A brutal rape, then outrage. What next for women?


When I was home in Kolkata several years ago, I climbed aboard a crowded public bus to go across town. The experience was far from pleasant.

It was hot and crowded. The bus was filled with the stench of body odor. I could feel the sweat of others on my bare arms as I clawed my way to the front door to get out at my stop.

But all of that could be borne in some way or the other. This was the price of getting from south Kolkata to its financial center in Dalhousie Square on a ticket that cost me all of 5 cents.

But there was another memory that came hurtling back in the last few days as I read the news of a 23-year-old woman attacked and raped by a gang of men on a moving bus.

Men on the bus pinched me and groped me and there was nothing I could do. My right arm was up, holding onto the grab bar for dear life as the rickety bus bumped its way over gaping pot holes.

I could not move in that packed bus. I could not hit them back. I was helpless.

But that was just the way it was. Not one person around me thought to do anything about it.

What happened to me happens to women all over India. Every day.

I’ve been stared at on the streets. Or heard catcalls and whistles.

In every instance, I was violated. But I was lucky.

Many times, the attacks are violent. In the December 16 rape of the Delhi woman, the circumstances were unimaginable. Her assailants gang-raped her and dumped her battered body off an expressway. Her injuries were so horrific that part of her intestines had to be removed in hospital.

The shocking nature of this crime galvanized Indians to take to the streets to express their outrage.

But I believe that anger was a long-time coming.  It stemmed from years and years of hearing about rapes and other forms of violence against women in which victims are blamed and perpetrators face little or no punishment.

I believe that Indians were finally finding a mass, united voice by which to say: We have to change the way we think about women and the way we treat them.

Kavita Krishnan, the secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association, got it right in a speech that was posted online:

There is barely a woman here who has not at some point fought for her dignity on the streets of Delhi, or in its buses. There is not one amongst us that has not found herself alone in such a situation. When we do this, we are told that we are inviting trouble; that we are asking for it.

The Indian government has promised stricter safety measures on buses. It can also, perhaps, make policy changes that will make reporting and convictions in cases of violence against women easier.

But ultimately, there has to be changes in the Indian mindset that affords women the dignity they deserve.

Here’s what journalist Shoma Chaudhury wrote on Teleheka.com:

Rape is already the most under-reported crime in India. But beneath that courses a whole other universe of violence that is not even acknowledged. It’s not just psychopathic men in a rogue white bus who can be rapists: it’s fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, friends. Almost one in every two women would have a story — perhaps told, perhaps untold — of being groped, molested or raped in the confines of their own homes. If they dare speak of it at all, they are told to bury and bear it. Take it as a part of life. To name an uncle who has been molesting a minor niece would be to shame the family. And marital rape — that stretches the very imagination. It’s a mark of our bestial ideas about women that even judges often suggest that rape survivors marry their rapists to avoid the hell of life as a single woman rejected by society.

It’s clear, say Indian women’s rights activists, that passing laws is not enough.

Legislation might give a sense of change, said Ratna Kapur, a professor at Jindal Global Law School, when in fact, very little is being done. This is what she wrote in The Hindu newspaper:

To confront the hatred that is now manifesting itself in the most egregious ways is to move forward as a society. We need to think about how we can handle women’s equality in ways that are not perceived as threatening. That demands greater responsibility on the part of parents as well as society not to raise sons in a way in which they are indoctrinated with a sense of superiority and privilege. There is also a need on the part of young men to be actively involved in their schools and communities in advocating women’s equality rights.

I am horrified by what happened in New Delhi.

I am heartened that so many people hit the streets in outrage.

I can only hope that from this brutal crime will come the beginning of a safer future for women.

Slaughter and sensitivity

We don’t know enough yet about Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan to draw any conclusions about why he would launch a killing spree at Fort Hood.

Was it that Hasan, the psychiatrist had absorbed too much combat stress from the soldiers he counseled? Or did his interactions brew anger within? Or was he just evil?
We know nothing about the victims, either.
The story is sure to thicken with detail as the next few days progress and perhaps the ironies, too, will continue to grab headlines.
My irony is that I was amid a crowd of people who are specialists in stress and trauma when I began to learn the details of this story — long before I went to work at CNN Thursday night. I was at a reception thrown by the Dart Center on Journalism and Trauma, speaking with folks like Frank Ochberg, Alana Newman, Jonathan Shay and Bruce Shapiro, when the story was breaking.
The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies is meeting in Atlanta and Dart hosts its annual fellowships in sync with the conference. So that journalists are exposed to people who have devoted a lifetime to studying trauma.
My colleague Tom Watkins came running from CNN to see what he could find in this room rich with knowledge to add to our stories on the shooting. I just know that I had little inclination to work. My only desire was to soak up the humanity of these folks.
I’m thankful to be an Ochberg fellow, to be among journalists courageous enough to cover tough stories, even when it takes a toll on them. (More TK) While you watch the footage of the shooting, remember the cameraman or woman, the producer, the writer, the photographer who got close enough to tell the story with the depth and sensitivity it deserves.
And remember that journalists are people, too.

About journalists and trauma

“Hey! Welcome back. How was Iraq?”

That’s something I heard often in the hallways of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution when I was freshly returned from war. But how do you answer such a question when the person who asked hasn’t even slowed their gait to listen. I mean, really listen.
So the answer, inevitably, went like this: “Iraq was great. Glad to be home.”
Keep moving.
Tonight, at the Atlanta Press Club, I have been asked to contribute to a discussion on journalists who cover traumatic events. I’m not sure what I will say because I’m not sure I have figured it all out.
I just know that after seven trips to Iraq, life became rather difficult to navigate at times. I felt lonely, cocooned really, thinking that no one here understood me anymore. I was frustrated to hear my friends speak of things I considered dull, irrelevant, inane. I wanted the paper to laud me for my heroic efforts. It didn’t. I considered every assignment boring — what could top a war story?
I saw rivers of blood in my dreams and when I awoke, I wanted to return there. It was the only place that had meaning.
I don’t know what I will say tonight. That, perhaps, is the entire point.
Covering These Troubled Times: What Journalists Should Know about Trauma

Wednesday, November 4
6 – 6:30pm reception
6:30-7pm Screening: Breaking News, Breaking Down
7- 8:30pm Panel discussion

The Commerce Club, 16th Floor
34 Broad Street Atlanta, GA 30303 Valet parking is available for $6 and is not included in the ticket prices. For directions, please visitwww.thecommerceclub.org/location.html. Because of limited parking at TCC, please consider using MARTA, whose Five Points station is across the street, or parking in nearby decks on Marietta Street.

This program is open to the public. APC members and students receive complimentary admission to the event. Please R.S.V.P. so we know how many people to expect. Nonmembers may purchase tickets for $10. Tickets may be purchased by clicking the link below or by calling 404-57-PRESS. Payment must accompany reservations, and there is a 48-hour cancellation policy.

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