Yesterday, while seeking inspiration from friends on what to write for D, one of them suggested that I write a humorous piece titled Damsel in Distress. I was all geared up to do just that, with all sorts of clever ideas teaming in my head, I set off for my morning walk. Listening to TED talks while I walk my mandatory 5000 steps every morning is how I like to start my days. Today, I chose to listen to Jimmy Carter (Former President of the USA, 1977-81). As I listened to his talk at TEDWomen 2015, titled ‘Why I believe the mistreatment of women is the number one human rights abuse’ my clever and funny ideas lost their sheen. I have retained my original title for a very specific reason, however, the changed course of my thinking has produced this piece of writing.
The statistics that he spoke of chilled me to my bones. From his very compelling speech I learnt that even today there are 30 million people living in slavery or are victims of what it is now called, Human Trafficking. 80% of this number are women. In one country that he spoke of 60,000 people live in slavery and in a particular city of this country, 200-300 people are sold into slavery every month. Brothel owners buy brown or black skinned girls at as low a price as $1000 while the price of a white skinned girl is many times that number. Earnings per trade being in the tune of $35,000. You do the Math and the numbers are staggering. The entire state machinery like the Police and Government are well aware of what is going on yet turn a blind eye towards this flourishing trade. Yes, flourishing for the total sex trade exceeds the total drug trade in Atlanta, Georgia. Yes, this country is no other than the United States of America, the so called leader of the free world. We all associate human rights violations against women, afflictions of only the under-developed countries of the world, yet here were compelling numbers from the developed world. His other revelations about sexual assault in the military of 26,000 reported rapes that resulted in only 3,000 prosecutions. And that 1 out of every 4 girls who enter an American University will be sexually assaulted before she graduates left me numb.
So I came home and did a little more digging and what I found was even more alarming. Europe, I read is a destination for victims from the widest range of destinations including Asia. I then recalled a conversation I had last year with a cousin, who works as an academic counselor in one of our city’s leading schools. She shared with me that their school had been running a student exchange program for many years. Till the widely reported Nirbhaya case the school had run this program successfully, but now the numbers were dropping as parents from Europe were unwilling to send their children to India to study. This was not only for girls but the parents of boys too were reluctant. As a developing country we have our share of problems that are very similar to theirs, the only difference is that while we acknowledge our shames, they blow theirs under the carpet.
The Human rights abuse of women by the ISIS in the Middle East, female genital mutilation in Africa, honor killings in almost all of the Islamic world and even India, domestic violence, rape with impunity, acid attacks and human trafficking are truths that lurk somewhere beneath the surface for me. They are articles or stories I read and documentaries I watch. They, however, are living realities for billions of women who have done nothing wrong. In my faith we are taught from a young age that your past life’s karmas give you the life of a human, the highest in the pecking order of species. I wonder at this. If humans are the most evolved of beings why does a young child cry with agony as she gets brutally mutilated? How does the mother whose infant child is torn from her womb find the will to go through the pain of it again and again? Why does the father/brother/uncle murder their own flesh and blood for just following her heart? What the girl goes through whose innocence is snatched away by vicious lust? How the beautiful girl faces the mirror and looks at the ravages that she has been left with by a venomous perpetrator? Where does the woman who gets pummeled to an inch of her life find the strength to go on and serve the very man who subjugates her? Where in all this anguish is the evolved thought of a higher species.
Of the various reasons that President Carter gave for the abuse of women the last one struck me like bolt of lightning. He says, “In general men don’t give a damn. The average man that might say I’m against the abuse of women quietly accepts the privileged position that we occupy. The majority is of men that control the systems of the world, the educational systems, the government systems, the military and the great religions.”
A damsel in distress or persecuted maiden is a classic theme in world literature. She is usually a beautiful young woman placed in a dire predicament by a villain or monster and who requires a hero to achieve her rescue. – Wikipedia. Who is going to be that hero? Who is going to achieve that rescue? In today’s world where we women demand gender equality, we are the ones who need to stand up and unite to be that hero. We need to speak up and take the responsibility on ourselves that all those millions of women and girls do not stay Damsels in Distress.
How I am going to be a part of that change I do not know, yet. What I do know now is that I want to be part of the change that is required. As I will kiss my daughter goodnight and lay my head on my pillow, I will think of all the mothers and daughters who will not sleep tonight as their pain will be too much to bear.