ByÂ Kayonaaz Kalyanwala:
A year ago tens of thousands came out in protest on the streets in India. Angry, hurt and exhausted that it had happened again, another girl had lost her life to a sexual assault of the most brutal kind. The collective Indian memory remembers her as Nirbhaya, the fearless one–perhaps for the legacy she left behind.
In many ways it was a turning point for India’s battle with violence against women. It was millions of citizens saying that enough was enough. That this HAS to stop. But how? The numbers of cases of sexual assaults only seem to increase. Each day the news brings chilling reminders, and we consume it. Some seething with rage, some passively, because it hurts too much to pay attention.
It wasn’t the first rape nor will it be the last one that India will see. Statistics indicate that in India a woman is raped every 22 minutes. The conviction rate for rape stands at an abysmal 25%. Add to that the knowledge that most cases that do make it to the headlines come from urban areas and rarely do they touch upon the complex social hierarchies that govern the mentalities that justify rape. Stories of women from the most marginalized communities, Dalits, rural women and tribals, remain unheard.
The anger has diffused but not disappeared. We–women, men, feminists, activists and politicians– continue to ask questions and seek answers as to how we can end rape. The reality looks bleak. But the future is hopeful, if only because women across India are beginning to be heard; their desires to govern their own lives are being acknowledged. Everywhere there are thousands of Nirbhaya’s rising. These are some of their stories.
“Sexual violence is rampant because you think you can get away with it and that I will be too ashamed to report it. If I do speak up you think you can shut me up.”
(The MLA in this video was caught and then let off. The survivor is still waiting for justice and has now lost the support of her family)
“Intimidating me and family is a common tactic to ensure that I will not tell anyone. If I am a Dalit the intimidation is severe and will extend to my whole community.”
“Nirbhaya’s attackers were tried and convicted because of the public outrage. Let’s not forget, this was the only conviction of the 706 cases reported in Delhi in that year. Even when I, and my family, gather enough courage to file a report, the police will often refuse to register the offense.”
“I often worry about my safety and the patriarchal rule is quick to clamp down on my mobility as a protective measure.”
“Often I am told that I was assaulted because of the way I carry myself. The way I walk, the way I talk. Often I am told that ‘I asked for it’. How do you explain when a 7 year old is preyed on? Did she ‘ask for it’?”
(Content may be disturbing)
“Why am I told that to be raped is to lose my dignity? Why is it that I am the one to lose face after being raped? Why is it that no rapist is ever consumed by the shame of his act?”
“When I threaten the male ego, if I resist, if I have an independent mind, then your manhood wants to teach me a lesson. Rape is another weapon in your armoury to wage your patriarchal war.”
“Rape will not stop until you stop thinking of my body as an object. It will not stop until you stop telling me what I should do and what I should think. It will not stop until you stop transacting me for a dowry. It will not stop until you think I should cook and clean for you just because you have married me. It will not stop until you stop making a list of do’s and don’ts for me. It will not stop until you consider me your equal. And equal not just notionally but equal in rights, in opportunities, in inheritance, in property and everything else you have kept as your privilege.”
“I am Nirbhaya. I know no fear. And I will stop you from stopping me to live my life the way I want.”