My first bitter, teeth-gnashing sense of defeat as a father was the sight of a bumpy red welt on my little one’s cheek. My daughter, all of three months, had been bitten by a mosquito in her sleep. I woke up with a rush of guilt for sleeping through the droning buzz. I felt humiliated by a puny bug. With a rather avoidable whimsical flair, I decided to get even. In my head, I decreed death to all mosquitoes.
That morning, I called the mayor’s office and did not rest till bug-busters, wielding spray pump and a fogging machine, were outside my door within hours. It was a nice ego-massage. But it didn’t solve the problem.
I bet, with narrowed eyes and a tilted head, the mayor that day would have wanted to tell me: West Delhi listens to you. And, I am sure that I would have heard it in such a way as to believe it. In the end, both of us, like partners in crime, would have been equally guilty of accepting maximum circus, minimum cure. I am few years older as a father now, and my fears in these years have grown bigger than mosquitoes lurking at dark corners — and my guilt of not standing guard as a golden retriever all the time has grown even more.
If I don’t have the energy and the sleepless vigilance to stand up for my daughter, how can I pretend to do it for countless others? So, I didn’t light a candle this time, I did not hold a placard. As a father, I keep convincing myself that I will be forced to do what I finally did to protect her from the mosquitoes. I built a cage of mesh. I blocked them out, wielding a Made-in-China bug-zapper as my final line of defence. As we go along, I see myself building her many small cages. Home tutorials. A car to set her free by fencing her in. Night curfews. Safe spaces to party with friends and more. Cages I don’t want to, but I will have to build. It would be a boy’s life in a simulator, but that’s all I can do.
My anxieties, after all, are rooted in blunt factfulness. I live in a city that alongside Sao Paulo ranks as the world’s worst megacity for sexual violence and harassment of women (Thomson Reuters Foundation Annual Poll — World’s Most Dangerous Megacities for Women, 2017).
Of course, I will tell her, she’s free to be a bird or bee. But while I will raise her to #PinjraTod, I will also craftily annex her freedoms. For her own good, you know. It may be infuriating, but there’s a good chance it will work. A good chance it will achieve the stated goals: Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao. At least, that’s the logic I am already trying to hard sell myself.
It’s classic middle-classism: Analysis beyond anger. You need a reality-based worldview to be ready for the future. When you don’t get good government schools, turn to private schools. No one to monitor private schools, go for private tuition. No clean drinking water, get an RO. No power, invest in an inverter. We don’t beard the lion, we pretend it doesn’t exist.
It’s just mission control integrity. An unyielding alignment of goals and ground realities, which in this case are landmined with unindoctrinated Incels and other assorted perverts. I find the reasoning slick enough to convince the jury of my innocence as a middle class father bringing up an Alpha kid.
But inside, I feel terrible. I don’t want to do this. What I want to do is write one last placard, and hoist it above my shoulders till the fight is done. No, I don’t want death for all rapists. It’s primitive logic. I, for my daughter, want the Right To Effective Policing. I want a police that is responsive, transparent, and accountable for policing outcomes. People’s police. It’s pretty basic, but not simple.
It took the highest court of this land 10 years to pass a landmark judgment on police reforms in the Prakash Singh case in 2006. It has been 10 years since and, as per a compliance report till March compiled by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and put out last week, not a single state has so far complied fully with the directions issued by the Court. The deadline to implement the directives was March 31, 2007. That package was shipped by the Supreme Court in September 2006, and was due within six months. We were just too busy lighting the protest candles at the wrong end to check if it reached.
I am doubtlessly certain that we need it delivered before bullet trains and swanky expressways, and even before resolving our national animosities that make for great prime time debates. For, this has to be the rock foundation of any development model I negotiate and buy into for her as a father. It is time to pinpoint politicians who can run point on this. There is no other way off this hamster wheel of everyday terrorism against one half of this country’s population.
Till then, I will protest as if it’s up to the government, and prepare like it’s in daddy’s hands.