They raped a girl and hurt her so badly that she died of her injuries. No matter how much time goes by, there will be one family who lives with that grief forever. And one entire generation of women will feel an ache every time we remember the weeks we prayed for a nameless, faceless young girl to live.
This was one event, one of many such. They leave us feeling much - bereft at what was lost, scared to walk back alone after parties, or charged up to fight and look at that groper in the eye; but they do something else too. There's this one side effect that distresses me more than all the others - they leave us with an inability to trust each other. Strangers are no longer friends waiting to be made. They're just potential rapists and murderers. This particular side effect, this paranoia that we will all live with forever, damages us in two major ways:
1. We don't have magical chance encounters. I remember reading a story on Tumblr some months ago - about a guy called Gare who always stops to help hitchhikers and people with car trouble, and makes great friends in the process. He started the tradition because a family from Mexico once helped him when his car broke down in the middle of nowhere. He begins by saying - "This story is one of my motivations to becoming a better person." It's an amazing story and makes me feel emotional every time I read it. (You can read it here: Today you, tomorrow me) My point is that it's a blessing that our man Gare did not start practicing this philosophy in India - he'd have been raped and left for dead long before he had a chance to help hitchhiker no.3.
It depresses me that I view every unfamiliar person (and some familiar ones too, come to think of it) with suspicion. A potential flatmate called me last week to ask if she could come see my flat after work that evening. She then called at 10 PM - "I'm so awfully sorry, but I'm leaving work only now, can I come to your place right away? I need to take a decision about the house tomorrow.." Part of me was annoyed. Is she crazy? This is Delhi! This sounds like such a con, and I'm alone at home! But part of me wanted to fight the paranoia. She could be someone just like me, a regular girl, stuck late at work and needing to figure out a place to live. I realized I was punishing her for what the five rapists had done in December. This was the full extent of their crime - ordinary people going through life looking at each other with doubt and fear. She was profusely apologetic about putting me through the trouble, and I decided to let her come. I was right, she was a lot like me - I even have the exact same jacket and skirt she was wearing. But I did not feel any victory over the paranoia. I had palpitations in my heart, and my hand on the speed dial button all the time she was in the house. And she was equally jittery. She was in and out of the house in less than 10 minutes. I did not offer her coffee.
2. We leave each other to bleed on the road. This happened in Jaipur a few hours ago. And it happens often. I cannot quit thinking about this - would I have stopped to help? I think I would have. And so would a lot of people I love and respect. But the people who didn't...they carry in their hearts the memories of hundreds of crimes, and those memories can block the cries of a four year old who's asking you to stop and help his mother. I don't blame them. It's the awful side effect of being Indian.
My friend Mehul would say that this rant is unfair because isn't as if there aren't crimes and negligence in other countries, and I agree. And yet there are places where people grow up and live in relative safety. Perhaps the trust that people have for each other is directly proportional to that safety? It makes me so envious that there are places where strangers smile at each other (which is different from the leering we're familiar with). The highlight of my week in Geneva was that every time I would stop at a street corner and open my massive map, someone would stop and ask if they could help. And they did it for everyone. I got a lump in my throat the first time it happened. I envy them this naivete even more than the utter beauty they live in. How wonderful must it feel, to live in a place, where you can roll down your car window and ask - Can I help you?
Side Effects of being Indian, Part 2