I returned from a rather hectic schedule of conducting patient support group meetings in the North and North West last week. Generally , in these regions , the majority of participants are men ; both patients themselves and caregivers of patients . This time , in Rohini - Delhi, Jaipur and Ahmedabad, I was happily surprised to see so many women attend and not only attend , but participate wholeheartedly in the workshops and sessions - eager and happy to share their testimonials. It was in the middle of these meetings that the news broke about the shocking gang rape of the 23 year old medical student in Delhi .
It has not been a very easy time here in India these last few days since that night of December 16th . The heinous crime perpetrated on a young girl and her subsequent death has shocked, shaken and shamed everyone . Everyone I know , including myself , has been left carrying the load of the weight of this collective guilt on our sad shoulders. Oh ! that we could have let something like this happen to one of us and ours.
The dastardly act itself , the fact that it was committed on the roads of a city where its citizens were up and about and still had no clue about it and could not stop it and the sheer inexplicable hatred and unimaginable venom in the hearts of the perpetrators .
In India we supposedly venerate and worship women in the form of various Goddesses . Knowledge , Wealth and Shakti are embodied in the form of the goddesses known as Saraswati , Lakshmi and Durga. Woman as the fount of all knowledge , the giver and preserver of wealth and the one who possesses the Power to both create and destroy .
The birth of a daughter should be welcomed as the manifestation of the blessings of one of these Goddesses.
Sadly though, in many parts of the country , the birth of a daughter is considered a curse and a crime as bad as the one that has shaken us , is perpetuated by the very families daughters are born into , sometimes even before they are born into them . Their life snuffed out . And then , if they do survive the attentions of their own family , it is not long before the family they are married into begins the hellish dance of destruction in their lives.
To go back to the shocking gang rape of the young medical student and the brutal assault on her boyfriend, the media , the spokespersons for various social groups, political parties , key opinion leaders , celebrities , actors and others have all been clamouring for all kinds of actions and been leading protest marches and meetings in all major cities. The Social Media sites are inundated with individual opinions demanding prompt action, speedy trials , effective implementation and enforcement of newly created laws . The death penalty even , for the rapists . The role allotted to women in most Indian households and society is being questioned , the portrayal of women in art and cinema is being bemoaned .
Just one thought keeps going round and round in my mind . Can we stop to look at the background of the young men who were responsible for this act? These were not middle aged , repressed men. They were young men , little more than teenagers . . Can we try and see what is lacking in their upbringing, what drives young boys to so much mindless violence ? Is their self esteem so low that they have to resort to forcing themselves on unarmed , unprotected victims . What power are they drunk on?
And then , why are our law enforcers the way they are ? Be it Policemen or Immigration, Customs and Security officers . How can we bring a change in their way of thinking ? And then, can we also accept the responsibility of being those who vote our leaders into power ( I hate that word ) and somehow work with the government to ensure there are safe public spaces for everyone in our country?
The week that has seen all this turmoil and shown up in frightening real time how unsafe women are and how unprotected , for that matter , any given segment of society that is perceived as weak and therefore victimised , strangely enough was the week I was in the same region , conducting support group meetings in the Northern states of Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat in the West.
I actually set out to share something very special , something that made me so proud to be a woman , a woman in India where despite so many challenges , be it in a big city like Delhi or in a village in the deserts of Rajasthan or a little town in rural Ahmedabad , women were coping not only with their lot but with the diagnosis of cancer and all that it involved . And coping in such a manner that it seemed to me there was a new avatar evolving right in front of my eyes . The avatar of the Indian Woman who was stepping out of the restrictions placed upon her and taking responsibility of herself , for herself ; not the mother or daughter or sister or wife dependant upon the man in her life to give her her due. But this strong , vibrant and confident person taking control of her life and finding her voice and place in her world , living , along with other ills visited upon her, with cancer and living that life with dignity .
Bhikhabai , whose smile never left her face and who was so delighted to add our blue Maximize wrist band to the many bracelets on her wrist ; who came up,to the podium , held her uncovered head high and shared with the 300 strong predominantly male audience , how she practiced good adherence behaviour ; how she never let her work in the fields come in the way of two things . Her attention to her children and her medication . She said she would bathe and feed her children , see them off to their school and then come to work in the fields to earn her daily wages . When asked about her medication , which she had to take everyday , at a particular time , in order to keep her leukaemia at bay, she smiled a brilliant smile and showed me her saree pallu , into the corner of which she had tied her capsule , ready to be taken after her frugal mid day meal of millet bread and some dal.
Then there was Indira , maybe 30'years old , who hesitated for just a second , before coming up to the stage and in a voice as clear a Temple bell and with a countenance as bright as her blue saree , mesmerised the audience with her faultless rendition of bhajan after bhajan ( devotional songs) . She sang in the popular and well known genre of the Dongri , poignant and at the same time filled with the certainty that the good Lord would not turn a blind eye to her travails . She spoke of how she used prayer and her prowess with the art to channelize her grief and worries and how she was now immune to any privation she may have felt at any time . She said she never felt alone or vulnerable or abandoned . She was filled with strength and courage and not only led her life in dignity but encouraged and led groups of other women and girls to follow their hearts and their vocation and seek solace and fulfilment in this glorious art form .
There was not one dry eye in the auditorium and no one even moved till Indira finished her complete repertoire of the prayer songs .
If Indira worshipped and found her unlimited strength in her celestial Gods , in the auditorium at Jaipur's Sawai Madho Singh Institute , there sat Yogita , tall, statuesque and radiating confidence and happiness. She begged to be allowed to come to the microphone and share her story . She spoke of her fear and hopelessness when she was diagnosed and if we thought this was a story of abandonment and untold misery , we were mistaken . As she spoke of her victory over the disease and her life now as a survivor , she called out in the audience to the one person who was responsible for taking her by the hand and putting her back in the path or recovery , who gave her love and respect and dignity . Her husband. She was bursting with pride and gratitude as she introduced her husband who had stood by her fighting alongside her , her fears and the attitude of family and society when her cancer was diagnosed. Yogita swore she was not alone in her fight and was ready to face any challenge that may come in her way. She had all the support she needed by her side in her adoring husband .
Then there was young Karan , ( yes , his brother is called Arjun) all of fourteen years old who accompanies his mother for every support group meeting . Love for his mother shining in his limpid eyes , he was so proud to come up and share how it was he who never let his mother miss a single dose of her medicaiton .
I cannot conclude this note without sharing brave Rama Bai 's testimonial. Diagnosed five years ago , she has not let cancer come in her way and has gone about running her household and caring for her family of sons , daughters in law and grandchildren . She manages their modest household with the meagre income her sons , who are daily wage earners , bring and says she finds joy and comfort in caring for her family. As she speaks one can see her shyness and hesitancy fall away and the mantle of proud confidence settle on her shoulders which straighten just that bit as she talks of her visits to the hospital . She wants to be strong and healthy so she can see her grandchildren grow to be young adults . I ask her about her husband and she looks up, throws back her head and laughs , her veil slipping back to reveal her grey hair and her careworn face . But the smile does not leave her face as she says , in full hearing of the by now adoring audience . " Who, that wastrel ? That lazy man? Who needs him ? The lazy man is of no use to me nor my children. He turned his back on his responsibilities and I am now the master of the house !!!
Glean what you will from this ...all I can say is all hope is not lost.