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When Will Indian Men Stop Being 'Helpless' Witnesses To Crimes Against Women?

01/07/2016 2:05 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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Illustrator 10 with Transparencies. Tight vector background illustration of a stop sign with the graffiti word 'rape.' Add a headline and body copy or take out the background and make spot art. Check out my “Conceptual Signs” light box for more.

The Times of India, where I was a senior editor, had expressed the view while reporting readers' anguish and anger over the Delhi gang-rape of December 2012 that "we" should resolve to intervene when we see a woman being harassed by word or deed. And, "we" ought to pledge to treat all women with respect. Also, "we" ought to swear that "we" will fight discrimination against them at home and in the workplace, etc., etc.

By "we", the Times implied the men in Indian society.

Strong words... but people said talking is easy. And they weren't wrong.

To my mind, India's gravest concern today is crime against women. Especially rape and murder. Or, in some horrific cases, both. They are hate crimes. But beyond making headlines, and some lip service by photo-greedy government officials like the Rajasthan State Commission for Women member who took a selfie with a rape survivor, precious little is done. And the atrocities continue, they get bolder because the land is becoming lawless. Justice in cases where women are molested, raped and murdered -- for motives ranging from dowry to sexual gratification -- is neither done nor seen to be done.

But what happens to us, "we" the men Times was exhorting?

I believe all male babies are born men, but somewhere down the years, many lose their spine, they become gutless and turn yellow.

The shame of this country is that a hundred men will gape in awestruck horror as a jilted lover stabs his girlfriend multiple times on a busy road and then pours acid over her. Not one will come to her rescue. Or even raise his voice in protest. They are more likely to whip out their cell phones and take a video instead. Like what happened on Nungambakkam Railway Station in Chennai the other day when a woman employee of Infosys was "cold-bloodedly" murdered "in broad daylight" as the crime reporters notoriously say.

I don't know what happens to men at times like these.

Years ago, a 12-year-old mentally challenged girl was raped in a Mumbai local by a drug addict and known goonda while five men in the compartment watched helplessly. Among them was a senior press reporter who subsequently rushed to his office to sensationally break the story. He wasn't my friend. No friend of mine, I can say with my hand on my heart, would have stood by and let rape happen without doing something to stop that criminal violation. There was a hue and cry in the city, of course, with outraged people including eminent citizens and an indignant eunuch telling the five witnesses, "You call yourselves men? Go and drown yourselves with shame!"

I believe all male babies are born men, but somewhere down the years, many lose their spine, they become gutless and turn yellow. In his mind, every man is a hero and it is easy for him to dramatically imagine what he might have done to the rapist had he been one of those five mute spectators on that Mumbai train. An overdose of Bollywood excites us to think along these lines. Even cowards have heroic dreams -- who or what is to stop them from living in a daring make belief world beyond their own frightened shadows?

Which road do you choose? The road less travelled -- fearlessly? Or the tried and tested path -- fearfully? The road you choose is what distinguishes a man.

But the truth is the body goes into shock, the mind refuses to think when you are experiencing something extraordinary and frightening in your ordinary day and life. The nervous system gets paralyzed; the reflexes benumbed; the heart turns cold; the voice refuses to emerge because the throat has run dry; there are butterflies in the stomach; the legs turn to jelly; and the hands become weak and heavy and are incapable of any action.

I know these symptoms. Every one of us knows them. We have all experienced them at some time or the other. Veteran fighters feel it too. Mike Tyson, in his violent days as heavyweight champion of the world, said he went through it every time he stepped into the boxing ring. Criminals exploit this feeling in us.

It is what is universally known and accepted as fear.

And there cannot be any man in the world that has been down that horrifying Nungambakkam-like road and not experienced fear. But such roads inevitably lead to a fork, there is a left turn and a right -- which road do you choose? The road less travelled -- fearlessly? Or the tried and tested path -- fearfully? Fight or flight? The road you choose is what distinguishes a man. Remember that the next time you witness a crime being committed against a woman.

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