Today, probably many parts of the world know about the brutal rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapist on a moving bus in New Delhi. As the girl battles for her life at Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital, protests in India's capital city rage on. The prime concern in the minds of protesters has been the safety of women. Many protesters are demanding capital punishment for the suspects, yet others are blaming the police and the government.
It's almost as if the country has woken up to rape only in December 2012. Although this was undoubtedly the most heinous of crimes the country has seen in the recent past, there are millions of rape victims all across India who have neither got justice nor the sympathy of their fellow citizens. Most cases of rape go unreported. Even if they get reported, the suspects go unpunished as statistics tell us that the conviction rate in rape cases has been steadily going down.
A rape victim is shamed by the society, while the rapists walk with their heads held high.
The tragedy is that in this digital age, sex sells even more than before. Just go to any newspaper Web site and you will find news articles on women's rights positioned right next to an article depicting the "hot bodies of 2012". A woman's body has been commoditized to an even greater extent by the media.
On the brighter side, though, the media has played a key role in building up public protests. There has been public pressure on addressing various societal evils, such as corruption, frauds and crimes (the Jessica Lal murder case is a good example). Television, print and social media have played important roles in building up the public indignation against such evils.
I would hope that things will change because, in a democracy, it is hard to ignore public opinion, outrage and protests. In this era, knowledge is all-pervading. It is a mouse click away. What is distant is wisdom.
For instance, the government and its young MPs could have joined the protests or met the people who were protesting for a very valid and noble cause--the safety of women in the country. Similarly, there is little sense in allowing the police to use force to disperse or control the protesters. Instead, they should have been reassured, pacified and spoken to.
The protesters, on the other hand, need to be sure what they are protesting about. The government and police can't be blamed in entirety for all the crimes and evils in the society, and capital punishment has its own disadvantages with much written about it as well.
Also, the media needs to play a more responsible role in terms of their reportage. News needs to be told more responsibly--it's simply not just about drawing more eyeballs and clicks. We need wiser editors, not just those who are marketing wizards.
Most importantly, India definitely needs to reform its judicial system so that justice is not delayed and there is some fear of law. The media has a big role to play in this area.
And we the citizens, too, need to look within. We need to be the change that we want to see. We can't continue to disrespect women and give them unequal rights and then demand the government and the police to provide them safety. Attitudes need to change. And attitudes take time to change, despite the catalysts such as social media and television.
Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for human resource development, recently said on Twitter: "All knowledge is transient and is subject to change whereas wisdom, true wisdom is eternal, immutable." I think this statement is very apt for the digital era.
Looking at things positively though, India is witnessing a revolution of sorts. The year may have ended on a very gory note--raising anger in the minds of millions of Indians--but it has got all of us thinking. And change is inevitable. With fears of a Mayan doomsday behind us, let's hope the new year will be a much better one. Happy 2013.