Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Runaway Brides

I was reading the paper this morning, and came across a “human interest piece” on what the writer perceives as yet another evil of the cyber world. The article tells the story of a 32-year-old woman from an upper-middle class family whose “main concern” was apparently, “to find herself a suitable match”. Now, according to the article, this woman surfed some of the online matrimonials and got chatting with a 48 year old Chennai-based man “who promised her a job and a good life” provided she ran away from home and went to Chennai. This woman, at this point, left home with her clothes hidden in a shopping bag and boarded the train for Chennai. The rest of the article goes on to describe state-of-mind of family, steps taken to trace her etc etc etc.

In all honesty, I have things that I need to say. What is wrong with the women of today? Where has our common sense gone? Have we become so fooled by so-called feminism that we cannot see reality? How can anyone live in India, be a woman, for 32 years and still be so stupid? How desperate are we to get married and why?

Even if I was desperate to get married, as a rational human being would it not be a lot more logical for me to ask the man to meet me at a neutral, safe, public place, get to know him, meet his family, get him to meet mine, before even thinking about marriage? This is a complete stranger! Why have we started taking people at cyber value? Why do we assume that everything they are saying is god’s own truth? And even if we assume that the person is 100% genuine, would my mental alarm bells not start clanging like mad the minute he expected me to run away from home? Do we not read the newspapers or watch news anymore? Why have we suddenly become convinced that we are living in an ideal world where everyone is honest and good and genuine?

I am a woman. Having lived in this world, and specifically India, for 30 something years I have learnt certain ground realities. Yes, I would love to live in a world where women are not prey. I would love to live in a world where my safety is no longer my concern and does not even need to be thought about. I hate the fact that there are so many predators out there, so many perverts, and criminals; but this does not mean that I will, or should, suddenly decide to live as if I was in utopia. My safety is and will always be a concern that is primarily mine. There is a difference between being a victim, and going out there and inviting, practically insisting on, trouble. It’s not right I have to be this way, but it is the reality.

This brings to mind certain other incidents in recent times that have been made much of, specifically by the media. There seems to be a trend of sympathizing with and non-criticism of, the victim. Sympathy yes, I agree is necessary. However, I think, it is this non-criticizing attitude which is turning girls dumber and dumber. I’m not saying we should lynch the victim! Of course not! But why is it that the smallest question is never raised when she has been downright asinine? As a case in point, take the incident in Pune recently. The facts are something like this.

A young boy and a girl, presumably a couple, are sitting, (by the roadside one assumes), in a badly lit, secluded part of road. A man drives by, stops, and comes back. He disembarks and tells them that he is a cop and asks for their driving licenses. They don’t have them. He then tells the boy to go and get their licenses from the hostel or wherever, and the girl to get on the bike behind him to be taken to the police station. The boy leaves! The girl gets on the bike! He then takes her into the university campus, presumably driving straight past one of the two police chowkis that are there at the two gates, and rapes her. This was splashed all over the print media in Pune as an example of how unsafe Pune, and specifically the university campus, has become. However, to me it seems to be about how stupid our youngsters have become! Here’s why.

First and foremost, during the entire proceedings, no one bothered to ask for the man’s ID to verify if he really was a cop. Fine, lets assume the kids were flustered at having been caught doing whatever it is that they were doing. Also, lets keep in mind, it’s not easy to stand up to cops and ask for identification. No problem. But, why were they out, on the road, on a two-wheeler, without a driving license? Also, when it was suggested that one of them go and retrieve the licenses, and the other go with the cop, how stupid was it for the guy to go and the girl to be left alone with a man neither knew? Should not the girl have gone for license and the man with the so-called cop? Or at least, the boy go with his girlfriend and the cop to the station, see that she was there safe, then go for the licenses? That’s what common sense says. But then, as I have discovered, common sense is actually highly uncommon. Accept for the moment that they arrange things the way they did. When the man was driving PAST the chowki, didn’t that make her suspicious? And if not, what does she use for brains? Also, the spot where this incident allegedly took place is about a 100 yards from a very well lit and highly populated park. Does she mean to say that she followed this man, willingly into the darkened bushes after having seen that people are around and help may be found? Also, it is unimaginable that while she was being raped, she could not cry out even once, for one second. Even one good scream at that spot would have brought at least 40 people running!

Another case in point is the recent gang rape of a girl in Ahmedabad. Shock waves have been set off at the fall of such a ‘safe’ city into the rank of the crime ridden ones. The case is simple. On New Year’s Eve, a young girl tells her parents that she is going to a sleepover at a girl friend’s place and instead leaves for a party with her boy friend. This boy is someone they all know, he has been to their house and met her parents. So far so good? Anyway, they go to the party where he drinks, and presumably she has a few as well. Then they decide to go to a “farm-house-party” at his friend’s farmhouse. They get there, and she sees no evidence of a party happening. Instead, she finds four other boys there. Alarm bells go off, and she insists that her boyfriend drive her home. So far it sounds like a disaster narrowly averted. Doesn’t it? Now here is where things get really weird. Instead of home, the boy takes her to a hotel, where she walks with him (presumably past the receptionist and other staff, as well as maybe some guests) to a room in the hotel. When they get there, she finds the other four boys already there and is gang-raped by all five.

How stupid is that? If your alarm bells have gone off earlier, at the farmhouse, if you have seen that your boyfriend took you there under false pretences, and you have had the sense to insist on going home, why do your brains suddenly freeze? When he takes you to a hotel instead, why do you go to a room with him? Should you not have lost some of your trust in this boy? She may have been forced, or dragged, some might say. But if she had, surely the receptionist, and other staff, and guests would have seen or heard something. If she was forced, all she had to do was scream and someone would have come to help or at least notified the police! It’s awful what happened to her, but just because she is the victim, and in this case dead (she committed suicide a few days later) must we not ask relevant questions? The press is treating this as another evidence of how spoilt rich kids are turning to crime. The point is that they always have had that propensity. It is not enough to say that the rapists are animals. One needs to ask these questions in order, at least, to show other idiots that this was a preventable, and if not that at least protest-able, incident. Yes they were animals…. But must I go into an animal’s lair without any protest and any attempt at saving myself? If she had tried to run, to scream, and failed, she would have been a complete victim.

A number of other recent cases share the same features. Deplorable yes, but not unquestionably the fault of someone else. What happened to “safety first?” what happened to all those rules we are supposed to teach our kids to protect them from just such predators? And more importantly how exactly does all this get ignored by the media and therefore by everyone else? I think it is essential that these issues be raised, especially in the mass media. It might, just might, prevent another girl from being such a complete dolt. I agree it would be nice if there were no predators, but must we willingly put ourselves in jeopardy in a foolish self-created, media abetted, delusional, daydream? Why can we not teach ourselves to be smarter than this? Much as I would like the world to be a safe place for women, it isn’t and I see no reason for relaxing vigilance and turning stupid.

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