By Kainat Sarfaraz:
“India killed Suzette. You killed her”, wrote activist Harish Iyer in a Facebook post after Suzette Jordan’s death on Friday.
Soon after the news of her death, various posts and articles started coming in from all corners. Almost all of them had the same pattern – two lines of why and when she died and the rest of the article dedicated to how the 40-year-old was brutally gang raped at gunpoint in February 2012. And then some lines about her choice to declare to the world that she was Suzette Jordan and not the Park Street Rape Victim.
As I read more and more reports, a question kept ticking in my head. Why are we concentrating only on this bit of her life? Why are we making a martyr out of her when the cause of her death was a medical condition that could happen to anyone? Reports suggest that the she died of meningoencephalitis and Iyer, in his post, mentions how people become ‘a reservoir of diseases’ once ‘depressions bites us.’ As far as facts and science go, depression is often a consequence of both meningitis and encephalitis. Not the cause. So why did he link that to whatever had happened to her since 2012?
I strongly object the fact that Harish and many others chose to blame India for Jordan’s death, because I am a part of the India that you are blaming. And believe it or not, I fought for Jordan. I believed her when she said she had been raped despite the government of Bengal dismissing it as a sajaano ghotona (fabricated incident). I respected and applauded her strength when she chose to tell others that she was Suzette Katrina Jordan and not just a rape victim. I too was moved to tears when she chose to tell her story on national television.
No Mr. Iyer, India didn’t kill her. India supported her- by being the women’s activist Santasree Chaudhuri who tried getting her a job; by being the countless faces that joined the protest marches; by typing or writing out endless words against victim shaming and rape culture. They fought her battle too. The whole of India is not ignorant, patriarchal and misogynistic. There are growing voices of dissent among us. Voices that support causes like the one Suzette was fighting for. They didn’t kill her. They wanted her to live and shine.
By constantly mentioning February 2012 in all her obituaries, we have insulted her choice of not being the rape victim. She wanted to have an identity beyond it, and yet, even in her death, we remember her as the rape victim or survivor. Her rape became the prism through which we saw her whole life. We refused to humanize her in our reports. And even if we did, we only chose to portray her as someone who was hurt by the system and society, who suffered so much, who was broken, depressed and had turned weary. By doing this, we betrayed her! She deserved to be a symbol of strength and not someone who had succumbed to what the society threw at her. Despite fighting it hard, Suzette could not build an identity beyond the incident that became the focal point of her life.
As I finished writing this, I read an essay by one of Suzette’s daughters, Rhea Jordan. And Rhea’s piece, is exactly the kind of article that would have been a perfect tribute to the woman who wanted to accept herself in all her forms. And not just one of her many identities.