Updated: February 20, 2020 10:31:15 am
I am from a place called Fazilka, which has become a district in Punjab now. But when I studied in the school there, it was a sleepy, small town, typical of India. Everyone knew everyone else, or nearly so, and cases of molestation had yet to emerge on the public conscience. I am told they were taking place then, mostly, within the confines of the house, but families preferred to brush them under the carpet. Till the demon became so big that the National Crime Records Bureau took notice and brought it out, in full public view.
While growing up and studying in Jalandhar, I did hear of this social scourge — a veritable monster, which by then had indeed become big and bold. Beyond the domestic space, it was now knocking at the doors of most public places and gatherings. My lecturers at the college explained that urbanisation and migration were leading to anonymity. Emboldened by the fact that it can go unrecognised, the monster started visiting schools, colleges, cinema halls and gardens. I remember my parents being very apprehensive of letting me participate in college festivals or allowing me to stay out late. My mother’s curfew timings really bothered me but the family was united in the belief that public places had become unsafe.
My sister studying in Chandigarh, however, told me that things were safer there, and I wondered why: She explained that young women are bolder and “tackle mischief-makers on the spot”. It made me happy and I thought that things must be much better in Delhi. It is, after all, the national capital.
Thirty years down the line, when the monster became really huge, the central and state governments modified laws relating to women, created special courts, made women police investigate offences against women, pursued speedy trials and punishment of the offender. Some police officers even went to the extent of allegedly “encountering” the monster. But this social evil keeps reappearing, still, because it has many heads.
And yet, when this monster entered your college festival, you were not prepared. You failed to notice him or hold his dirty head and thrash him. What is this controversy about insider or outsider? We all know that it’s both — the monster is both within the college and, also, hanging around outside. We, from small towns, can recognise him from a distance. And yet, you — from the famed national capital — failed to do so. I am surprised and distressed. I am appalled that the Delhi police is expected to identify the monster from the CCTV footage. I would have loved to hear of one of the PCR vans of Delhi Police rushing 20 young and old monsters to AIIMS after they were thrashed by the Gargi College women for trying to molest, grope and masturbate during their college festival. I missed looking at the photos of the moaning injured monsters on hospital beds in the national newspapers the next day.
I would have also wanted to see the ever-busy television channels report that the parents of none of the injured monsters had come to meet them in the hospital and they had been publicly disowned instead. I am sure, busy as they were covering the stupendous victory of AAP in Delhi, many of the TV anchors would have then forgone it to showcase your gallantry. I would not have been surprised if Arvind Kejriwal himself applauded the women of Gargi in his victory speech.
Are you not aware that God helps those who help themselves? Even the law protects those who protect themselves. You need to understand the lurking danger in all public places and be adequately prepared. To the young women of Gargi, I’d say, please read the Indian Penal Code: Sections 96 to 106 are for self-defence. You can go to any reasonable extent to keep your body and property safe. There were so many of you and your combined strength would have definitely put the fear of God in those piddly monsters. I know I can be hauled up for inciting you, but how long can we keep quiet? When all conventional and progressive methods have failed — including changes in the law, encounters and hangings, and the malaise continues unabated, we have to think boldly. For me, it is to thrash the goons if we are in good numbers as you were in your college festival. And, to report if we are in smaller numbers or alone. Remaining quiet is not an option. I am happy that you, the Gargi women, did not remain quiet and pursued the matter. But I am sad that you were not prepared.
I want an assurance that the women of Gargi will remain alert and fully prepared to behead the monster if it is seen lurking around their campus again. Gargi women, lead the nation in this war against the monster!
Also read | Opinion: Students are protesting because of our education, not despite it
This article first appeared in the print edition on February 20, 2020, under the title ‘Fight the monster’. The writer studied in a government school in Fazilka and retired as an officer of the Indian Police Service.
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