Candlelight vigil I attended last night in Union Square, NYC for Jyoti Singh Pandey, the victim of the brutal gang rape in New Delhi.
The vigil, organized by Sakhi, drew a lot of South Asian women, but also men, along with whites, African Americans, and others.
How is it that this one particular act of sexual violence, thousands of miles away, has resonated so deeply with Americans and others in the West?
“What I’m seeing for the first time, really, is American feminists and American women’s organizations seeing the moment in India as an opening for us to be talking about what’s going on in the United States as well,” said Mallika Dutt, who heads the New York/New Delhi-based women’s rights group Breakthrough. “Women in the United States are saying ‘When are we going to see the day when we see young men in America really get out onto the streets and support ending violence against women there?’”
Many activists argue that the rape incident in India wasn’t the product of some far-flung, patriarchal society but speaks to global patterns of abuse.
“I don’t think we’ve had anything as galvanizing in sexual assault in more than 20 years, since the Central Park jogger case,” said Sonia Ossorio, who heads the New York City chapter of NOW, the National Organization for Women. “We’re hearing from women, and men, and fathers every single day, here in our office.”
Patrick Lemmon, co-founder or the Washington DC-based group Men Can Stop Rape, says the presence of so many men at demonstrations in India dovetails with contemporary efforts to involve American men in conversations about violence, before any crime is committed. And he’s hopeful that something good will ultimately emerge.
“We’ve seen tens of thousands of people gathering in the streets, talking about this issue in India, in ways that, from what I’m reading, has not happened before,” he said. “So this is the real moment of possibility. It’s an incredible tragedy, and we have an opportunity, as a world and as the nation of India, to say ‘This is not who we are. We choose to be different.’”
I’ve been asking various 2nd amendment scholars what they think will emerge from the Newtown tragedy. Randy Barnett, a professor at George Washington University Law Center, had this to say — it sounds a lot like what gun owners in other states have told me in the past, that gun control advocates like Mayor Bloomberg are hypocrites:
“It is appalling to see this tragedy exploited to advance measures that would have done nothing to prevent it. I want to know the types of weapons Mayor Bloomberg’s bodyguards use to protect his safety, and whether he will order them to disarm. If not, why not? Is his safety more important than that of mere citizens?”
Given the combative tone of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre earlier today, we’re looking at a serious gun control brawl in the coming months.
Mayor Bloomberg, probably the country’s best-known gun control advocate, had this to say in response to the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre:
“The NRA’s Washington leadership has long been out of step with its members, and never has that been so apparent as this morning. Their press conference was a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country. Instead of offering solutions to a problem they have helped create, they offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe. Leadership is about taking responsibility, especially in times of crisis. Today the NRA’s lobbyists blamed everyone but themselves for the crisis of gun violence. While they promote armed guards, they continue to oppose the most basic and common sense steps we can take to save lives - not only in schools, but in our movie theaters, malls, and streets. Enough. As a country, we must rise above special interest politics. Every day, 34 Americans are murdered with guns. That’s why 74 percent of NRA members support common sense restrictions like criminal background checks for anyone buying a gun. It is time for Americans who care about the Second Amendment and reasonable gun restrictions to join together to work with the President and Congress to stop the gun violence in this country. Demand a plan.” - Mayor Bloomberg, December 21, 2012
Like everyone else, I’ve found the Newtown coverage almost unbearable to follow, and yet that’s my job, so I read everything I can, and gaze at images of little coffins being carried into hearses.
There have been times over the past couple days when I’ve found myself inexplicably tired. And then I realize that this is my body’s response to the news: it’s exhausting to grow emotional every few hours.
What’s going to come of all this? Too early to say, and although terrible shooting tragedies have happened before, with no legislative impact, one activist I spoke to is feeling hopeful.
“I feel encouraged,” said Jackie Hilly, who runs New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, “because I think the emotional component of what has happened in the last week, I really think it’s a turning point.”
She turned to Civil Rights history to find an appropriate analogy.
“It’s reminiscent of the 4 girls being bombed at the church in Birmingham. There are certain episodes in our history that the tides just change, because the victims are so innocent.”
I find it almost impossible to write meaningfully about the children who died at Sandy Hook Elementary. Not just because it’s emotionally overwhelming — it is — but because it is simply inexplicable. Beyond what language can contain.
Instead, I’d like to say a word about the 6 women who died at the school that day:
- Dawn Hochsprung, 47, School principal
- Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Teacher
- Lauren Rousseau, 30, Teacher
- Mary Sherlach, 56, School psychologist
- Victoria Soto, 27, Teacher
- Rachel Davino, 29, Teacher
As a child growing up in Texas, my Hindu parents taught me to regard education — the acquisition of knowledge — as a serious thing. That it is in fact sacred, the preserve of deities like Saraswati and Ganesha. When you’re a kid, that can be a little abstract, but certain basic rules — no defacing books, no touching books (or even paper) with your feet — take root.
One of the most fundamental principles, as far as they were concerned, was that teachers were to be respected. So for my folks, and for me now as an adult and parent, it was always mystifying to see teachers in this country, and teaching, be disparaged. Legitimate public debates over education reform seemed to cross a line at some point when they allowed the regular and casual vilification of teachers, to suggest that as a group they’re underperformers, or couldn’t make it in the ‘real world.’
And then things like this happen.
No teacher should think their lives are on the line when they enter a classroom, but tragedies like Newtown are stark reminders of the responsibility school instructors bear on a daily basis. My hope is that Victoria Soto — the 27-year-old Sandy Hook teacher reportedly shot dead as she rushed her kids into a storage room — will be remembered as not just an individual hero, but someone who helped redefine her profession.
Because just as we acknowledge with police officers and fire fighters, and with members of our military, the pay for teachers is rarely equal to the work put in. But the least we can do as a society is accord honor to those willing to serve.
“Two teens beat a 70-year-old Queens man after asking him if he was Hindu or Muslim, police said Friday.” [NYDN]
This happened in Corona, Queens. The cops are searching for two Hispanic males. On one hand, it’s a savage act, plain and simple. On the other hand, there’s an element of sophistication within this savagery. The stereotypical American bigot, you imagine, doesn’t stop to consider such fine nuances as Hindu vs. Muslim before initiating an all-out assault — it’s all just a whole bunch ‘o’ brown, right?
But of course, it’s not, as is made clear by the suspect profiles — “dark haired” Hispanics going after someone who’s presumably South Asian, and just as dark.
This question, “Are you Hindu or Muslim?” is so strange to encounter in a New York crime story, especially for an Indian guy like me. For anyone who has roots in South Asia, it’s the question seemingly repeated, ad nauseum, throughout all spasms of Hindu-Muslim violence.
After all, many Hindus and Muslims in India or Pakistan are ethnically identical, distinguished only by their religiously-ascribed clothing or something just as superficial. During any episode of inter-religious butchering, the question is presumably thrust at anyone who doesn’t fit into a clear category. But even rampaging mobs can be savvy, and know very well that the person being asked is willing to answer with whatever identity is most practical at that moment.
From this cynicism was born a test of sorts: if the mob doubts the veracity of the answer — suspects that the person is in fact Hindu when he said Muslim, or vice-versa — it forces him to drop his pants, and reveal whether he is circumcised (Muslim) or not (Hindu).
The body, it figured, couldn’t lie.