(On 13th September, a Delhi trial court sentenced the four adult defendants of the December 16 gang-rape and murder case to death by hanging. I wanted to write, but I simply didn’t feel up to the task. Perhaps, my energies were too spent. I just wanted to commemorate it with my silence.
Fellow blogger and colleague Dr. Bhavana Nissima writes the final piece for Voices for Damini. All the photographs are from her blog “Tilling the Earthwoman“.)
On Dec 16 2012, when 5 men and a juvenile brutally gangraped a young woman in a bus in New Delhi, they didn’t realize they had tipped a boiling cauldron of agony over.
It was definitely not the first time in this decade that we had seen protests on Violence Against Women. See this NDTV page for some of the rapes that year and before and protests around the incidents. It was also not the first time that other metros and cities had seen protests that year. See this article on how people protested in Haryana against State’s response to Rape in October 2012.
Nor was it the first time in history that people had protested. From Debi Choudarani in 19th century to Mathura Rape case, Maya Tyagi, Suman Rani, Manorama, Ruchika Malhotra we had been on the streets protesting and organizing for Justice and better systems—police, law, governance and yes, public education.
Dec 16 brought us altogether, brought together histories—social and personal, of various forms of violence against women and we wove a rug together with our stories, with threads dyed in our memories. We then held aloft that rug and ran the streets of Urban India physically or in spirits for her, and for us.
We now called her Damini. Some called her Nirbhaya. She was the masthead for our stories.
Stories of rape that we were never to able to share, of rape that we reported but the police never registered the cases, of rapes that were registered but never managed to get a court hearing, of rapes that got court hearing but culprits were acquitted on many grounds. Stories of rape where we did not get murdered but committed suicide unable to bear the constant taunt that we had gotten ourselves raped, of the social notion that it was a loss of honour, of parents who incited their daughters to commit suicide, of parents who committed suicide, stories where we neither got murdered nor died by our own hands but lived a soul-mutilated lives, zombied by our pain—a certain blanking, a certain dissociation with everything social. And others wondered why is she so crazy, why can’t she let go?
Stories of incest when rapists were not strangers in a bus but our own father or step-father or Uncle or cousin or close family friend that we managed to divulge to good friends but never to our parents. Stories that made us step away from our bodies, of a certain fear of all men, of shame, of confusion that when we loved a man why did we still not wholly fully enjoy being in that state? Why did we still freeze?
Stories of women when a no didn’t mean “no,” of when we didn’t have the social and legal sanction to say no because weren’t we wives in a consensual relationship with a man? Because marriage is considered a lifelong consent to receive the man. But isn’t consent and dissent in every moment of every day? And how we could not speak about it because woh toh ghar ki baat hai. And if we refused, how we got called frigid and how we struggled to be not called that.
Stories of when we were kidnapped against our will and raped repeatedly till we agreed to become prostitutes. And once we became prostitutes, we could no longer call it rape—neither that which was past nor what happened now. Weren’t we now doing it for our livelihood? Didn’t we now invite “rape”?
Stories of public sexual harassment—of public spaces where we lost power over our bodies—that moment when we felt powerless, as if those body parts didn’t belong to us, that we could do nothing to protect our own selves, and that we had to brush it off because after all it wasn’t rape. Stories that deformed our sense of our self, that deformed how we looked at public spaces and why our muscles were so tense all the time in a bus, in a road, even in a metro.
Men also stepped in. For their friends and girlfriends and wives that they couldn’t stand up for, or were beaten up or killed in the process. For them who stood up for their sisters and were killed by molesters or tortured for reporting in the police station. For them, who sought justice for the women in their lives—daughters, mothers, wives, fiancées, girlfriends, friends and found themselves paralyzed by the system. For them who were rape survivors-raped by other men and women. For them who could not speak of the shame and guilt and emasculation they underwent in the process. For them who wanted redemption of their kind—“No, No. We are not like that.”
Damini brought us altogether. The rug that we weaved voiced us, validated that agony, and unified us in pain. Voices for Damini campaign stands testimony to this movement—an orchestra of male and female voices conducted by a man who couldn’t take it anymore.
What is it that we wanted? What was justice for us? Through the many emails exchanged, the long phone conversations, the sleepless nights correcting and editing our voice, of reflecting on how change in a true sense could happen, of hovering over facebook pages and online sites to see how the process was unfolding—what we wanted came in the form of Justice Verma Committee Report.
Never before had our voices been so faithfully represented in a report of such significance. The Bill of Rights still makes me cry.
But the report was never enacted in letter and spirit.
And on Sep 9 we were suddenly told that the verdict was for the young woman and her family. That we should pray and wish for justice for her. That justice for her was Justice for Damini, Justice for Nirbhaya. That we should put ourselves in her shoes.
When did we ever not be in her shoes? When?
I am glad/we are glad that her soul and her family got a verdict and that the crime qualified for maximum sentence as mandated by Indian laws. (We can disagree on what the maximum punishment should be but greatest takeaway from the case is that unlike in previous cases, where culprits were let out because the woman was not previously “modest” and such frivolous reasons, in this case, without any reservations, there was a clear, unhesitant and clean verdict in favour of the rape victim). We are happy that one of our sisters got a closure.
But for the tens of thousands of us who spilled into the streets of India physically or in spirits for Damini, for Nirbhaya, we still await our verdict. We still await for our turn for Justice.
Enact and Implement Justice Verma Committee Report in full letter and spirit.