What of the prodigal daughters? Why must I hum and dawdle when my mother urges me to come home? Why does the promise of better jobs and being closer to my family not have me packing my bags now?
BRIC. Don’t you just love that acronym?
I know I do.
There’s more than a touch of pride in my voice when I ask my students of English what it stands for. I love hearing a room full of suited-up directors name the BRIC countries; it brings a little bit of India into their business world and into my day.
While Europe flounders and thrashes about in economic and social turmoil, India’s experiencing a strong economy and powerful growth. The prodigal sons who roamed the earth in search of fortunes are now turning their eyes homeward. With competitive salaries and a standard of living that rivals many developed countries, India is fast becoming the new land of opportunity.
But what of the prodigal daughters? Why must I hum and dawdle when my mother urges me to come home? Why does the promise of better jobs and being closer to my family not have me packing my bags now?
In the words of Scotland’s famous son William Wallace, “It’s all for nothing if you don’t have freedom.’
And you don’t’ have it when girls can be sexually assaulted in the streets, harassed in bars and slapped about by modesty police. When a group of Indian men can turn vicious and rapine in a matter of seconds. Seconds! We aren’t talking about the breakdown of society after periods of civil war, foreign invasion or political unrest. We are talking normal city street one second, ravaging mob the next. The awful truth is India offers its daughters a lot less than it offers its sons.
The incident earlier this month where a teenage girl was attacked and stripped by a group of men outside a pub in Guwahati brought these problems into sharp relief once again. Of the 20 men caught on camera assaulting her, only four have been arrested and there doesn’t appear to be any discussion of the role played by the person filming the attack.
Sure, the usual circus of fingerpointing, the appointing of inquiry commissions and the expressions of “concern” and demands for “prompt” action play out in the media. Bars and clubs will be “cracked down” upon and their hours drastically shortened. No matter that this teenager was attacked before 9 pm, and never mind that the attack took place on the street.
Sure we aren’t the only nation where this happens. Egypt has a spectacular track record on mob assaults. Female journalists, such as Lara Logan and Natasha Smith, have experienced harrowing mass sexual attacks on the streets of Egypt while reporting on the Arab Spring. In separate incidents, crowds of men turned on the women, tore off their clothes and almost killed them. Both women survived with the intervention of others.
In an interview on 60 Minutes, Lara Logan described her ordeal, when the crowd was tearing at her, literally trying to pull flesh from bone, and the moment of her rescue. As the crowd dragged her away from her crew, she was almost pushed into the lap of woman in burkah sitting on the ground. The woman threw her hands around her. Lara Logan describes that moment as the emotional turning point, when it stopped being just her against the crowd.
It took the courage of one woman to save the life of another.
The state of its women is a strong indicator of the state of a nation. In Egypt women are slowly disappearing from the streets and being drawn back behind the veil. What about India?
Our leaders should stop playing with curfews and restrictions and start playing the real game of law and order; modern laws, empowered police, swift justice and sex education, which goes beyond biology to discuss issues of consent, coercion and sexual violence.
Only then will India have a place for its prodigal daughters too.
Prithika Nair Tully lives in Barcelona, Spain, with her Scottish husband.