Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Power of One

A young woman in India, Pooja Chauhan, took the unusual step of stripping down to her underwear and marching to the police station to demand action and justice. She had previously registered complaints against her in-laws that they harassed and abused her for not bring dowry and for giving birth to a daughter. Her march resulted in a lot of gawkers and some slow traffic in the little town where she lived but it got her results. The police immediately arrested the in-laws and two neighbors (no explanations have been given for how the neighbors were complicit).

Police say a case may be registered against her for indecent behavior however, they will wait till an examination of her mental state has been conducted. One would like to ask that a case also be registered at the same time against the police for the dereliction of their duty that drove this young woman to the extreme measures she had to resort to in order to bring attention to her plight.

Time and again, the forty year old anti-dowry laws have been flouted in India. Every once in a while a particular young woman's courageous protest focuses attention on this social evil. Nisha Sharma was the last such lightning rod. She called the police on her bridegroom even as last minute demands for dowry were being made. The groundswell of admiration and protest she generated is a testament to how many Indians hate this part of Indian culture and yet, we must be a cowardly nation because we allow this heinous practice to continue, we turn a blind eye when others around us make demands and torture their daughter-in-laws and we also ask for dowry ourselves when we have sons. While the Pooja's and Nisha's are few and far between, we have been inured to the more common reports of young brides burnt and killed by in-laws and husbands.

Neither of these young women were from a particularly privileged or remarkable background. They were not surrounded by supporters or well-wishers who egged them on to rebel. They had nothing to gain and quite a bit to lose. And yet, others in their position have submitted to the violence and injustice perpetrated upon them without raising their voices. It takes a lot of courage to be a Pooja or a Nisha. Some may think it futile since social and cultural mores are slow to change. But each Pooja is a beacon of light, a call to arms in the fight for justice and against tyranny.

I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something I can do.
- Edward Everett Hale

[Photographs courtesy of the Times of India and the BBC. Thanks]

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