The aftershocks of the torture and gang rape of the young woman in New Delhi, who died in a Singapore hospital on Saturday, are still palpable almost three weeks after the incident. In the form of the woman who suddenly stares down the man eyeing her in the closed confines of a lift. In the introspection within small social and community circles on how we bring up boys in this country. In most of us who are finally shoved out of our blinkered urban mass affluent slumber. Maybe that’s why that jewellery ad before the movies is suddenly insufferable. The second of two girls born more than 40 years ago, I wonder what it must’ve been like for my parents in this son-crazed paternalistic nation of ours to bring up two girls and no boys. When nurses in affluent clinics in Delhi still raise an eyebrow at fathers who distribute sweets when a girl is born, it must have been a struggle all those years ago to keep the chatter of being a son-less house from reaching our ears. I suddenly realize why I cringe each time I see that horribly regressive jewellery ad—it perpetuates a social system that programmes girls from very early on about their future. The ad goes like this: a little girl is turning the pages of her parents’ wedding album. The dinner table discourse is about how a prince will come and marry the girl and how she will get fancy gold jewellery from her parents on this occasion. The underlying thread of thought in that household is about a girl and her marriage and how her parents will gather resources for it. I can’t remember what exactly our dinner table chatter was about, but it surely wasn’t about how much jewellery we’d get at the wedding.
But the rape and murder has done much more than bring into focus ideas and thoughts that had got blurred as we lived out the urban mass affluent life cocooned in the bubble we created. It’s brought us on the road finally. As the urban mass affluent we created our bubbles of existence. A car and driver does away with the need for public transport. Generators and inverters circumvent the lack of power. Pumps, RO systems and 20 litre drinking water bottles deal with erratic and unsafe municipal water. Own security guards, colony gates and gated communities deal with personal safety issues. Then two things happened. The bubbles grew and grew in number and jostled with each other for space. And periodically real life would reach in to rupture the bubble. We’d quickly paint over the dented piece and try and pull along. Why do anything?. Nothing will happen. Why bother?. But the lack of oxygen inside the bubble is now asphyxiating us. We’ve known for sometime that to leave the country to the politician is to get what we’ve got right now. An arrogant, deaf and mute government that works only to perpetuate itself. One that “rules” rather than governs. We’ve known for sometime that we’re responsible for the government that we get. It’s taken a horrific murder to tear a large-enough hole in the bubble. And it’s cold out there. At the 29 December Jantar Mantar protest and condolence meeting in Delhi, I saw not just the activists but professionals, housewives, senior citizens—most of them bubble dwellers, some of them stepping out for the first time in such a protest.
But even as we finally spill out onto the road, we could use this time of new beginnings to examine our own selves. Money is said to be the root cause of many things. For example, the male child preference comes from the desire to keep assets in the house and is a throwback to a time when women did not work and had no perceived economic value. In 2013, maybe we can look at our own attitudes towards money and see where this goes. Let’s not think just about where to invest it, but also about how we earn it and in what manner we spend it. The year-end performance of a rapper known for his misogynist lyrics was cancelled by a Gurgaon hotel due to public pressure. Maybe the people who bought tickets for the show could think about what they were paying for and what it meant.
True democracy is a scary thing. We’ve been in a feudalistic, paternalistic version of democracy that has very little to do with individuals but more to do with cohorts, tribes and a continuation of the colonial mai-baap relationship of the people and its “rulers”. The new version of our idea about India will mean a lot more responsibility and a lot more thought on how we do what we do. Beginning from the most basic thread that runs through all our lives—money—may be a good starting point.
Monika Halan works in the area of financial literacy and financial intermediation policy and is a certified financial planner. She is editor, Mint Money, and Yale World Fellow 2011. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org