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A Wake up Call – The Brutal Rape and Murder of Sowmya

With the verdict out on the brutal rape and murder of Sowmya that happened five years ago, I revisited this old column I had written for


Public memory is very short lived, especially with regard to the tragic. It is probably a survival instinct, or escapism, but a lot of times, we choose to push to the very back of our minds that which is unpleasant. It has been just close to a week and already she is beginning to fade from our collective memories. The 24/7 infotainment blitzkrieg is bombarding us with a host of newer images that are pushing out the tragic images that filled our minds last week – that of a young girl at the threshold of life, who died a horrible death, thanks to the lust of a brute.

We will forget her too, just like the hundreds we have forgotten. Forgotten either because of our shameful cowardice to stand up to the injustice and evil we see around us, or because of our appalling selfishness that curbs any scrap of humanity we might still have left in our psyches. Or maybe it’s just the depths to which we have morally sunk. Yes, we will forget Sowmya too, the victim of the train ‘mishap’. That is how desensitized to violence and depravation we have become.

While pockets of protests and demands for providing better security to women are going on, and blogospheres and cyberspaces are overflowing with tearful outpourings in her memory, some authorities have the nerve to say that women themselves are responsible for unsocial elements entering ladies compartments in trains and for the unfortunate incidents that ensue.

Yeah right! Next they are going to come up with the theory that Sowmya was probably asking for it. Isn’t that how a lot of rapes are justified? That it is the provocative behaviour or dress of the woman that is responsible for these crimes. So, are they telling us that the human male is such an untamed beast that millennia of evolution and the refinement of civilization cannot curb his basic instincts?

Govindachamy, the rapist murderer, has been caught. But for every Govindachamy that is caught, a thousand roam free both in lofty mansions and derelict shacks. And thousands of Sowmyas die in intolerable agony or suffer in their own private hells. Today, Sowmya stands representing every woman who went through this violation. And we, as a society, as a whole, are responsible for the violation – every one of us; not just the Railways, or the guard who failed to respond immediately despite seeing someone fall off the train, or the people who did not respond to her cries for help or chose to ignore the nagging feeling that something was wrong.

Maybe if someone had gone to investigate, maybe if someone had been ‘MAN enough’ (I use the expression loosely) to stand up to some brute, several Sowmyas might have escaped the horrible fate. Instead, we chose to stand by as thoughtless, spineless lamp posts..

And when the culprit is caught, much as we would all agree that he deserves a ‘Bobbit’, the law unfortunately does not seem to think so. In fact it is the victim of rape who is made to suffer.

There is a rape after the rape when she is made to undergo the ignominy of forensic tests, narrating the incident, and answering questions, not to speak of the stigma that society plants on her for life. How many of us are naive enough to believe that these issues are handled with sensitivity? So is it any wonder that most rape cases are hushed up?

While some countries do punish rape with castration and some others offer the rapist the option of choosing between a longer prison sentence and castration, India is unfortunately not one of them. In the event that the rapist is convicted, he is just made to serve a prison term. Not punishment enough, as any woman and most men would agree. There are those who advocate the use of capital punishment for rapists. And there are also bleeding hearts and human rights activists who will get them off the hook on grounds of mental instability or human rights issues, and campaign for the rehabilitation of the criminal. I wonder if they would consider ‘rehabilitating’ the rapist in their own homes.

No woman is safe anywhere, not even in her own home. And the depraved monsters, out to prey on the female body, do not discriminate between a five year old kid, her 30 year old mother, or her 60 year old grandmother. And there is absolutely no point in running to the government or the police or anyone in power asking them to protect you. We all know how well the establishment can be depended upon to offer protection. We also know that our society which is otherwise quick to switch into ‘moral police’ mode turns the other way at the first sign of trouble.

Public protests, memorandums and heavy rhetoric might all serve their purpose… or not. The daily reports of ‘sthree peedanam’ have probably become ‘titillating read of the day’ for many or merely grist for the mimicry artists’ mill. So stop depending on others, especially a society that cares two hoots about you.

As today’s woman, you are no longer confined and sheltered at home. You are out there as an essential part of the work force taking the nation forward, and in your line of duty, you often have to travel alone or work late into the night. How safe do you feel? Your body is sacred and nobody has the right to touch you without your consent. It is high time women stood up for themselves instead of feigning weakness and looking to men to protect them.

Women might be called the weaker sex. True, they might be weak physically. When it comes to raw, brute strength, they might be no match for the male of the species. But there is a deep core of strength within every woman. Do not underestimate the power of that strength. Draw on it and take your defense into your own hands. Learn to protect yourself. While travelling alone, carry something to protect yourself. For the creep in a bus or theater looking for a cheap grope, a safety pin is good enough, for worse cases, use a pepper spray. Take that course in martial arts. Know where it hurts a man the most and learn to aim for it. Of course, none of these can work when you get pushed out of a train or bludgeoned to near death or be attacked by a rabid gang.

That is when I hope, we as a society will finally shed our nonchalance and rise to the occasion as
human beings.

This tragedy was a wake-up call …


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