Damini. Amanat. Nirbhaya. Delhi’s Braveheart. The girl who can’t be named. The girl who doesn’t need to be named because she could be any one of us. She could be every one of us if the world doesn’t change its attitude. Right now.
Visualise the scenario: A 23-year-old physiotherapist goes to see Life of Pi in India’s capital city. At 9.30 pm, she boards a bus from one of the most upmarket terminals along with her male friend. And then life changes. Forever. Six men brutally rape and torture her as the bus drives round the city, passing 3 police jeeps on the way. They viciously hit her and her male friend with iron rods. He falls unconscious but she has no such luck. Instead, she is raped repeatedly, bitten all over her body and assaulted with an iron rod that’s rammed so violently in her nether parts that it (literally) rips her intestine out of her body. After about an hour of this most inhuman torture, she is stripped naked, robbed of her phone and money, then thrown out in the winter chill. Where she, along with her male friend – similarly stripped – lie almost-comatose for an hour as nobody cares to stop and help.
When she is finally taken to Safdarjung Hospital, hardened doctors shudder at her condition. Most would have already succumbed to the brutal injuries. But Damini – so named by the media as it means ‘lightning’, the force that both lights up and destroys – scribbles a note to her mother saying, “I want to live”. 10 days pass in a blitz of political half-truths and apathy as Abhijeet Mukherjee, a member of the Union Parliament and son of India’s esteemed President, goes on to say that the protestors are “pretty women who were dented and painted”. Unfortunately, he is not the only one. Even as millions of students take to the streets, self-anointed political youth leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Sachin Pilot are nowhere to be seen. And instead of listening to the pain and fear of India’s women – who repeatedly try to make us understand how unsafe they feel – the government imposes Section 144 (prohibiting assembly of 5 or more persons) and assaults them with water canons on a freezing morning, lathis (sticks) and tear gas. And – incredibly – girls are molested at the site of the protests. In the midst of all this, the barely-alive gang rape victim is whisked away under the cover of night to Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre. Why? We don’t know.
And then life ends. On the 13th day of her horror, the young girl who had ended her day with a movie that fills us with hope, gives up her hold on life. And takes a family’s hope with her. A father who works as a cargo loader and put his entire life’s savings in his daughter’s education, brings back her battered corpse on a chartered flight. A mother who once stayed awake nights singing her daughter to sleep, numbly holds her now lifeless hands. Two young brothers are still trying to make sense of how the world around them changed so suddenly.
And a nation finally wakes up. Hopefully. Today, we all have blood on our hands. We are sorry Delhi girl because we failed you. Because, despite the chilling statistic of a rape every 20 minutes, we blanketed it with our famous chalta hai (“everything goes”) attitude. Because we advised our daughters to take it in their stride rather than teaching our sons the lessons of morality. Because after so many years, we have yet to implement the quick justice and punishment that would make a rapist think twice. Because we have not managed to make our streets safe or our cops accountable. Because we continue to vote in politicians who have no brains. Or empathy. Or basic ethics. Yes, today every one of us has blood on our hands. And I hope we look at it every single day and remind ourselves of this senseless tragedy till we can actually change the atmosphere that brought it about.
And that is the story of Damini. Of Amanat. Of Nirbhaya. Of Delhi’s Braveheart. Of the girl who can’t be named. But then, it’s not only her story. According to last recorded UN statistics (2010), 27.7 of every 100,000 women are raped in UK every year. In the USA, the number is ever so slightly smaller – 27.3 per 100,000. In South Africa, it’s 120 while in Botswana it’s 92.9. Then there is Sweden – surely one of the most “civilized” of nations – 63.5 of every 100,000 women are raped there every year. And these are only the cases that are reported. So many go unreported because of the way we tend to shame the victims.
The shame, though, should be all ours. Every one of us shares in the crime as long as we continue to turn a blind eye or (worse) take it in our stride. Remember that rape is not really about sex – it’s more about the power that certain men (or animals?) want to wield over women. It’s their way of “teaching us a lesson”. Leading political voices, on the other hand, try to explain away the gruesomeness by laying the blame on victims themselves – they wore jeans, they wore skirts, they went out late at night (9.30 pm – late?), they work outside the home, they went out (horror of horrors!) in the company of a male friend.
Really? A friend suggests that we women now do as they suggest: stay home. Don’t buy groceries, pay bills, spend our hard-earned money in shops and restaurants. Let’s not give them our time, our money, our confidence. It’s easy to tell women to stay in. Near impossible for the world to function if we decide to take them up on the suggestion.
I don’t know if that will work. But I do know that something has to work. Otherwise we are a nation doomed. A world that’s just setting itself up for more pain. Swifter judgments, stricter punishments, police reforms, common empathy. What do you think we need? Everything? Something else? Or are we doomed to live in this Taliban-like regime forever? Speak up! The world needs our voice today. “Damini” rests in peace. We haven’t yet earned that right.