Remember 16th December 2012? Those of you who diligently read the newspapers certainly do. A 23-year old physiotherapy student, going back home with her friend after watching a movie, was brutalized, raped and left for dead by a gang of six men.
Let's do a fast forward of what exactly happened that night, according to the police and the newspapers. The girl and her friend, who happened to be a male, were returning home on a bus at 9.30 p.m. after watching a movie. Somehow, a group of five drunk men happened to be aboard that bus the same time, one of them a juvenile. The men must have felt that a young girl, travelling at night in Delhi in a bus with less passengers, in a country like India, was fair game. So they forcibly evacuated a vendor from the bus, and as the driver, acting as an accomplice, drove around the city, they beat up the girl's male friend, dragged her to the back of the bus, and raped her. If that wasn't enough, the juvenile among them first disemboweled the girl, then inserted a rod into the girl's innards. That was to make sure she bleeds out as much as possible and dies. Then they threw the girl, and her boyfriend, out on the road side and left them there, to die.
Passing vehicles saw a disrobed, terribly injured girl and an injured boy lying by the side of the road, on a cold December night, but none of them bothered to stop and help them. For an hour, the girl and her friend were lying there, in the biting cold, robbed of their dignity. Later it was said that this one hour delay resulted in the girl losing her life.
When the news of the gang-rape reached the public, somehow the whole thing erupted into a huge controversy. As the girl lay in the hospital, fighting for her life as doctors attempted to see how to put her life back on track, the six rapists, including the driver, were arrested. The Delhi police was on one hand scorned by the public for its shoddy functioning and execution of duties, while the Commissioner was praised by a prominent politician for his diligence in carrying out his duties. Confusing, no? The wave of outrage rooted in years of frustration moved on from Delhi to other Indian metro cities like Calcutta and Mumbai, leaving in its wake thousands of men and women, both young and old, out on the streets, peacefully but firmly protesting the incident on the streets. They were not only protesting the wanton brutalization of the Delhi girl, but also what the incident showed about how women are treated in India today.
The rapists said they had no regrets for what they had done to the girl, and they did what they did because she was out at night with a man who wasn't her brother or father. A popular Godman, now behind bars for sexually assaulting a girl in his ashram, said the girl should have begged with the rapists to leave her alone, since they were her 'brothers'. The head of a prominent religious outfit said that rapes are happening in 'urban' India because of 'Western culture'. As if women in villages don't get raped and killed over either caste and feudal and communal riots or personal grudge between families or just plain lust of misogynist, perverted men. A minister in Andhra said that the girl deserved what she got because she was on that bus, at night, with a boy. Other such derogatory and regressive comments were made by various people living in the Dinosaur age, especially a senior BJP minister's contention that the girl has been turned into a 'zinda laash' (living corpse) and a Bengal minister's 'dented-and-painted' comment that took the media by storm.
All this while, the girl showed extra-ordinary courage and fought for her life, asking her mother to deliver justice to her rapists, talking to the police and the doctors and thinking of her life after she recovered from her wounds.
Remember December 29th 2012, exactly a year ago from today? Today of last year was the day the girl finally breathed her last. Her death somehow gave a lot more impetus to the protestations by the public. The Verma commission released its laudable report, recommending the GOI to take certain corrective measures to ensure proper handling of incidents like the one in Delhi, to see that affected women got adequate psycho-social and legal help to get justice, to increase conviction rates for rapists and to increase sensitivity and awareness of medical professionals and policemen towards rape victims. Eminent academicians like Harvard's Dr. Jacqueline Bhabha came to India to help the government frame proper laws to award punishment to rapists and other sex offenders. Looked like things would change finally for women in India.Fat chance.
All the government did was pass an utterly useless Ordinance that had no proper steps on how to actually help bring down incidents of sex crimes and ensure speedy justice for the victims. The juvenile, who was actually responsible for inserting the rod inside the girl's private parts and to a large part contributing to her death, got off easy because of the Juvenile Justice act. One of the rapists committed suicide and four are sentenced to death. That's good in a way, but not very good when you see the long-term ramifications. Still I read incidents of brutal rape and murder of women in India- not to forget the brutal, sadistic violation of a 5 year old girl in Delhi not long after the gang-rape of the student, and the gang-rape of a press photographer in Mumbai. Still the chauvinists continue to make insensitive statements, still the police continues to either act insensitive or dumb, still the political parties use such incidents for their own benefit ( Mamata Banerjee saying confidently that the spate of rapes in Bengal were a ploy by the rival party to discredit her government). The furor that the rape had created last year seemed to have died down by now, the outrage has receded and this isn't a hot topic of discussion anymore.
As to why I'm writing about this today? Because this incident somehow managed to pierce my heart, make a hole in there, make my blood go cold in my veins ( when I heard about the iron rod from a male friend who lives in Delhi and who attended the protests), and confirmed all my notions about what happens to many women in India who chose to live life their own way.
As to what I did about it? As a student of health sciences, I wrote a paper about the poor state of healthcare for rape victims and lack of proper resources for investigation of sex crimes( as we found out through our research) with a colleague and dear friend. The paper, if it gets accepted, will hopefully bring the Delhi incident into the limelight again and maybe somewhere, somehow, life for women in general, and for rape victims in particular, will change or at least more people will talk about it and try to change their mentality towards women.
As a crime author and as a woman, I think sexual violence against women is a global issue, and I shall continue to raise it, both in my stories and future articles. As a wannabe mental health professional, I will try to find out the reason why crimes against women are perpetuated- is it pornography combined with misogyny resulting in psychosexual aberrations? Or is it the culmination of psychopathologic rage of weak- minded men who take it out on women because they think women are weaker? Or the above factors combined with other factors? Someday I hope to find out. Till then, I hope that the Delhi girl's family finds peace in whatever little justice was accorded them for the atrocities committed against their innocent daughter, and strength to move on with life.