Women and Children First

It’s not enough to be angry.

Today, Indians and Americans are united in their grief, shock and anger. A mass shooting of young children and a violent gang rape of a young girl, in the space of a week, on either side of the world.

A global leader and a future superpower have been forced into the valley of death – helpless, powerless, wordless.

Both nations are democracies. Both countries have an outspoken media. Both constitutions permit peaceful protests. Both incidents have ignited a fury. Both people have had enough.

Today, India and the US feel like ships without a rudder, lost at sea and caught in a storm; without a captain on a starless night.

Everyone is a lawmaker today. All of us are victims. None of us are immune. This is unlike the protests against corruption led by Anna Hazare in New Delhi and the Occupy Wall Street movement against the greedy, in New York.

We can take sides about how to spend our money, but when it comes to the right to live and the need for justice, there is no room for debate, division or delay.

Wheels must turn. Laws must change. Courts must act justly. Leaders must lead rightly. But more needs to be done than just paperwork.

In India, we live in an abusive patriarchal reality that cannot be permitted to continue. Men are not gods. Women are not objects. No does not mean Yes. Things cannot be the same anymore.

There are a million nameless faces, voiceless victims and silent sufferers who do not have the courage to raise their voices because they fear they will be alone.

They fear the men who will intimidate them, the law that will betray them and the leaders who will dismiss them with their denial. They need a people to raise their voice. But they also need us to be sensible.

They need us to be wise. They need us to lift a banner for their cause with reason and with purpose, not with anger and with vengeance; lest we hurt the cause we want to defend and cripple the people we want to protect.

Ancient Israel has been where we are today.

A disturbing story in the Bible gets to heart of a nation’s decay. For decades, the country had lived without a king. The nation had no leadership and its people had no conscience. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.

The story of its moral decay comes to a head with the violent rape of a young woman, who had just been reconciled to her husband after being unfaithful to him.

The man was on his journey home with his wife and decided to take shelter among his own people, instead of neighboring foreigners. The reward for his patriotism was the depravity of his people. The men of the city knocked on the door of his lodging and demanded to rape him.

After his host’s failed attempts to appease their appetite, the young woman is offered to them instead of the man. The fact that the woman was offered at all, speaks volumes of the men of the day. But the men of the city were not to be outdone. The woman was traded for the safety of men, raped all night and left for dead at the doorstep.

Grieving and desperate for justice, he cuts her body into pieces, sends each piece to a tribe of Israel and questions the conscience of the nation.

And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel came up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.”

The nation responds with revenge. The men of the city are put to the sword. But justice comes at the cost of civil war and the nation is in mourning. The land is left reeling under the weight of its own decay. Vengeance doesn’t work. It only adds to the grief and deepens the wound.

The story invites reflection and ends with more questions than it answers. A soberingstatement closes the tale – “In those days Israel had no king. Everyone did as they saw fit.”

“Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint”, so says the wise man. But I don’t blame the government alone. This isn’t merely a failure of the law to protect its people.

The death penalty for murder has not kept people from killing each other. India’s restrictive gun laws didn’t keep two brothers from getting killed in a shootout, a short while ago.

The law deters people from committing crimes. But what will turn us into a society that actively seeks to do good, where no law requires us to go the extra mile? We need laws to keep us from doing wrong, but we can’t write laws that compel us to do the right thing. For that, we need fatherhood.

Israel was the son of God who had disowned his Father. He held his father’s name, but preserved none of his nature. Nations without kings are like homes without fathers.

Social studies tell us that most men who commit violent crimes did not have a strong father figure in their lives. They didn’t have strong leadership and love. They didn’t have a moral authority. They didn’t have direction, discipline, guidance or rebuke. They didn’t have a king.

The US is recognizing itself as a fatherless generation. The numbers tell the story: 80% of rapists with anger problems, 90% of homeless and runaway children and 85% of all children who show behavior disorders – all come from fatherless homes.

In India, it’s a different but similar story. We have fathers, but we don’t have healthy fatherhood. A patriarchal society breeds men who treat women as property for trade and objects of desire.

A BBC story tells the story of women in villages who have been sold and trafficked as brides, kept as slaves and beaten and raped by their husbands and “shared” among brothers. The National Family Health Survey found that 51% of Indian men and 54% of Indian women found it justifiable for a man to beat his wife.

India has a depressing history of oppressing and objectifying women. The system of abusive monarchy is gone, but the spirit lives on. Men are self-appointed kings and women are their courtesans. Princes learn the ways of their king and the godless monarchy presses on with its oppression. Enough is enough.

India and the US need a better version of fatherhood.

When his disciples asked him to teach them how to pray, Jesus taught them to say, “Our Father…”. Unlike Israel, he was the Son who was the splitting image of His father.

The best thing a man can do for his wife is to be a man of God—to live by laws better than our laws and for purposes higher than his own.

The best thing a man can do for his children is to love his wife. The best thing he can do for his neighbors is to raise godly children, who act justly and love mercy. The best thing he can do for the world is to love his neighbor.

The quickest way to lasting change is not merely for the government to make large, sweeping legislative changes. They are needed, but they will not bring the change we want to see in our countries.

Lasting change will come when men learn to see women the way that Adam first saw Eve. With awe, respect and wonder, as something sacred, precious and equal. That will need a revolution that demands more of us than just a new constitution.

Image Credit: Scott Smith

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