This piece was published in a college newspaper
At the outset, this column isn’t about the cynicism overflowing in the hearts of many Indians, including mine, when it comes to protecting our women and their freedom. Instead, it is a personal reflection on how civil society in India may be showing signs of positive transformation.
The recent tragedy concerning the gruesome death of a gang rape victim has suddenly awakened India’s educated youth. Why did this case, among the numerous equally horrendous crimes in the past, stir such rage among India’s youth now? Not many have looked to social media for an answer.
Like so many other Indians, I have grown up reading countless news stories regarding the poor treatment of women throughout the country. Neighbors I grew up around in different cities in the North, West and South of the country all had an unspoken rule: Never allow your daughters outside home after sunset. In fact, whenever I’ve visited my home in Pune — a supposedly modern city of well-educated people — my close female friends aren’t usually encouraged to leave their homes past 8 or 9 p.m.
This is not to discount the freedom women have in my country. Women have made a mark for themselves in all areas of life, including politics, cinema, banking, entrepreneurship, civil services, education and so on. An aunt of mine, a mother of two in her 40s, was recently headhunted to manage a team of 1,000 professionals as the vice president of a European bank setting up shop in India. Things are changing for the better as more women receive primary and higher education. But their safety has always been a concern.
In 1991, India’s overall literacy rate was about 50 percent. By 2007, it was 75 percent and has only been increasing. Clearly, the younger generation is by and large more literate and educated than previous generations. This has translated into Indians of my parents’ generation not opining openly, or even frequently, on many political events. My generation, on the other hand, does. And through social media, we have been given a platform to mobilize our opinions.
In December, mass discourse reached its peak after a young woman in her 20s was brutally gang-raped and beaten in a moving bus, only to be thrown naked onto the streets to her later death. It shocked everyone internally, as such incidents may have likely shocked people in the past. But this time, the frustration was poured out and recorded onto the Internet in the form of tweets, status updates and blog posts. For the first time, people realized the frustration was not exclusive to any one individual but instead a commonly shared feeling.
I saw this rage engulf my news feed — rage that was not haphazard. Strings of events were organized to protest against present conditions of poor police protection and inadequate law enforcement. In the first weeks of January, I saw a host of my friends argue in depth and in detail over the nuances of how laws could be improved. I also saw petitions open for signatures to local politicians. And for the first time in my life, many 18- to 24-year-olds like myself did not even celebrate or party on New Year’s Eve as a mark of protest. In so far as the unprecedented nature of the protests and rallies rattled the entire government machinery and stalled sessions of the Indian parliament. All this was made feasible by the connectivity provided by the internet, and tools such as Facebook and Twitter. Not only were people able to coordinate, more importantly, they were able to realize mutual frustration.
Of course, that said, I’m not suggesting everything is going transform right away, or even in a few years time; this process, of transformation of civil society, will take at least a generation to occur.
But, in essence, three things came together for the first time in December and January: the Internet, Indian democratic principles and an educated youth. While the crimes inflicted by the notorious elements within any society are condemnable, the direction the Indian nation is headed into is certainly a positive one.