Roughly a month ago, India faced a ghastly gang rape and murder of a 23 year old medical student in Delhi. The fact that the incident occurred in the national capital Delhi, in a relatively ‘safe’ neighborhood, not very late in the evening and when the victim was with a male friend, sent chills up spine of the entire nation.
This caused a national outrage and there were protests all over the country demanding immediate punishment for the culprits, governmental intervention to improve safety and changes in the law to impose more stringent punishments for criminals perpetrating these crimes against women.
The incident received wide publicity in both national and international media. The incident continues to receive active coverage in Indian media even to this day and there is a sense of anticipation around the response of the government. The situation is not very different to the anticipated action from the US government on gun control laws after the tragic Sandy Hook school massacre.
In the backdrop of the Delhi incident, thinkers in international media reflected on the safety of women in their countries. Incidents like the one that occurred at Steubenville, Ohio showed that ghastly crimes against women were not just a developing world problem but really a global issue. The conviction rates for rape in Britain were reported by The Guardian to be an abysmal 6%.
On a personal level, I started off by expressing my anguish about the incident on my Facebook wall and my Twitter account. But after a few days of being a ‘paper tiger’, I introspected about how I could do something of impact rather than just blowing steam by posting links on social media sites. The result was a detailed action plan of minor activities which I hoped would have some measurable impact.
I, along with two of my friends, started taking on practical issues and seeking solutions through active advocacy. Some immediate actions included writing to online retailers to stock items such as pepper sprays, tasers etc. which are currently not widely available, writing to non-profits based in US/Canada such as RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) to open chapters in India. We also wrote to editors and journalists of major newspapers to adopt a solution orientation rather than focusing on the blame game. We hope to be able continue our advocacy with the same level of enthusiasm until the broad ecosystem surrounding these issues improves. We know the journey is not going to be easy and requires tremendous persistence on our part.
I don’t know if the nature of the problem is such that it can be completely eradicated. I don’t know if development is the answer to these crimes or if there are other underlying issues which need a different way of addressing. But I have a growing sense of conviction that such issues are too onerous and too complex to be solved by the government alone – no matter how efficient the government is.
These issues require comprehensive and participative involvement by all citizens. These issues have a higher chance of getting solved if the citizens in a democracy ask themselves, to paraphrase a popular refrain, what they can do for their country rather than asking what the country can do for them.