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Newtown And Delhi - Two Tragedies, Two Cultures

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By Dr. Shah Alam Khan *

Billy is usually a cheerful, jovial man who rarely sounds solemn. That day he wasn’t his normal self on the phone. He was trying to come to terms with the death of a six-year-old daughter of a dear friend. The girl was a class one grader, killed in cold blood at the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newtown. Barely 48 hours after the Newtown tragedy, another tragedy was unfolding more than ten thousand kilometers away in the heart of India’s capital. A 23-year-old physiotherapy intern was gang raped in a moving bus, assaulted barbarically and thrown out along with her male friend.

The two tragedies hardly had anything in common except the despair and frustration which common people like me and Billy had at the healthy, wholesome breeding of violent cultures in respective countries. If a poor and porous gun control was blamed for the Newtown tragedy, a violent patriarchal system with objectification of women was considered responsible for the brutal Delhi gang rape. But simplifying the two tragedies on basis of common explanations would be looking at half the pictures in both countries.

Newtown did not occur first on the US soil. The seeds for the tragedy were sown across the globe. Newtown first happened in Vietnam. Newtown happened in Baghdad and Newtown happened in each every corner of the globe where American imperialism laid siege in name of promoting democracy and freedom. Newtown was the culmination of a culture of violence, which American imperialist ambitions have planted in the hearts and thoughts of common Americans, both in the garb of nationalism and freedom. Unfortunately, both at home and elsewhere, the victims of this culture were little children and innocent citizens. If corporate aspirations govern National agenda, Newtown is surely the end result.

Delhi gang rape too was the denouement of a spectrum of violent abuse of the weak, the underprivileged and the deprived. Unfortunately the female gender in India qualifies well for being all three- weak, underprivileged and deprived. We, Indians have bred a “culture of rape”. Again it won’t be wrong to conclude that the Delhi gang rape first took place in the tribal hamlets of rural India, in the homes of middle class Indians who abort female fetuses, in Indian towns and cities, which see cyclic communal frenzy and in the frightened Dalit ghettos of vast stretches of this land. Rape is not an act of sexual abuse in India. It represents the conclusion of a culture of violent suppression of the female gender- the weakest and the most vulnerable element in an exclusive society of the strong. What more can we expect from a society which can have the audacity of killing it’s unborn daughters? The objectification of female gender in Bollywood cannot be entirely blamed for the rape culture we have so laboriously bred in this country. It only supplements this culture. It provides a weedy “justification” to the rapist. In a consumerist demand-supply situation the Bollywood feeds the society what it wants.

The ghastly events of Newtown and Delhi cannot be seen in isolation. They have similarities of cultural past. They do not represent isolated events of the frenzied mind. They are products of social orders supplemented by disproportionate and inconsistent national agendas. The hallmark of the two tragedies is the ease to unleash violence on the vulnerable sections of the society.

* Dr. Shah Alam Khan is Additional Professor, Department of Orthopaedics, All India Institute of Medical Sciences New Delhi. He is also Joint Secretary, Indian Orthopaedic Association and Associate Editor, Indian Journal of Orthopaedics


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