The 24x7 media attention on the recent rape of a young woman in a moving bus in Delhi and the outpouring of sentiment over the incident should not become or be viewed as a ritualistic exercise in mass histrionics.
Certainly, it is not so for the friends and family of the girl who is bravely battling for life in the hospital. For them, the incident is real and devastating. For those of us who view the events remotely, however, we must go further than displaying our own exalted horror. We must re-orient our own attitude to women and do something to prevent future horrors.
In recent times, this is an activity where our electronic media helps us to repeatedly surpass ourselves. With its new-found culture of 24x7, of follow-up with flashlights and candle light vigil by civil society, together we seem to show eagerness for self-aggrandising displays of grief over events that did not actually happen to us.
TV channel-transmitted tragedies have become common and are occasions to stage overwrought emotional performances. In their frenzy to lend a wistful aura, channels do not mind transgressing personal sensitivities of the victims while running hour-to-hour bulletin bulletins from doctors on their condition.
But amidst all this, curiously, TV media, which claims national coverage, clamours for making Delhi safe, as if other places are better off when it comes to such crimes. Only recently, we heard of the Park Street incident in Kolkata and another in Bihar of the horrendous rape and murder of an eight-year old Dalit girl.
We, in India, claim proudly that we are an ancient culture, we worship women in the form of Durga or Shakti.
We have our vociferous forums of women at national level, we have various joint action committees across the country wanting to empower women. We are eager to install women as Panchayat leaders and wish to provide a quota for them to become Parliament members. Alas, all this is but tokenism and does not hide the ugly fact that as male Indians, we do not really respect women.
When such a horrific incidents occur, we bay for the blood of the police commissioner and we want him to do impossible things like deploying the police (again, most of them men) everywhere to keep vigil over tens of thousands commuters. We verbally assail the politicians, whether they are men or women, and find fault with them for not making tough laws.
We blame judges for not only delaying justice but also not handing out severe punishments to the perpetrators of such heinous crimes. However, we remain where we were when it comes to our basic attitude to women.
We men in India do not even promise ourselves that we shall change this attitude and help our youngsters cultivate a healthy respect towards the other gender. We encourage -- in the name of enjoying cinema and sitcoms in TV shows -- scenes in which boys standing around routinely pounce on passing girls, or manhandle them in moving buses. We see movies in which the rape victims are compulsorily married off to the rapists.
Even if we cannot change the attitudes of all men, the paramount need of the hour is to sensitise men in the police, all over the country, not just in cities, so that they can help minimise such atrocities against women.
(The author is a retired civil servant.)