Nice Girls Don’t Protest!

Another life snuffed out before it could bloom. Another girl ‘punished’ for her ‘audacity’ to protest sexual harassment. Another name added to the growing list of victims of atrocities against women.

Though the circumstances leading up to the incidents are different, it is the same mindset that led to the gruesome killing of ‘Nirbahaya’ on the streets of our ‘Rape Capital’ on a cold December night in 2012 that was at work in the murder of the Lanjigarh girl, who succumbed to her severe burn injuries at the Ispat General Hospital (IGH) in Rourkela on Tuesday. In a bizarre, convulted way, the perpetrators in both cases were trying to defend their non-existent ‘right’ to sexual assault!

In the wake of the ‘Nirbhaya’ case that caused nationwide outrage, significant changes were made to rape and sexual assault laws, making them more stringent and providing for harsher punishment. The idea was to put the fear of the law in the mind of the would-be perpetrators of sexual crimes. But numerous incidents since then, including the Lanjigarh case, have proved that laws, no matter how stringent they are, never act as a strong enough deterrent for sexual predators. A stronger law may ensure a longer prison term for the perpetrator if he is convicted. But it never prevents the crime from being committed in the first place.

The fact that the parents of the two perpetrators have been arrested for ‘instigating’ their sons to do what they did tells us something about where the problem lies and where one has to start while looking for a solution. It is not known whether the arrested parents have daughters. But they obviously believed that a woman or a girl has no ‘right’ to protest or make an issue out of it when sexual advances are made against her. They perhaps also believed that what she suffered was ‘just desserts’ for her ‘crime’ of reporting the matter to her parents, who admonished their sons. It is this disgusting mindset that their sons clearly inherited. And it is this revolting mindset that is at the root of most crimes of a sexual nature in India.

Though it doesn’t always end in death, this obnoxious mindset manifests itself in myriad ways in our social life. It is the same mindset that emboldened the street loafers to make a pass at a girl accompanied by a male friend on Nandankanan Road a few days ago. And it is the same mindset that saw the police badger the victim with questions on her male companion rather than go after her tormentors.

In the overwhelmingly male chauvinistic society that we live in, women are expected to adhere to an unwritten behaviourial code – at home and outside. Any deviation from this ‘code of conduct’ invites instant and devastating retribution – by parents, brothers and other male relatives at home and by any man, even if he is a complete stranger, outside. As per this code, a woman or a girl is expected to quietly retreat to a corner at home and weep her heart out – and not rush to the police (or even her parents as in the Lanjigarh case) with a complaint – when sexually harassed. “Nice girls don’t protest” appears to be the prevailing social norm.

A word about the two perpetrators, one of whom is juvenile. Like the victim, both of them have their whole life ahead of them. At a time when they should be joining the workforce and contributing to nation building, they would be spending time in a jail or a correction home. While the juvenile may walk out free after a few years, the other perpetrator could well be spending the better of the rest of his life in jail now that murder charge is certain to be pressed against him in addition to the sections he is already charged under. Both of them will plenty of time to ruminate over whether what they did in a moment of mindless madness was worth it at all. When he comes out of jail, the juvenile is certain to find life extremely difficult. He will be shunned by friends, viewed with suspicion by acquaintances and hated by everyone. As for the other boy, he would, in all probability, be well past his productive age when he finally walks out free only to find that he is unwanted by society.

In short, it is not just one but three lives – all in the prime of their youth – that have gone waste for nothing more important than the boys’ penchant for passing lewd comments against a girl. What a waste of life!