By- Jyotishmita Sarma
This article is in reference to the recent incident of molestation of a young girl outside Club Mint located in Christian Basti, Guwahati by a mob consisting of some twenty or so young men, and the video being captured by a certain camera person of the NewsLive channel. A few days since the incident when the whole nation expressed its horror on the sheer callousness of the act, Guwahati has been in the headlines with regards to the safety and security of women in the city, and questions have been raised on the role of the police and the media in curbing such forms of violence.
Questions have also been raised on media ethics, and should the camera person have shot the video at all which became a viral later on YouTube. On its defense the Editor of the news channel was of the view that it is only because of the footage that such a mass movement has been possible, and that this footage has been of aid to the police in identifying the violators of this young woman’s honor. But was it absolutely necessary to telecast this footage on television or to upload it on YouTube is a question that has been raised by several groups all over the country. Since the last one week there have been protests on social networking sites such as Facebook and twitter demanding justice for the young girl. Various forms of exemplary punishments such as castration, maiming and blinding the perpetrators have been suggested by Facebook users so that such incidents are not repeated in the future.
My aim in this article is not to elaborate on the condemnation of such incidents or the forms of justice or punishment that should be targeted on the victim and the guilty respectively. Instead I wish to portray the psyche of an average Guwahatian in the present day context in the city.
Only two days before the incident, I had boarded the Rajdhani express from Guwahati to Delhi. On the way I met an old friend hailing from Tezpur also bound for Delhi. As with many other friends not belonging to Guwahati but are from Assam, we had several arguments on the current status of Guwahati, about its filthiness, its people, its expansion, the traffic jams, etc. – allegations which I vehemently fought with. But we both expressed our pride on the fact that Guwahati was the fastest growing city in Asia. That settled our argument, but left many questions unanswered in my heart – What is development? Whose development is it? What are the side effects of this development? How have the people of Guwahati adapted to this development? Are there unbridgeable generational gaps between parents and children? Have socio-economic gaps between the affluent and the less privileged widened because of development? Are there differences at the level of self-esteem between those who have migrated to the metropolitan cities in search of better educational or employment opportunities, that is those seeking development, from those who have stayed behind?
Sadly I did not have to wait for a very long time to get the answers to my questions. The molestation incident has forced me to see the fact that the psyche of the average Guwahatian is going through an immense turmoil, all that had been inculcated into us through the process of socialization is of no relevance any longer, because those days and those times are long past, never to come back again. This is a very unsettling realization, with the potential of driving one wild. This reflects in the strange quest for reclaiming our glorious tradition, something which we believe is unique to us. Such kind of a mass hysteria was also seen in other tumultuous circumstances like the onset of Muslim and British rule in India, infiltration of Bangladeshis into Assam after the Liberation War in 1971, and so on. One of the first ways to show the backlash of the tradition is by preventing autonomy to the women of the society. The young girl here reflected those traits which were lacking in the perpetrators: things like freedom, money, affluence, good education, friends; something which the perpetrators wanted for themselves but unfortunately could not as they lagged behind in this rat race called development.
In Karl Marx’s terms, the infrastructure (economy) determines the superstructure (ideas, opinions, culture, etc.) but obviously a rapid change in the infrastructure does not lead to an immediate concomitant change in the superstructure. It takes time for this change to occur, which in sociological terms is called cultural lag, which means that culture takes time to catch up with technological innovations and social problems and conflicts are caused by this lag. In the novel “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe (1958), he portrays the changes that took place in an African society as a result of colonization and one of the first things that changed in the society is the dynamics of gender relations. As a result of the contact with an alien culture, the women became more active in the outside world where they had to go out and sell their produce than before when they were bound to their homes, and this led to a conflict situation among the men and women of the society. Even though we no longer live in a colonized world, the concept of development is not much different from that of colonization where the aim is to develop the Third World through the goods produced in the capitalist market (Goldsmith, E (1993); Development and Social Destruction).
The situation is Guwahati is much the same. The city has developed immensely in the last one decade in terms of the number of malls, pubs, academic institutions, and so on; but the norms, values and attitudes of the people will take a longer time to change in order to be at par with material culture. Under such a circumstance the collective psyche of the average Guwahatian male is under turmoil because now he has newer challenges to face and unfortunately the advice he gets from the older generation does not help him enough. However, he knows one thing that nature had decreed him to be superior than women, who should stay within the four walls of the house and not venture out into the night, which is a man’s space. A woman who tries to violate such natural division of spaces is fit for punishment as it is with the case. This incident is not unique to Guwahati alone, but has been observed earlier with other developed cities like Mangalore, Bangalore, Delhi, Gurgaon and so on.
I do not really have a solution to such problems, except for having a more vigilant civil society which condemns and curbs such forms of gross violence on women’s bodies.