On the New Delhi Gang Rape

On December 16th a promising young woman riding a bus in New Delhi with a friend was beaten and gang-raped, ultimately, to death.

With our 24 hour news cycle, and so much more of the world visible and familiar, it seems as if new tragedies arise in a steady rhythm. It is easy to become accustomed –but hopefully not deaf– to the emotions and questions that arise after each new dreadful beat.

The Atlantic ran a moving and thought provoking photo essay documenting the ongoing protests. In one photo a woman holds a sign that reads “We live in a society that teaches women not to get raped instead of teaching men not to rape.” The images depict both sexes protesting, but as a woman I was particularly inspired –and heartbroken– to see women attempting to break down police barricades, shouting in the face of water cannons, and leading the chants, vigils, and demonstrations.

I know women are strong. To witness, even in the silent two-dimensional world of a photograph, many women rising up, is magnificent. It makes me want to shout with pride and solidarity. It makes me want to remind every woman that such a heart beats within her, and to harness that strength and flaunt it, and build it, and use it.

And then it makes me want to howl.

Because women: who are the single most powerful force in building stable communities; who have demonstrated their competence and value in every profession; who have flown into space; run nations; led relief efforts; fought in wars; birthed every human being who has ever been alive on this planet, still have to fight –every single day– for control and ownership of their own bodies.

It would be enough to boil at this fundamental injustice, and once again ask the ‘why’ of this brutal act. But, as I think about this event tonight, my question is actually about gangs. Without any knowledge of the six perpetrators, and little of the situation, my imagination has been that this was a spontaneous act. That six people, seven if you count the complicit bus driver, came together and became far, far less than the some of their parts. Why, I wonder does this happen? What is the alchemy that makes a group of people not just fantasize, but choose to perpetrate a horrible action in the moment? What makes a group of people all feel and foment their worst selves? What was the tipping point? In what ways did society build the foundation for, or encourage this act?

I was 24 when I started medical school. The third of my life since then has been fundamental to shaping me as a human being. I am so sorry for the young woman’s family and for us. Who knows what genius she would have brought forth, or even how her light may have shone just in surviving this attack and continuing to live? On this finish line/starting line of a new year let us each think of way to teach men not to rape. Let us, in every moment that we are with others, try to bring out the best in them.

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