Sunday, December 30, 2012

She did not step back in fear. She stepped out with hope

Part of this piece has appeared in the Dec 30, 2012 Mumbai edition of DNA We do not know her. We do not know her name. We do not know her face. And we will never know who she was, what she was, what she liked and disliked, what made her laugh and what made her sad. Who were here school friends and who her college friends. She sure must have been a spirited woman, who was angry and who would stand up and fight. She must have had a soft corner for man in her life. What were her dreams? Perhaps she was not a conspicuous woman. Perhaps she was the kind who was quiet and sweet. We ended up naming her Patient X, Amaanat, Nirbhaya, Daughter of India because we did not want the real name of this real woman to be revealed in our anxiety to protect her from the shame, so we thought, she has been subjected to as though she committed the act when as a matter of fact it is the perpetrators of the shameful and brutal act who should have felt humiliated and ashamed for the horror that that they had committed. In a surreal fashion, she has been transformed into this spectral figure who is throwing blinding light into the tangled darkness of the modern urban jungle. She has brought so many strangers together, made us angry, made us debate and argue even as she made the law-makers, the guardians of law shamefaced. Yet the only image we have of her is that of the battered and maimed body that she was in the Safdarjang Hospital, giving all she had to keep herself alive with the help and support of the doctors, of her male friend, of her parents and brother, and of the thousands who were angry for her at India Gate and Jantar Mantar in New Delhi, and in Indore, Guwahati, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru, girls and boys, young women and young men who came out on to the streets, angry with what had happened to her. It is her unbearable pain, her humiliation, her intense suffering that has singed our minds and hearts in the last fortnight. We despair that if we could have ever prevented what had happened to her, whether we could prevent the perversion and the mind-numbing violence and cruelty meted out to her by those men who were operating that white chartered bus at that early hour of the night in the heart of the national capital on December 16, 2102. We raise the questions: what kind of men are these? What kind of society are we? What is it about macho north Indian men that they go on the rampage against helpless women? And, yes, what is it about men in India, men in general that they indulge in violence against women? The questions and the speculative answers that seem to be only ones at hand do not help explain the situation. They sound hollow, they are meaningless. And yet we know we cannot get back to work and put behind the memory of ghastliness, the nightmare that will return to haunt the dreams of women and men for quite some time to come. And there is the hard business to take care of. The perpetrators need to be punished. Justice needs to be done. We have to control our anger and rage, dispassionately look at the evidence and mete out punishment commensurate with the crime. The woman who died would want justice and not revenge. She fought with grit on the hospital bed even as she fought off those men in the bus that night. The politicians and the police can be blamed, lampooned, castigated and they need to be. But that cannot be a substitute for the real wrong that is at the heart of our society. We should not pretend that we will be transformed into doves because of this chastening horror. There is no catharsis at hand. Killing the killers is only an easy option. It is not even a deterrent. The cruel truth is that we have to face the challenge of fighting off this menace every day and every time. This is the unending struggle against every day evil. We have to remember her life along with her suffering and death. It is the life that has been trampled upon and stamped out that has to be recalled. It is the life story that has to be told of this girl from a poor family in eastern Uttar Pradesh who reached out to the big world with hope and faith. The criminals will always be on the prowl but they can be beaten back not just on the basis of fear of deadly deterrents though that could go a long way but there is a need to reach out to the elusive utopia of bonding and camaraderie. It is hard not to detect hope and faith in the 23-year-old girl as she travelled with her companion and as she stepped into the hellish white bus.

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