Waiting for Superman

Having blogged through the month of April, I have seen countless stories about sexual violence, and since this story broke on April 19 about the 5-year-old girl being raped in Delhi, many stories have been about child rape.  Seeing all these stories takes a toll on the reader, bringing the ubiquity of the tragedies into focus.  For all the civil society uprisings and protests, there does not seem to be a change in mindsets of the rapists.  That has gotten me wondering about the role of media in reporting there abhorrent events, as well as the level of compassion a single person can muster.

An opinion piece in the Hindu mentioned that “the instinctive compassion, sadness and empathy they feel at the atrocity of the day are matched only by a growing despair,” referring to protesters who demanded a more gender equitable society.  I, for one, have felt quite helpless in reading all these stories again and again, and found myself repeatedly listening to a Flaming Lips song called “Waitin’ for a Superman.” In this song, the words, “It’s just too heavy for Superman to lift” strike a chord with the despair I feel in working in reading about countless rapes.  Even with an energetic civil society, and even if the police and politicians were “super,” it can feel that the responsibilities to make a gender equitable Delhi and India are just too heavy for us to achieve.  Of course, I hope I am wrong.

Danger of such compassion fatigue is an interesting concept, because, for instance, dowry deaths don’t get attention in media like rapes currently, but there were still 8172 reported in 2008, or over 22 a day.  (Source) Yet we barely see them in the media like we are now seeing reports of rape. It is good that child rape is now being brought to light, or will it merely be a fad that gets our attention for a few months and fades away? Is the media feeding the populace stories to sell papers today, only to move on to a new issue later?

I think not.  Awareness-raising is the first step in making a societal difference.  And media reportage is a key component of raising awareness.  Despite all the despair, a source of optimism comes in this article  which gives statistics on rape reporting in Delhi.  According to the numbers, there were over twice as many rape reports between January and March, 2013 than would be expected during that time frame.  This suggests that since the protests in December, there is less of stigma towards reporting rape, and that due to the raising public awareness of atrocities to women, survivors of rape now feel more comfortable to report their attackers to the authorities.  With less victim blaming and with more rapists being brought to justice, we may see incremental change in the rates of rape in Delhi.  Of course it will take a ton of collective public anger, and slow incremental change, but with time, this issue is not too heavy for Superman, (or a focused, angry civil society) to lift.

Phillip Perl

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