The televised images of the Babri Masjid demolition, the manic glee on the faces of the karsevaks, Uma Bharti and L.K. Advani, among many others, haunted me for many months. As an artiste I felt the need to do something, to start a debate about such violence and the pleasure it seemed to give people, about the breakdown of discussion spaces where a debate could take place. These events were followed soon after by some gruesome murders of children by children in England and the United States—children killing to see what it felt like, murdering to experiment. I started initiating discussions with colleagues and friends about perhaps exploring the situation differently. Of trying to understand why people committed violence rather than be taken over by sympathy or empathy for the victims.
A couple of years later, the Gulbenkian Foundation in Portugal brought out a book on a long-term research project it had been running on this subject. It got some of us thinking and led to a colleague and I creating a performance piece on the subject, V For....
Our understanding was that violence transcends all barriers—of nation, nationality, colour, gender, race, and economic and social class. The only thing V stood for, across the globe, was violence. The performance, created as a pithy cabaret with three characters, multiple video projections and rap, looked at situations we all find ourselves in, but don't necessarily consider violent. These ranged from the mother or father who said to a child, “Do your homework or else...” to the mother-in-law and the political leader or an army general indulging in ‘accepted' violence. As we performed it across many countries and all over India, in theatres and educational institutions, the most common response from audiences was, “Gosh. I do that all the time. I never saw it that way.”
All this came to mind as I performed in New Delhi and Chandigarh this past week, and interacted with audiences after they saw Women With Broken Wings, my new piece on violence against women and their use as collateral to settle male scores. Repeatedly, I heard women say, “That could have been my daughter.” Never once did I hear someone say, “That could have been my son.” Yet, that needs to be said. In fact, that is the most important thing that needs to be said.
The nation continues to mourn the Delhi girl and rightly so. But since her death, dozens of more rapes and worse, gang-rapes combined with acid attacks or murders, have happened. While the media, too, mourns with the nation, the crucial need is to understand the minds of these men and to figure out what to do to prevent that mindset.
After the latest school shoot-out in the US, several women blogged or spoke about the need to handle their young sons' aggression. One mother spoke of her 8-year-old son who, when thwarted or reprimanded, picked up a kitchen knife and threatened to slice her face. She realised that at the drop of a hat he would pick up a gun.
This is the truth we have to face here and now. That our sons are being brought up to rape and use women with impunity. Parents, teachers, schools, legal systems, the police and the armed forces, the administration and politicians, all of us must take note of this. How do we mount a long-term, strategic campaign that involves us all, in changing this mindset among our men and, more importantly, our boys? We have a crisis on our hands that needs immediate, non knee-jerk, sustained and all-pervasive action. Are we, as a nation, ready and capable?