“Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” – Andy Dufresne (The Shawshank Redemption)
News and the way they are reported and read is something I have always felt, exposes our nature as a society. Cases in point being the way news items of cricket or bollywood are read, occasionally with furious discussions along with a cup of tea.
News of crime – especially the ones about rape never stirred me in the way analysis of the last finished cricket match did. The biggest reaction it ever generated would be a somewhat curious glance on the details inside – an occasional shake of the head (India is great / What was the bastard thinking / What was the girl doing at that time) – even more shamefully, an occasional smirk if I felt there was something fishy with the girl’s claim. Perhaps the way it was reported – making the girl a nameless/faceless – was the reason why I could never personally be moved. Generally I would surf through the other news, robbery, accidents, and editor’s columns. I never followed up to check if the rape in question generated more than an occasional stir in the neighborhood.
Those were ignorant years too. Being a Gujarati and brought up in a comparatively liberal minded city like Ahmedabad, and living in a society where women security is thankfully a much smaller menace than 800-k gorillas like road issues, electricity issues and Narendra Modi’s efficiency as a chief minister (Smaller too when compared with places like Delhi), reading occasional news of rape never quite generated the amount of concern they should have. Hindi film industry would have a role to play too, showing stalking, forcing and lecturing a woman on her virginity as heroic and ‘signs of a real man’, corrupting generations in the society where the mere news of having an active sexual relationship with a boy-friend would make the girl squirm with humiliation (along with her parents). I was living a paradoxical life where reading books, politics and social issues were necessary for me along with studies, television and a decent job.
The news of the 23-year old brave heart, somehow, hit me hard. Was it something that news channels never let up on, forcing the daily updates through live tickers at the bottom? Was it Arnab Goswami-rapidly grilling guests on news hour with movements of his head that reminded you of Amir Khan in “Ghajni”? Was it the protests-something which I saw last year following Anna’s vigilantes on corruption? But how come it never hit me the way this “news” did?
I think again. The reason was somewhat obvious – something in my face.
The girl’s family had moved to Delhi (a big city) from a smaller one. This was something which families of my parents did too – settling in Ahmedabad from Saurashtra and North Gujarat respectively. The socio-economic platform provided to that girl was modest – something which I had to live with too. Her parents did not have a business raking in money (her father worked as a loader in some airport in Delhi), something which my parents too suffered from. My parents had a business of soft toys- enough to pay the bills but not much more than that. Just like me, the girl had to carve her ascent in the society by completing further studies and getting a job. She was learning physiotherapy, while I had to complete B. Tech. and get a job as an IT professional, something which was unheard of in my family or community till my time. Like me, the girl was perhaps that one hope – one shot at a better future for her family. An aspiring young Indian, working her way up through India’s newly formed middle class – just like me.
She was coming back from watching a movie at a reasonably late time of night, something I used to do during the initial year of my job in Chennai (Satyam theatre near Anna Salai was the usual one) and later on when I had moved to Bangalore, working as an employee in Hewlett-Packard.
As I followed the news of her horrible fate on that day – 16th December, I watched with terror in my heart as one news flash after another revealed what her body had gone through. “Don’t let her die” – I prayed to god. This continued for the next 10-12 days. Every day I would come back from office, and instead of going through the usual routine of watching English movie channels-would start by watching a news channel which a hope that she was still fighting, still alive. “God, please don’t let her die” – I would look towards heaven and pray. If she lived, my hope lived, as did the hopes of her better future.
Saturday the 29th was like any other day. Just like usual for a week-end, I had woken up at 9 AM, going to the local market for buying bread and other items, and later starting the day with watching movies. I had started with “Atithi tum kab jaoge” followed by “Rock On!!!”. For some reason, I had not started watching news, which I did at around 2 PM and got the shock of my life – the girl had died.
I was numb with shock. “But I did pray to you right???” – I asked looking towards the picture of god. There was a frantic surfing through the news channels, hoping to vent my anger through the collective anger on the streets, television studios, Arnab Goswami, news reporters. Somewhere, somehow, hoping to hear people blasting the police, the government for what happened – occasionally I would increase the volume of my TV if I found something resembling the anger inside myself, the anger which somehow hoped to shake the world with my bare hands. Facebook, Twitter and Google became shoulders for me to cry on, posting messages of anger and sharing those which were the same. I had perhaps gone through almost every blog on women security in the next few days. I stayed alone in my apartment, which were both a blessing and a curse when I was in such a mood.
Time passed, more details regarding the girl emerged, which only increased my pain. Hearing about her and finally knowing her as a person, made it worse, as it resulted in “what if” questions. What if she had picked another bus, what if they had just let her live after the rape instead of ripping her organs, what if the boy had found a way to stop them, what if she had survived with the treatment she received in the hospital? Every time the news channels showed something related to her personal life, the pain would increase.
The sane part in my mind said – “These questions are never blessed with answers”, “If she weren’t the victim, another girl might have been”, “The society needs such dramatic example to be shaken”, “I had nothing to do with her death”, “She is just one of countless other unfortunate ones, at least she had the fortune of having her rapists caught”, “She will be remembered by the country, unlike others”. But then the bottom-line would hit my mind like a bucket of cold water – “She is no more. She died through no fault of her own.”, and I would look towards a picture of god with tears in my eyes – “But I did pray to you right?”
Days go by, there is now a quiet determination – “I wouldn’t let any bastard misbehave with a girl in front of my eyes from now on”, “I would make sure my voice is heard through taking part in as many protests as possible”. Somehow, news items now about a rape would hold a different meaning to me – now they are the ones with a face I never had the fortune of knowing. I would avidly surf through for any good news for rape victims across the country; I came to know about a few which I had never known before – the Suryaneli case, the Patiala case, case of a girl in Bihar who was raped by the very person supposed to protect her. Some of those cases showed progress, and my pain eased a little. “Keep praying to god, maybe he will reduce the pain of her family, keep her happy wherever she is now”, and I would keep praying whenever I felt like it.
I started hoping I had a sister, or a female friend/wife/daughter, whose hands I can hold and promise – “I will never let anything bad happen to you, I will always be there with you, for you.” – A way to ease my guilt by protecting someone. I would repeatedly call my father, tell him of the story and ask him for a way to ease my pain. I still do. I would keep thinking of my mother, and hope she was with me.
I hear the interview of the girl’s friend on a TV channel, and the pain increases. “God, how could a bunch of humans turn into blood-thirsty monsters?” – would be my question. “Maybe I feel like this as I have seen such news for the first time, the pain will ease up with time”, I tell myself. The pain should ease with a hope, some hope, from somewhere.
Now there is a quiet determination, to prevent crime against women whichever way I can, there is an anguish because I could have done nothing to save my unknown sister on that fateful day, and there is a fierce effort, to rally others with me, to use their vote for women’s issues whenever next election comes around. Perhaps the guilt would be less if she had lived. But never mind, I have my other duties too. OK, the judiciary might still surprise me, by hanging the 6-accused. Oh, I forgot about the juvenile (anger joins the pain inside me.). I desperately hope I can see that our brave heart “Damini” is happy, wherever she is…
My search for that one hope continues…