Like many people, I have found the news from India about the death of the rape victim almost unbearable. The details of the case are horrific. Four years ago I went to Delhi with some friends for the wedding of one of our University friends. An acquaintance who had visited the city many times gave me a warning which when I heard it seemed incredible, but turned out to be excellent advice. He told me two things: cover up, and don’t travel alone on public transport. He added that I should avoid being by myself in crowded places.
As I always dress modestly, I told him that surely I would be OK. He pointed out that I was wearing a dress which was an inch or so above the knee; that, he said, would be regarded as provocative. I felt quite indignant, but I took his advice, and was glad I did. There was one occasion when a friend and I were on a bus and a man sitting further down looked at us the whole time; we both felt unhappy with his attention; goodness knows what we should have felt if anything more threatening had happened. As she is a Muslim and was wearing a hijab, I can only assume that he was looking at me – and I wad wearing a headscarf.
Thanks to heeding the good advice, the trip went off with nothing more than the occasional hostile stare, but it left me with no desire to go to the place again – despite the fact that, at least in old Delhi, there are some marvellous things to see, and despite my love for Indian food.
It all came back when I heard about the ghastly events in India recently. I don’t know how anyone can treat another human being in the way that poor woman and her companion were treated. It was a reminder of our capacity, as a species, for being inhuman. That we use that word reminds us that we like to think of ourselves as being better than the bestial level to which we can sink.
That is one of the things which points us to God – this knowing that just because something is ‘natural’ does not make it right. It is true that you still sometimes meet men who say stupid things about women ‘asking for it’ because of the clothes they wear. Of course we aren’t, and any man who thinks like that needs to get help. Part of being civilised is that we learn to curb some of our ‘natural’ appetites.
It is a mark of our falling away as a society that some people really think that saying that such and such a behaviour is fine because it is ‘natural’ is an argument which washes. Christianity has always called us to be the best we can – that is to be the image of God in which we are made. That does not mean that God has the urges which come to us because of the Fall, but it does mean that we have the urge to be altruistic, loving, faithful and self-sacrificing.