raped by six people in New Delhi, the capital of India. She too died because of the injuries she suffered. These are extreme cases no doubt. Yet, both point to a serious deficiency in India's collective behavior. The incident at Hyderabad has provoked anger and outrage. One can see this as a natural reaction to a tragic incident. However, the underlying causes would not be rooted out through outrageous statements or angry outbursts. India is a democracy and in a democratic society no one is allowed to take Law into his/her own hands unless it is self- defense. Beating of a suspected criminal by a mob happens quite often. Police in India also at times resort to extrajudicial killings. Illegal activities by the police become as dark a blot on the society as the heinous crimes committed by a criminal.

Reportedly some government official has said that the veterinarian should not have been out at 9pm. The young woman was returning home, and to her parked scooter after work and found the tires slashed. A group of people, who later attacked her and killed her, offered to help. She called her sister and told her that she was scared. The sister called police and through the victim's cell phone they located her. There are many who echo the politician's ways of thinking. In order to prevent such things happening, blaming the victim is idiotic. In order to deter others from committing such ghastly acts, many prescribe the death penalty to the perpetrator. In the case of rape, they propose the miscreant should be forced to marry his victim. In extreme cases, "the criminals should be shot on the spot". Who is going to do that: the victim? Her relatives? The police? None of the answers seems plausible.

The society as a whole has to adjust to the prevailing atmosphere in the country. For example, young women all over India are becoming educated and entering the work force in droves. They are working with their male counterparts side by side. Sometimes, they have to work late hours or overtime. Many companies with women employees operate in shifts. Therefore, today's woman cannot operate under the same rule that was proper for her mother and grandmother. Things have changed. Our thinking has to change accordingly.

The Modi government seems to be gong ho about the growth of India's GDP. As Sashi Tharoor has said in the Parliament, there is no reliable source of verifiable statistics in India. The Government says the growth rate would be 7.1% whereas everybody says India's growth rate would be 4.1%. Whatever the growth rate, if India is going to grow at all, it has to pay attention to the social interaction between its stronger and weaker sections. How the society treats its vulnerable members such as the poor, the lower caste, women folk, the elderly, has a lot to say about its own strength and weaknesses. Taking advantage of a person or exploiting one has become a normal act and sexual exploitation of a young woman, and in the process killing her, as heart wrench as it may be, becomes the extension of a normalcy, a national malice. We feel shame and anger. But the hard work that needs to be done to spread a new value, a different mindset or a change in our priorities, is not happening. And that is a big problem. Hopefully, an incident like this would make the entire society active in that way. With millions around the world we mourn the death of Priyanka Reddy, the young victim in Hyderabad.



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