For the first time since the Mumbai terror attacks, I am terribly scared again. The gang rape of the hapless 23-year-old physiotherapist has left me shaken. This is not to say that other tragedies have left me untouched. It’s just that what scares me more than anything else is the inhuman face of terror, of brutality, of cold-blooded cruelty that lies beneath the everyday mask that humans wear. A school bus driver, a vegetable vendor and a gym instructor — these are people we come across every day. But did you imagine that if you scratch the surface, beneath lies a man capable of the kind of cruelty perpetrated on this victim?
This is not rape we are talking about here; it is much, much more. It is a violation of humanity, of womanhood, of life, and of God Himself! It is a violation of one’s very existence on earth. In a way, I would say, with this cruelty — and the Connecticut school massacre — the world and all humanity did actually come to an end in December 2012 as per the Mayan calendar.
These incidents are just an extreme manifestation of a problem that ticks around us all the time, waiting for the slightest provocation to explode in our faces. If you are one of those who doesn’t read disturbing reports and prefers to stay cocooned in a false sense of security, then things are fine for you. But in the real world, one increasingly encounters tempers on short leash, people quick to take umbrage, and ever prepared to strike back. These days, you hesitate before ticking off someone or even objecting to something. My son stops me from complaining to a waiter in a restaurant, saying, “Mom, he will get angry and spit in the food or something!” He also stops me from pulling up the house help for any misdemeanors, saying, “Haven’t you watched Dastak? Some people strike back, even kill for small, imagined insults!”
You tell off someone for hitting your car, and he whips out a gun. You don’t allow your daughter to marry the man of her choice and she kills you. You protest when a man teases you, and he considers it his licence to stalk you and rape you. It seems that we are surrounded by ticking time bombs, human landmines you have to be careful not to step on, lest you trigger off an explosion that destroys you.
Does this make you wonder what the world is coming to? What has changed? I asked my friend, psychiatrist Dr Deepak Raheja, on the gang rape issue. “Nothing’s changed. There is a time bomb beneath the surface of all of us. The animal instinct is part of our make-up; we are all basically animals who have learnt to train ourselves so as to fit in with our idea of a civilised society,” he says.
But surely, you and I wouldn’t ever be so brutal, so cruel, so remorseless? That is where education, culture, spirituality, a greater consciousness — call it what you will — come in. That is what helps us rise far above the basic animal instinct, and this is also what creates the difference, the divide between the haves and have nots. Poverty and lack of means frustrate people further; add to that minds that are very, very sick and there goes off your time bomb! But the one thing that can still keep order intact in society and save the rest from the few sick minds is, as always, the rule of law.
Ultimately, how safe your society is boils down to how strict and effective your law and its execution is. “Despite civilization, education and consciousness, the danda is the most effective means of keeping order,” says Deepak. “If people think they can get away with it, they will push the boundaries. But of course, in cases such as the Delhi gang rape, these people are indeed wired differently. They are very sick.”
True, but however sick they may be, if they didn’t think they could get away with it, they may have thought twice about what they did. And so the people who are responsible are the policemen, the people on the road, and yes, us! We all need to be alert, sensitive, firm in a zero-tolerance policy and willing to help and protect the weakest in our society.
And then comes the next question: should rapists be subjected to castration or capital punishment? Between the two, I would choose the former, but it’s not enough. Certainly not enough for what they did to the 23-year-old, not by any stretch of imagination. I do not think the law can do anything to the perpetrators of this crime that is punishment enough. Capital punishment would be too soft on them; they would die quickly, and then what? They should be made to suffer for this every minute of their lives and should be made an example for other would-be criminals so that nobody ever again dares to tear asunder the very fabric of civilised existence and leave us all shaking with rage and helplessness yet again.
Vinita Dawra Nangia is a Senior Editor with The Times of India. The blog O-zone reflects her incisive insights into the world around, offering a newer way of looking at life, people and the situations they find themselves in. The blog puts forth practical, feel-good ways of dealing with contemporary chaos, leading to a guilt-free life! O-zone is also the name of her weekly column in the TOI Sunday supplement, Times Life. Vinita also writes the fashion blog.