There are bits of information which we cling to, incomplete pieces of a simple jigsaw puzzle…
She was 23.
She was studying to be a physiotherapist.
She belonged to a family from rural India.
Her father sold land owned by the family for her higher education.
She went to a movie.
Her name was Jyoti.
She fought them.
She wanted to live.
She wanted to know if they were caught.
We cannot complete this jigsaw puzzle. We don’t have enough information. But we know her. You know her. You went to school with her. She sat next to you in the term exams. She was the girl you went to when you wanted to weep about a broken heart. She was the girl who was from that small town and held her own. She was the girl in college whom you admired but were never close to. She was your best friend. She was the one who took notes when you took off. She was the one who never took notes but performed well in all examinations.
She was the first step of a new generation entering boldly into a world of new possibilities and futures. It was a world her mother, grandmother could not have ever imagined. It was a world just out of reach of many of her aunts and even cousins. She was the pioneer. She was going to be an inspiration, not one that would change the world – but one that would change the idea of what was possible for a girl like her, in her own village.
She did not want to be a national icon. She did not want to light the flame. She did not want to be a braveheart. She did not want to become Nirbhaya or Damini or Amanat. She did not want to start a national movement which would cause tremors in the corridors of power. She did not want to become the tipping point for a nation’s conscience. She did not want to sacrifice her life to protect other women. She did not want to shake us out of a complacent sense of who we are. She did not want to make us to ask if this is who we want to be. She did not want us to ask fundamental questions about culture, society and history.
She wanted to watch a movie.
And she wanted to go back home.
She is not special.
She did not die for a cause.
She did not make any sacrifice.
She died a horrible, painful and unnecessary death.
Glorifying her as a savior or as a harbinger of change is a falsehood at its best, a deception at its worst.
For many, the incident is an exception. A horrible crime perpetrated by horrible men. However, a slightly deeper examination would reveal that she fits a neat pattern.
A study by Thomson Reuters Foundation shows that India is the worst country in the world to be born a woman in. This is behind even Saudi Arabia, where women cannot drive and have gotten the right to vote only in 2011.
In 2010, in Jind, Haryana, a 13 year old girl was raped by four boys and abandoned on an empty street. She was able to make it to a brick kiln, where she was again raped by two workers. After this, an auto driver who offered her help also raped her and dumped her on the road. She was then kidnapped by a truck driver and his aide who raped her for the next nine days. It must be noted that the different attackers at different phases of the assault, most probably did not know each other.
On September 9, 2012, in Hissar, Haryana – a 16 year old girl was raped by 11 men and a video clip was made. Ten days later, upon being shown the clip, her father committed suicide.
On December 13, 2012, an 18 year old girl was raped by three men in Patiala, Punjab. Having failed to register a case against them, and under immense pressure to settle the matter financially or marry one of the attackers, the victim committed suicide on 28th December.
A 13 year old schoolgirl in Haryana who was raped by a fruit vendor complained to her parents about it. Her father lodged a complaint with the police and a medical examination confirmed rape. The rapist was arrested. Next, the school where the girl was studying expelled her and her two younger sisters.
How can this be? How is such irrationality, such a depraved sense of morality possible? How do we manage to explain this to our children, and worse, teach it to them? How do we manage to live together in a society without imploding into a invisible haze of self-destruction? How did we manage to mix up right and wrong so horrendously? How did we give up thinking and get dulled into a mindless submission to prejudice?
Or more importantly. How do we get out of this place of darkness and disgust and towards the light of reason, dignity and fairness?
Where do we start?
Do we start with the judicial system?
In 1996, a 16 year old girl was kidnapped by a bus conductor in Kerala. In the course of the next 40 days, she was raped by 42 men. Today, 16 years later, after an unfavorable decision from the High Court and an appeal pending in the Supreme Court, she still awaits justice. Her appeal in the Supreme Court was made in 2005. The hearing is yet to begin.
A number of fast track courts have been set up in New Delhi to hear rape and sexual assault cases. This is welcome. Does this mean though, that previously, justice was being delivered on a slow track? Shouldn’t every single court in our country be fast track?
Or do we start at our own homes?
The Unicef’s “Global Report Card on Adolescents 2012″ has something to tell us about Indian families.
57% of Indian boys in the age-group of 15-19 think that a husband is justified in physically beating up his wife.
53% of Indian girls in the age-group of 15-19 think that a husband is justified in physically beating up his wife.
So does, a report titled “Study on Child Abuse:India 2007”, published by Ministry of Women and Child Development, 2007
More than 53% of Indian children face sexual abuse of one form or the other, out of which 50% is perpetrated by people they know.
Within this, 53% were boys and 47% girls.
More than half of Indian children are subject to sexual abuse and more than half of them think that violence is a justified action against the wife.
The worst insult you can offer a small boy is to call him a girl.
Or do we start with our representatives, our leaders?
In the past few months, we have heard our representatives speak. While many voices have demonstrated a desire for change, we have also heard that eating chinese food causes rape (Jitendear Chhatar, Khap Leader), that child marriage is the solution to rape (and ex-CM Om Prakash Chautala has seconded this Khap idea). Dharamveer Goyal, representing Haryana thinks that “90% rapes are consensual”
What do the women politicians have to say?
“Rapes happen because men and women interact far more freely these days” – Mamta Banerjee, Chief Minister, West Bengal
“One should not be adventurous, being a woman” -Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister, New Delhi
“There are no words to condemn such incidents. A victim of rape is neither dead nor alive. Even if the wounds of the victim heal physically, the mental trauma makes her a living dead,” Sushma Swaraj, Leader of Opposition
“The reasons that we understand are the huge migratory populations and the porous borders.” – Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister, New Delhi
One can only give credit to the representatives for truly representing the psyche of our nation.
Or do we start with the Police?
A recent Tehelka investigation revealed how many police officers approach rape cases. Here is a sample
“If girls don’t stay within their boundaries, if they don’t wear appropriate clothes, then naturally there is attraction. This attraction makes men aggressive, prompting them to just do it!” – Sub Inspector, Arjun Singh, SHO Surajpur Police Station
“It’s never easy for the victim. Everyone is scared of humiliation. Everyone’s wary of media and society. In reality, the ones who complain are only those who have turned rape into a business.” – Yogendra Singh Tomar, Additional SHO, Noida
“No rape can happen in Delhi without the girl’s provocation.” Sunil Kumar, Inspector, Delhi Police
In a world slightly better than ours, the crime of rape might still might have occurred, but our response to it would certainly have been different.
In our world, raping is a lesser crime than getting raped is.
This won’t do.
We can painfully feel the need for change.
We are straining at the leash.
We are ready for a new world.
Can we make it happen?
Isn’t it too big a task? Too complex?
How do you make a change in one billion minds?
In his book, ‘The Tell Tale Brain’, noted Neurologist V. Ramachandran says “It is a common fallacy to assume that gradual, small changes can only engender gradual, incremental results…. But outside of the sphere of practical human concerns, nature is full of non-linear phenomena. Highly complex processes can emerge from deceptively simple rules or parts, and small changes in one underlying factor of a complex system can engender radical, qualitative shifts in other factors that depend upon it.”
Ramachandran gives the example of a block of ice and “you are gradually warming it up: 20 degrees Fahrenheit… 21 degrees… 22 degrees…” When you start heating a block of ice and keep increasing the temperature, nothing noteworthy happens. Nothing noteworthy keeps on happening while you keep on increasing the temperature gradually.
Till, you reach the temperature of 32 Degrees Farenheit.
Suddenly, something dramatic and abrupt happens. “The crystalline structure of the ice decoheres, and suddenly the water molecules start slipping and flowing around each other freely. Your frozen water has turned into liquid water, thanks to that one critical degree of heat energy.”
Ramachandran goes on to say “At that key point, incremental changes stopped having incremental effects, and precipitated a sudden qualitative change called a phase transition”
Ramachandran also says later in the same chapter “They can occur in social systems, for example, where millions of individual decisions or attitudes can interact to rapidly shift the entire system into a new balance.”
There are examples of this: The break-up of Soviet Union, the growth of Internet, the Arab Spring.
At that key point, incremental change stops having an incremental effect, and precipitate a sudden qualitative change.
Where millions of individual decisions or attitudes interact to rapidly shift the entire system into a new balance.
Seems to be exactly what our world needs.
How do we do it?
We have a big block of fossilized, frozen problem in the pan. A problem made up of ancient prejudices, a slow legal system, an unresponsive government, a cult of masculinity, a chauvinistic police, a broken family system, not enough laws and maybe many other variables.
Let’s keep on increasing the temperature.
Let’s keep up the pressure.
Let’s keep making incremental changes.
Till it melts.
Till we have Phase Transition.
Till we have a new kind of a world.
A world where when a young girl steps out of her village into a world of possibilities and futures, she becomes a tale of inspiration for other little girls in her village. Not a tale of caution.
‘My Daughter’s Name is Jyoti Singh’: Nirbhaya’s Mother.
This simple act by Jyoti’s mother, which really shouldn’t need courage, but in our warped world, it does – allows me to add her name to the article which was written in 2012.