Almost a year back from today I started my journey of being a 'public' blogger and propelled into the unreal realms of the putting your heart out into the internet with a post on Huffington Post. It was on the 2012 Delhi gang rape, and how that incident had served as an ultimate precipice for me. I received overwhelming support following the post and hundreds of emails resonating, but also comments that scarred and scared me, further strengthening my resolve to keep writing for the cause.
I read about how I was lying, exaggerating and destroying India's image on international media for money and fame! Women are worshiped in India, treated much better than anywhere else in the world, and what I was blowing up was 'a single incident'. Worse things happen all over the world - I needed to look at the stats.
I was hard for me to answer accusations so bewildering. I wasn't being paid by anyone, but yes I did submit to Huffington Post to publicize my post and find a forum for my frustrations. I had long wanted to scream from a roof top begging people in India to forget about Nationalism, Salman Khan being arrested, or whether or not temples get rebuilt, and take to the streets again for implementation of the Indian Penal code reforms of 2013, until consequences preventing perpetrators from these horrendous acts of gender violence (rape and acid attack) were widespread and established. I wanted every woman abused to come forward and report so that when I looked at the stats and found solace in India being lower than the US in number of 'reported' incidents, I could trust that solace to be real. I wanted to draw International attention to the problem that HASN'T been solved in India. No, I wasn't overreacting. And yes, I wanted to invoke shame in ourselves: for looking away for too long and then shifting our glances too soon.
If all what I have stated is perceived as embarrassing India (or some Indians?) then I will try again. If writing about this is seeking fame for self, then I will continue to seek fame and my catharsis will come only when I will no longer have anything left to seek fame with.
But today unfortunately is not that day. Not yet. Another woman has been brutally raped and killed, with horrifying similarities to the 2012 incident. We are happy to call her 'Kerala's Nirbhaya' and will forget, consumed with issues more important than women's lives, until Nirbhaya is birthed again. In another state, another city.
So I write on the issue again, this time with brilliant and poignant Lopa Banerjee. The excerpt below is from her book-length work of narrative nonfiction and is in response to the 2012 gang rape in India. Our writing this piece, is not to seek whatever it is you think we seek, but is to show the scars that run so deep that 'a single incident' is all that is needed to break the weir. What you call overreaction - we identify as culmination. Our motherland is our pride and our activism is to purge her of the wounds inflicted on her.
And 'this possibly happening at other parts of the world' doesn't make a difference to what we want for her and the rest of the world.
To Ravaged Nymphs: A Journey through Blood, Bruises and Tears
Dec 2012. Inside a private bus in New Delhi, India, a 23 year-old woman, a paramedical student is brutally gang-raped, a rod inserted inside her vagina, merciless beating results in injuring her intestines. She had boarded the bus along with her friend at 10 o'clock in the night, as both were about to return home after watching a movie. The media and the judiciary express their outrage over the event, demanding the death penalty for the criminals. Days following her hospitalization, a huge volume of people from all parts of the city, including young girls and woman of all ages gather in rallies of protest, while political parties make it a steaming issue and a fodder for their respective agendas. A week after the attack, the woman (the Indian media names her 'Damini', or 'Nirbhaya', real name undisclosed) dies an excruciatingly painful death.
Every other minute, a woman's body turns to cement and stone as she is beaten, raped and molested inside the four walls of her home, out there in the crazy streets, in the hollow darkness of the subways. Every other minute, I keep on stumbling upon these news stories, reminding myself that I am a woman, a being with a tempting body, with the fullness of my curves, meek and powerless with each masculine stroke and whip that pierces me. Every other minute, I succumb to a powerful, masculine world whose flesh and blood rejoice with my surrender.
Sipping my morning coffee inside the cozy confines of a home that has shielded me for all these years, I can still smell the caustic odor of beasts, inflicting wounds as they race up the woman's body in their quest to prove the power, the sheer superiority of the male organ.
October 1983: The house is crowded with guests, invited friends and family and curious, uninvited onlookers cheering at the firecrackers, the lamps brightening up the rooms and the sheer merriment of festivity. It is Diwali, the festival of lights, and a very young girl of 5 or 6, sleeps in a silent bed tucked away from this frenetic midnight world, snuggling her favorite doll. Way past midnight, she suddenly writhes in unexplained discomfort in the midst of deep sleep, her tongue parched and hands tied. She feels the maze of a stupor that embraces her senses inside the pale blue mosquito net wrapping the corners of the bed, while coarse hands work their way up to her pants. They are a group of grown up men, unknown to the little girl, cheering at their exploration of the girl's mouth, her tender lips, her tongue, her private parts. They tremble at the sound of a loud, elderly cough that interrupts their expedition, and quickly, stealthily move out of the room.
At the lunch spread that followed the next day of the festival, they faced the girl, trembling, sweating, as they relished the bones and flesh of the sacrificial goat meat served to them in a platter. "Oh, the fun we had, though it wasn't complete...don't you dare say anything about it to any one you know, girl, or else you know what we can do to you!" One of them whispered to her, while the others jeered.
April 2003. Inside a crowded compartment of a train that locally commutes from Ghaziabad to New Delhi, there are a couple of working women in their 20's, trying to push their way into the seats, most of them already occupied, crossing the reeking odor of human sweat, cheap alcohol and the lusty look of men co-passengers. One of them, a docile, petite young woman wraps her nose with the corners of her scarf and pushes herself towards the seats. While she walks out of the train, she notices a white, sticky stain in her scarf, the sure remnants of male ejaculation. In sheer disgust, she throws up, while still in the station.
Every minute, I die a thousand deaths. From the windows of my far-away home dressed with heavy, dark curtains, my eyes stretch out to soak in the burning flames that devour the bodies of young girls and women, demolished for the sheer offense of their sex. Once again, I try to look into the dripping blood and tears of these nymphs ravaged by the sheer image of destruction that the word 'rape' connotes. In popular films and adult talks while in my teens, I have tried to grasp the meaning of 'molestation' and the loss of female modesty. Every other day during my teens and also later, I have secretly crushed myself to pieces as I could never reveal to anyone in my family how it felt as a thumb-sucking child when adult male hands raced up my tiny body to uncover my private parts. Years later, as my curious feminine thoughts were gradually building up a world of desire and lovemaking with a man, I could never reveal to anyone the sheer contempt at the sight and odor of unknown semen.
Dec 30, 2012. Bhaskar News. A friend of mine at Facebook shared the news of a woman scientist's reactions to the Delhi gang-rape victim. The woman, an agriculture scientist, a secretary of the Lion's club in Madhya Pradesh, India states that the Delhi victim should have meekly submitted to the rape. She accused the victim and her boyfriend for being there in the streets too late at night. She adds that surrendering to the rape would at least save her intestines. Asserting that the police cannot give protection to irresponsible citizens in extreme situations like this, she defiantly states: "Women instigate men to commit such crimes."
For a long time, I have believed in the magic and solace of the bonds shared between women. In my childhood, I had believed in the epic tales depicting the plight of pure, innocent, modest wives and daughters that my mother and grandmother had taught me. For a long time, I have had extreme faith in resting in my mother's shoulders when I felt a need to be shielded. I have had unthinkable solace in the sweet talks of my female school friends, batch mates and colleagues as I had confided in them. All these years, living in a tattered world in danger, such beliefs and dreams are ripped apart. I have seen myself as part of a world in which men and women join hands to coax her to self-surrender , punish and judge women on how she would look, dress, behave and react to a man's world that offers her words of caution and wisdom based on masculine whims and desires. I have publicly shared the shock and disbelief with my female friends as they have shared this woman's reactions as a viral story over the World Wide Web. In my mind, I have once again tried to reach out to the thumb-sucking girl of five or six that I once was, who knew nothing about modesty, virtue and decorum, who knew nothing about how society tells a girl she has lost these, as unknown men have touched her private parts. I have once again tried to reach out to my docile, petite self, ten years back in time, who tried to wash off the stains of a drunk co-passenger's lustful body from her favorite scarf she wore at the office every day.
I open up the virtual world of Facebook again. There are spam messages coming from all my real and virtual friends to sign an online petition. There is growing demand for strong laws against rape cases and rapists, while certain sections of the public are attempting to mobilize the thought through the tool of social networking. I don't know for sure, how long these voices of protest and reform will live and be heard. In the world outside, plenty of women like the unfortunate Delhi victim, like the hapless little girls molested at a tender age, will either die, or live their lives with the flickering flame of shame and anguish. I, a sister to their wounds and tears, will continue to wipe their blood stained sheets with the 'modesty' and 'virtue' that have long ago been erased from my own life.
March 2015: There is yet another uproar in the broadcast and social media. Several friends of mine in Facebook post and share the sensational news of BBC broadcasting an interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the perpetrators of the New Delhi gang rape in prison. Snippets of the interview, the reactions of the interviewer, a journalist and documentary filmmaker, the reactions of the intelligentsia, politicians are shared in all media outlets, where the convict accuses the victim for being responsible for the brutal sexual assault that led to her death. I watch the TV footage, the quotes and the newsfeed, which go viral in a matter of seconds. Will the convicts ever be hanged? Will there be any major serious law enforcement system to stop them from raping? Will there ever be any permanent remedy to the vicious psychology of a criminal? I don't know the answers. All I know right now is that a death-row convict has opened his filthy mouth and disrobed a woman again, verbally.
"In an interview from jail, Mukesh Singh says women who go out at night have only themselves to blame if they attract the attention of gangs of male molesters".
"A girl is far more responsible for a rape than a boy....A decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night.
The Telegraph, March 4, 2015
Responses from friends from all parts of the world pour in, through social media posts, comments and debates ensuing seamlessly.
"Friends, Isn't he accusing all the males when he says that women provoke men by their explosive dressing? Agree that there are some who crosses decency in dressing. But how many males gets turned on to the extent of raping?"
(Facebook post by a friend in a writers' group)
The responses, heated and stoical, brimming with anger, disgust and helplessness evaporate in the thin air of the night as we switch off our TV screens and laptops, as more smothering, cussing, shoving, kicking, rape and bloodshed continue within the brick walls of homes, and in the naked city streets. The pestilence of death continues to hover, with ragged, rickety moaning.
'Nirbhaya', the fearless twenty-three year old, rechristened by the nation, has long ago been a rotten corpse and burnt away. In the deadly wind that fills the wee hours of the night with its sordid revelry, I can feel her arid spirit roaming, her unseen footsteps crushing the dark night's crevices. She bleeds every night, deep inside, wandering in the dark underbellies of cities and towns, whispering her story in crinkled corners, shouting her heart out as she sees women breaking into million shards every passing day. Nobody listens. Her cries fade out, and resound.
'Nirbhaya incidents' don't happen suddenly. They might be rare escalations, but they start with a society valuing an woman's honor more than her life. They germinate with each incident left unpunished.
So let's take to the streets again, and every national or international forum available. Let's forget the discomfort of embarrassment, the importance of keeping up appearances, and raise hell. This time, we won't look away too soon.
For more discussions and feedback, visit www.thoughtsandrights.com
Co-author of this piece, Lopa Banerjee, is a poet, author, translator and blogger based in Dallas, Texas. Please visit her blog www.mistressandhermuse.wordpress.com for more information on her.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.