Delhi Gangrape and Beyond: There is no point separating the ‘system’ and ‘us’

At the risk of oversimplification, I would like to summarize that there are two dominant discourses taking shape in the aftermath of the delhi gangrape incident. The first one is blaming poor governance that includes ineffective police,dated laws, social stigma associated with reporting crimes etc. The second one is saying that the fault lies not with the system but with the people, some who because of their mindsets view women as lesser mortals,and others who are apathetic to atrocities committed on ‘strangers'(a person could belong to either or both of these types).
The first side argues that we need to change laws, create more deterrents and these policy changes will lead to a better future. The second side thinks that unless mindsets change, little else is possible. I argue that these two perspectives are not in opposition as many may think. Instead they are highly interdependent and it is hard to ascertain what came first and which one causes the other. However what is clear is that the two are locked in a vicious circle.
Let me explain by summarizing a brief incident from yesterday.
A 60 year old lady in broad daylight was robbed of her purse, pushed and blinded by chilly powder thrown at her eyes, by a man on a motorcycle in a fairly modern and progressive town in north India. She cried for help, asked for water so that she could wash her eyes, to be able to make her way back home. No passerby stopped for help afterwards ( i.e. provided water when she cried for help), leave alone tried to rescue her from the attacker.

Of course it is easy to conclude that people are apathetic and don’t give a dime unless its someone they know. And hence the mindset needs to change rather than the system.

I don’t believe that any human can see atrocity on a fellow human and breathe easy. We even get disturbed seeing such things in fiction. So why in reality would we ignore them.

The answer my friend lies in the system, that forces us to take apathy as the only safe way out. For instance in this case had someone stopped and tried to counter the victim. Almost certainly, that would involve dealing with the police.The police whose actions are determined by crime rate targets and not by a need to preserve law and order.

Returning to the incident just described, say someone had tried to stop the attacker,but failed. He would have to give a statement to the police. It is quite likely the police may not be able to solve the case (various reasons beyond the scope of this post).In which case they may force/harasse this witness to actually say that he saw nothing, in their desperate bid to keep their target of unsolved crimes low. In which case, the witness has not only risked his life, troubled for time, but forced to lie. All this when he tried to be of help.

Finally, we as individuals have lost complete trust in our institutions that we exhibit extreme apathy. For instance it is a common sight in road accidents (hit and run variety) where we often wonder why no one is ready to take the victim to the hospital. Yet we don’t because we know it involves the police and that is messy at best and dangerous at worst.

Essentially, then the debate, In my opinion,doesn’t need to be about where is the problem but at which level to effect change. As any change in either the systemic or individual level will likely change both.

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Author: harshT

Assistant Professor at the Missouri School of Journalism

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