By Naina Kapur
While aging ministers with archaic mindsets stumbled in the halls of government to offer yet another “legal” approach to ‘rape’, young men and women spoke with clarity and a commitment for an issue that they had no historical connection to but for this 23-year-old- one of their own
Some have asked my reason for attending the protest against rape on December 23rd at India Gate which led to being caught in an unprovoked brutal lathi and tear gas charge by the Rapid Action Force and Riot Police. My answer is- the young people. A few years ago I did feel reflective about what it was that moved the young. What rights would this next generation really fight for? For those of us who emerged from the protests, campaigns, disappointing outcomes and some successes of the women’s movement in the 80”s and 90’, there seemed no apparent answer. The signals, it seems, were in the places we never thought to look- within them.
On December 23rd, it took a single step into a symbolic circle near Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate to melt away my doubts. Young men in a chakravu, held hands surrounding an inner circle of mostly women. As I gently tapped one young man on the shoulder, there was an instant and graceful parting which allowed me to enter a collective space at the centre. There, women sat, shouted for justice, sang and heard the heartfelt stories of other women including the gang rape of a 3 year old who died from her abuse. And in that moment, for all the shame that has echoed in the very being of us as Indians over the vicious brutality faced by a young woman who simply stepped out to dinner and a movie with a friend only to board that fateful bus, I felt an equal depth of pride- for the young people within that circle and their genuine call for justice- for, in fact, a better world for women.
Many in that circle had come to protest for the first time in their lives, and the cause is rape and violence against women. With or without us, they are struggling to find ways to respond. Young men spoke up and vouched to eliminate ogling at women- ogling! Men were speaking about ogling- that silent yet oppressive shadow which stalks women throughout the city if not the country but to which we have forever turned a blind eye.
If only some of our leaders had peacefully entered that circle with me, they would have witnessed what I experienced- a genuine expression of pain. As parents, citizens, Indians and people who sought to pave a way, we must ask ourselves what legacy we want to share with them. Brickbats and teargas? Adversity and violence? Or compassionate engagement with their cause- one that impacts us all? Our youth are trying to point the way to a truth about ourselves, our values, our rights. We must find the humility to follow and where needed, to offer some of those pearls of wisdom we might have gathered along the way. RAF and Riot Police cannot defy a truth- it can only embolden it. It’s not an Arab Spring- it’s a circle. But In the words of a famous American hymn rewritten in the eighties- one which can’t be broken.
“Will the circle be unbroken, by and by Lord by and by.
There’s a better way to live now, we can have it if we try.”
Naina Kapur is an advocate and Equality Consultant based in New Delhi