I’m somehow not able to forget her. Even though it’s been a long time since she passed away, recurring thoughts of her are always there. I’ve known her since I was a little kid. She lived near my aunt’s place. Everybody there knew her. She had a disability. She could not sit still, she had to sway. She would do that all day long. She needed help to go about her day to day activities.
She hardly spoke. Yet, I began to like her. Was it her innocence, or helplessness? I don’t know. The more I liked her, the more curious I was to find out why she was that way. I asked my aunt. I was told that she was born that way. I didn’t buy it. I knew there was more to it. It was not until after I grew up that I found out that she was raped when she was a pretty little child who didn’t have a voice. A few minutes of being home alone changed her life forever.
I’ve seen the man before. He’s an educated, well-respected man, with a loving family. I couldn’t believe that he was capable of something like that. The fact that anyone could take advantage of a child with a disability was hard to understand. Yet, that’s how it was. The incident affected her tremendously and she became withdrawn and aloof. She was clueless about the changes in her very own body. She would sit there, swaying, unaware that her whole dress was stained with her menstrual blood. It hurt me to see him walk free while she sat there, swaying all day long, unable to even ask for food when she was hungry.
The 2012 Delhi gang rape brought back memories of her. I couldn’t digest the fact that a group of men not only raped a young woman, they attacked her so brutally that there was no way her life could be saved. I spent days imagining the pain she must have been through. In an interview, one of the rapists, Mukesh Singh, said, “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy…. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy … A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night…” There was not a single bit of remorse. We don’t feel sorry for the chicken we kill because we feel it’s there for us to eat. That was probably how they looked at her. They believed they were superior to women. That was their problem.
Sadly, it was not just the rapists who questioned the victim or blamed her. Many others did too. I wonder what the others were trying to say when they blamed or questioned the victim. Were they trying to say that she had no right to freedom because she was born a girl? Or, were they trying to say that men can do whatever they want and it’s the women who have to be careful? There is no other way I am able to interpret it.
In a country where most rape cases go unreported, it’s very rare that someone gets convicted of rape. However, does a conviction help in transforming the rapist? Sadly, no. I’ll tell you why. Firstly, since he feels it’s the woman’s fault. Secondly, he has a support system. In the documentary “India’s daughter”, a rapist’s wife said that she is India’s daughter too and she wants her husband back. The rapist’s parents and his wife are well aware of what he had done. However, they did not seem to care about the victim. I am not going to judge them for that.
Maybe they knew a person who was much more than what we assumed him to be – a monster. Maybe he was the sole breadwinner of the family. Or, maybe they wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, that’s what a family is for. Whatever the reason, it was evident that they were going to stand by him. A family that loves him, friends who stand by him, and a society that remembers the victim and forgets the predator.
Legally, a woman has as much freedom as a man, or even more. Yet, I’ve lived in fear my entire life. I was scared to go out at night. I was scared to walk alone on deserted roads. I was scared when I saw a group of men. I was scared of interacting with strangers. Mere noises in the dark would turn my defence mode on. The only option was between staying safe and getting raped. I was told that some men ‘eat when they are hungry, rape when they are horny’.
Even after giving up my freedom which I value more than my life, I get harassed in some way or the other. Does it make me angry? Yes, because I feel helpless. Does it make me hate men? No, because, not all men are rapists and abusers.
I understand that there are men who get abused too. I understand that there are men who have been falsely accused of rape and domestic violence. I understand how it should feel to walk down the road and be looked at like a potential rapist. I am definitely not writing this to fuel that thought.
Let’s look at some numbers. According to a UN study, 6 out of 10 Indian men are violent towards their partner. According to a government- commissioned survey in 2007, it was found that more than 53% of children in India are subjected to sexual abuse, mostly by someone who is close to them.
I came across a comment on Facebook, that said, “When a man respects his wife, his child learns to respect women. When a woman revolts when there is disrespect shown, her child learns to protect herself. The main onus is on the parents. Teach your children to respect each other. Treat both girls and boys the same. This would help reduce the menace to an extent.”
To end crimes against women, we have to change the mindset of one entire generation. It’s not easy. It’s going to take time and patience. We fight today so that someone, sometime in the future, will know what complete freedom feels like. Perseverance will see us through.