Disclaimer: This is a very biased, partisan, limited view . . . but it is mine. I had a chance to speak before, but I kept silence. This time I can’t.
Last week, I shared this article to my Facebook timeline. It was one of the many references to the BBC documentary India’s Daughter that were heating up my Facebook newsfeed, from all over — but mostly from my male, Indian friends. The one who originally posted the article had left with it a comment that broke my heart. He wrote:
“No Jyoti was not really India’s daughter. She was who she was despite being in India. Her family was counter culture and so was she. The rapists however — India’s sons.”
I thought I was engaging in a conversation that was mostly Indian, but an American friend responded to say thanks, that she didn’t know it was so bad for women in India. Out to breakfast with another friend a few days later, she asked me, “Is that really the view of women you encountered in India?” This gave me pause. Because, of course, I’d read the articles, I’ve seen the documentary, I hear the warnings. I knew this was the way Indian men saw women. But I could think of only one single instance during my four years living in Delhi where I myself had experienced that.
One of the most recent headlining rapes in India spurred inter-religious upheaval because the rapist was Muslim. My closest Muslim friend in Delhi was a 17-yr-old girl who lived down the street from us, and her father adored and cherished her. He had a beard and belly to put Tolkien’s dwarves to shame, and always greeted me enthusiastically and teased me about my poor Urdu. I felt welcomed, honored, and safe in his presence. He was just one of many Muslim men in the neighborhood I knew I could go to if I needed help.
The most respect I’ve ever felt from anyone in my entire life was from an Indian pastor who used to come to our prayer meetings. We were two young, foreign women who had the vision to start a prayer movement for a nation, and he never even hinted that we didn’t have what it takes, he never showed more deference to the men in our midst. He said again and again that what we were doing mattered, and that if we kept it up, we would make a difference. He was years older than my dad and he had dedicated his entire life to rescuing girls out of prostitution in Calcutta.
These were the Indian men I knew. I realized there was another side to this story that wasn’t being told, and it was my side of the story.
During my last year in high school and my first in college, several of my friends “came out” that they had been raped. Among them were a couple girls I had mentored in a church small group, and one, very dear, soul-friend. I was devastated, shaken to my core, angry. I railed at God, wrote embittered poetry, researched everything I could, finding stats as high as one rape for every four women in the U.S., and I began to talk about it . . .
What I found out was that people didn’t want to talk about it. Men, good friends of mine, avoided my eyes, they changed the subject, they completely disengaged. Women told me to hush up about it because I didn’t want to be THAT girl. “What girl is that?” I asked. “Oh, you know . . . ” “No. No, I don’t know.” Why did caring about the fate of women make me a scourge to men? I didn’t understand. I still don’t understand how being for women could ever make you against men, or how being against men could ever be for women.
Dismayed, shamed into silence, I put it behind me and moved on. But years later, living in what would come to be called “the rape capital of the world,” that silence began to feel like a liability. How could I be protected from something I couldn’t even talk about?
And then something happened, something bigger than me or my fears, bigger than America or India, bigger than all our cultural taboos. The New Delhi, December 16, 2012 gang rape. It shook the whole world to the core. And, as happens when the world shakes, it launched a tsunami — right at India.
In the aftermath, I encountered a completely different attitude from the men in my life. They were the ones who brought it up. They looked me in the eyes when they talked about it. They asked me if I felt safe. They asked me if I was safe. They told if I ever wasn’t, to call them, at any time day or night, wherever I was. They would come and get me.
And I don’t mean one guy or two. The sentiment was expressed by friends, and friends-of-friends, brothers-of-friends and boyfriends-of-friends, pastors and neighbors. Not all of them were men of God, but all of them were godly men.
So was it because they were Indian? Or because they were godly?
At the time, both my older brothers lived in Delhi, as did at least four other men I’d known for years. Men I would trust with my life. I worked (though at a distance) with a score of others. All American. All believers. And none of them even mentioned the rape.
That same dark week in December an American girl in the Midwest committed suicide because she said she was gang-raped by a quarterback and other members of her high school football team, and no one believed her. In fact, she was ridiculed by the team’s coach and publically humiliated. (I searched for the original article but couldn’t find it — partly because the combination of “quarterback” and “rape” turned up so many results.) Obviously, there was something hugely different in the gravity of the cases. There was also something different in the public response. Everyone said, “Some people are sick.” Many said, “It didn’t happen.” A few said, “If it did, it was her fault.” No one said, “There is something very wrong with our culture.” Where was our shame?
The difference I saw, first-hand, in Delhi was a corporate admission of guilt. While the whole world was denigrating India, I was prouder to be part of that country than my own. I was proud to take responsibility with them , and say, “We won’t stand for this.” Yes, there were people who defended it. There were those who said it wasn’t all wrong, and others who thought it wasn’t wrong at all. But the voices that were the loudest said, “What have we done?” And many of those voices were the voices of men.
So I ask again, was it because they were Indian? Or because they were godly?
I believe the answer is both.
Dear sons of India, all of you who are outraged at the actions and attitudes of your brothers. All of you who are men, and Indian, but ashamed of what being “Indian men” has come to mean in our day and age. Any of you who saw that documentary and refuse to let what those men said be the last word spoken . . .
You are not who you are despite being in India, you are who you are for the sake of India. For such a time as this. You have been made countercultural because the hour has come for the culture of rape to be countered.
When I posted that article, an Indian ex-pat sent me a note in response. He wrote:
“After watching the [India’s Daughter] documentary, it doubled my confirmation that India is the place I need to be. It’s heartbreaking . . . there is a just God who I know will make India the lighthouse it was meant to be to other nations.”
That simple message is the message. God has not put this is in the hearts of American men, because it is not their hour. It is your hour. And I believe when their hour comes, they will follow India’s lead on this one. God is like a skilled surgeon, He shines a bright light on a place when He’s about to cut it open. And now that His scalpel has been set to the skin of India, He’s not going to stop until He’s cut out the infected organ and replaced it with a new one.
Your part is to keep the light shining. Keep bringing it up. Keep asking the right questions. And keep doing the things that make a difference. We cannot change the fact that, in India, women are surrounded by men. But we can change the men they are surrounded by.
This is not a women’s battle. This is YOUR battle. Not waged at rallies in the streets, but every time you are in the presence of a woman, and every time you speak to another man.
So let me tell you about that one time, the time I did encounter this view of women. It’s another thing I’ve kept quiet because it was hard to talk about. But we, all of us, need to start talking about the hard things.
I wish I could say I only took an auto that night because I was a ten-minute drive from home, but I probably would have taken one anyway. It was six months before Jyoti Singh’s rape and, though I sometimes worried what would happen to me if I got into an auto after 10 at night, especially in that neighborhood (my neighborhood), on that night I was just annoyed at being overcharged for a distance that wouldn’t even register on his meter. He took me straight home, on roads I knew. So we were outside my house when he grabbed me, and he touched me inappropriately, sexually. It was just a moment, and I did the only thing I could think to in it — I shoved him away, and I ran.
I have never thought about that night without wondering whether I should have Maced him, or given him a good uppercut, or screamed till someone came who would do worse. Whether I should have made him rue the day he messed with me. Instead, I prayed for him. As I walked, safe, into my building, behind guarded gates, I felt the anger of a just and vengeful God. And I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that it burns against those who touch His beloved. That man had no one to intercede for him but me. So I forgave him, and I asked God to do the same.
Now, looking back, that seems extraordinary to me. What allowed me to have that response? I think it was that I was safe. That man didn’t know that a mere twenty feet behind me was a chowkidar, with a big stick, who I trusted. He didn’t know that the buildings on both sides of me were full of men who would still, to this day, beat him to a pulp if they met him and knew what he’d done. I was surrounded by men. And ten-to-one they were on my side.
That is the feeling I want every Indian woman to have, at any time day or night, wherever she is.
When men can be trusted, women can be free. When men can be trusted, women don’t have to be afraid. And when Indian women are free and unafraid, that is when India will truly be great.