When the young after having been exposed to media and film and advertising, which has a government go ahead, (for we are talking of places with licenses, not farm house rave parties or hooch sales in slums,) take what they think is a perfectly acceptable avenue for social interaction, gangs of hoodlums using the name of traditional Indian culture descend to rape, violate and kill these women.
There is a rule of law, and that rule of law must be maintained for the country. Sociologists speak of anomie when all rules break down, and worse, when people do not know what the rules are. So the politicians who endorse Khap Panchayats are engaging in illegal activities. Gangs of men who wage war against modern legal forms of leisure and club life when these are rights which have been given in some states to its citizens are basically trouble makers. They would have harassed a woman who comes home from work after dark, or if she was wearing uni-sex clothing such as jeans and t-shirt.
They would have beaten and assaulted her for being a woman unaccompanied. Either way, when we speak of citizen rights we know that in a globalised world, autonomy is the first right of free citizens. This means the right to choose. A woman who sees the male world as one she needs to enter, for whatever reason, feels she is taking a risk anyway. She does it because she feels the ideological bases of entering a monastery or a pub are spaces which are forbidden to her, but she wants to express that she must have the freedom to enter.
Women who enter Sabarimala for instance after puberty or before menopause come in for a lot of negative attention. Women who go to pubs in India are seen to be part of a protected elite, who can get out of their air-conditioned chauffeur driven cars and party in a pub, without the neighbours or traditional men objecting. It is when a young and vulnerable girl is caught alone in the street that she is beaten up and there is mass exultation and public exhibitionism over a criminal act.
Look at the Bacardi advertisements. It used young nubile actors and actresses to inhabit the totemistic world of animals, to use and parade the idea of the nocturnal to express that the world of music and gin is a fashionable and enchanted space. Just as young women buy anti-ageing creams at 25 because they are regularly dinned into by advertisers that it is the right thing to do, so also will young women go to the pub unescorted to listen to music or meet someone on her own wavelength. This has nothing to do with religion or youth, it is an expectation, fuelled by peer group pressure to enjoy the evening in a particular way. To be punished for it is only a signal that when the fundamentalists come to power, there will be a concerted attempt to crush anyone who thinks differently, or acts differently from them.
There will be a legitimation of violence by using the idea of traditional authority as the bases of attacking all those who do not fit the image as defined by fundamentalists and communalists. It is a secular right to have the freedom to choose what one does, so long as it is within the law. We know that actors who have run over pedestrians were never called to book. If these molestors were paid actors of a media company, then they will also not be punished.
Meanwhile, the identity of this young woman has been landlocked in fear and sorrow, and nothing can give her back her sense of a young girl who was innocent enough to think that she could have a beer and walk back home unnoticed because this was a normal thing to do in the English movies or in the West.
To give her a lease on the future and on life, to protect all those who have opted for the catering industry as a profession, to those who feel that late nights are when they meet people like themselves who are perhaps insomniac, or who like music, or to whom drinking in public is a cultural privilege, the law must have a very clear cut policy on miscreants who use religion or tradition as their excuse to kill or harm.
Sometimes, it might be daylight, but miscreants all over the country are known to rape and mutilate women for no reason at all, not because they drink, but because they are women in a very vulnerable situation.
Even in protected places like the Universities, women who walk with a sense of purpose are often marked for comments, and these are often lewd. Sometimes the gaze is thought to be sufficient to pulverise a woman, because it is so contemptuous. Yet, for a hundred years now, ever since the Indian National Movement set forth the platform of freedom for all, women have believed that they will be protected by Law, that their right to be visible will be a primary will to equality and citizenship.
(About the Contributor: Professor Susan Visvanathan is Chairperson and Professor of Sociology Centre for the Study of Social Systems in JNU, New Delhi)