Pledge to remember!

“University student abducted near library and gang-raped by auto-rickshaw drivers.”

Unfortunately, this is a common enough headline. It would usually prompt some incredulous conversation, a shudder and then the shake-off:  no-way – that’s not going to happen here. Except that this time, there is no easy shake-off. It is our University. The student in question, one of ours.  Hell, throw-in a bus ride to Manipal, swap the library for a restaurant, it could have easily have one of us from the Mangalore campus.

Justice, may it be fast and effective – lies in the hands of the Police Department and the Judiciary. With police sketches of the suspects ready and assured co-operation from the auto-rickshaw driver association, let’s hope that the arrests are made soon and that the fast-track court proves worthy of its moniker.

As we wait on justice and send our fellow student our wishes,  strength and support… what next?

First, let’s not call it the ‘incident’. It was a gang-rape. Yes, RAPE is an ugly, uncomfortable word. But better to be  discomfited and therefore remember, than to sweep it under a rug of polite euphemisms and equally politely forget what happened.

Second,  let’s remember the minute she walked out of that auto-rickshaw,  the student ceased being a rape victim and became a rape survivor. Kudos to the officials of police and the university for the sensitivity in not releasing her name to the media. Let’s continue affording her that privacy. Remember, it is her story to tell, and on her terms.

Third, in our haste to assign blame and simultaneously assure ourselves that we’d neither be party nor prey to such an assault, let’s not make the mistake of attributing the crime to the context, or the judgment of the assaulted, or the mental status of the rapists.

Anything can happen after 10pm!

Watch out, this is a slippery-slope! Who decides the curfew?

As the Uttarakhand government was rumored to have stipulated in wake of the Delhi gang rape – 6 pm! But how far before another voice ventures, “It is safest before mid-day.” Next, we will not want women to step out on the streets at all. By tacitly accepting certain hours as unsafe, we are actually giving the perpetrators more power.

She should not have been walking alone from the library, and especially not if she lived off-campus. 

Discussions on the much touted security of the Manipal campus aside, it is not about why she was doing what she was doing. The question is, why was it not safe for her to (in this case, walk across from her library to her apartment building)?

The rapists require psychiatric treatment, because they must be mentally unstable. 

Really? Take a look around.

(Google “Rape in India” under the news tab.)

Rape is reported daily. It is not restricted to any single demographic. The rapists and their targets are from big cities and small villages, from across socio-economic strata, the educated as well as uneducated. These rapes are not perpetrated by psychopathic individuals on the fringes of society, but by the mainstream. I think it is time we pay attention to Rape Culture. It is not just some two-word construct  activists are banding about, but a mindset that has permeated our national consciousness. Nirbhaya became the poster-child for anti-rape-culture activism, but there are signs everywhere that the rot runs deep. The woman in Aligarh who was murdered because she allowed her daughter to wear jeans. The  cops in Delhi and Noida, who claimed that most rapes occurred because the women were asking for it. The next time you dismissively label a girl a slut because she is strutting her stuff, showing more skin than you would deem appropriate. The all too familiar clenching in the pit of your stomach, when you suddenly realize that you are the lone woman in a street (or in a market, or on a bus)!

I hope the University will bear in mind that how it responds as an institution is going to set a precedent. Besides impacting student-life in the years to come, the steps we take will determine how prospective students feel about choosing Manipal as their future alma mater. It’s not just about protecting students, it is also about protecting what it means to be a student at Manipal University. As you hasten to reassure parents and students that their safety is paramount, do consider whether you are adding value or taking away something. Yes, security and police response times need to be amped up. Yes, install more CCTV cameras if you can arrange for extra staff to man the footage. However shutting down the library altogether? Now, that would be ridiculous! Along the same lines, making hostel accommodation mandatory, that seems unwarranted and ultimately unhelpful. (The abduction happened on the campus, and  it would be common for a student to walk from the library to their hostels too)

Students in either campus can no longer bask in the cocoon of being in a safe university town. Buddy system all the way. Always have at least one person know where you are at any given time, and shoot a text ahead of you if you are going to be traveling alone.  Be prepared when you are out and about – charged cell phone with emergency numbers on speed dial. Oh yeah, get that pepper spray – but know how to use it. Get into the habit of ostensibly photographing license plates of auto-rickshaws, and passing the information to a friend. Also (as public safety departments exhort worldwide), “If you see something, say something.”

Finally, as a community, let us pledge to remember the Manipal rape. Let us also not lose sight of the real goal:  not to protect only women’s bodies, but also our freedom. As Kavita Krishnan (AIPWA National Secretary) eloquently said in her speech …women have every right to be adventurous. We will be adventurous. We will be reckless. We will be rash. We will do nothing for our safety. Don’t you dare tell us how to dress, when to go out at night, in the day, or how to walk or how many escorts we need! We believe that regardless of whether she is indoors or outside, whether it is day or night, for whatever reason, however, she may be dressed — women have a right to freedom.”

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    • Thank you! Talking about Rape, and thinking about it – is a start, even if it seems inconsequential given the magnitude of the problem.

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