The nameless, faceless girl who India has been fighting for since December 16th died today. I woke up to the news that she had breathed her last early this morning, at a hospital minutes away from the hotel we are staying in at Singapore. Two weeks ago, this girl who the media has named ‘Amanat’ or ‘Nirbhaya’, a student of medicine, was living the life of a carefree girl in Delhi. Two weeks later, with her intestines and other organs compromised, she was battling with death at Mount Elisabeth Hospital in Singapore. Most of us hoped that she would survive, against all odds because she wanted to live. Because somewhere, somehow, it would assuage our collective guilt as a nation. Last night’s news had, however, prepared everyone for the worst. India prayed fervently for ‘India’s daughter’ to make it. Her broken father however, had left the matter in ‘God’s hands’ according to the local papers and even as God’s hands delivered her to a better world, hopefully, India wept bitterly.
This wasn’t the first gang rape that a woman in India had been subjected to, but this was the first gang rape that Indians had reacted to at such a mass scale. This was also the first gang rape that had not moved from page 1 to page 11 of our dailies as days rolled by. As a nation, we were emotionally invested, for once. The gruesome details of the girl’s mutilation (for rape is a mild word) were shared courtesy the media and little was left to imagination. There was no way we could insulate ourselves from ‘the girl’s’ suffering or the trauma of her family this time. We have all gone about our lives, attending to work, Christmas get-togethers, weddings the past few weeks, but the sadness lingered somewhere in the background, like a dark shadow.
As a mother of two girls, I began to wonder if I wanted to raise my daughters in India at all. I have always felt privileged to be a mother of two adorable girls, even in a society that still cherishes a male heir. But after ‘the girl’s’ tragic story, I am filled with fear and I cannot help but wish I had sons instead. Sons who could not get raped by four men on a bus. Sons who I would not have to worry about and chaperone around even in their 20s and 30s. Sons who would not get stabbed for rejecting a girl at college or have acid thrown all over their faces and bodies. As a mother of girls, living in my own country means I shall have to live with my heart in my mouth forever. Just like my mother has, just like her mother did.
I have spent the last three days in Singapore watching children play with abandon in this ‘safe’ city and wondered when I last let my children play around a park or a cafe without watching over them like a hawk. Today I let my four-year-old queue up at a cafe for a piece of red velvet cake while I sat sipping my coffee in another corner of the cafe from where I could not even see her. Yesterday I let my nine-year-old use the toilet while I sat inside the theatre watching a musical. This feeling is unusual to me. I do not know of one parent in India who would dare to let their kids out of their sight in Bombay, Delhi or any other city of India. Everyone in Singapore is talking about the gang-raped girl’s death at the moment. The taxi driver tells me “This would never have happened here because we are a small country and the punishment for such a crime is too severe.”
My maid seems less disturbed by this tragedy. She tells me she has seen this happen to a girl from her village. She was raped by three men and left to die among the fields, naked. The families of the accused were of good means and influential, after serving a minimal term in custody, they were set free among the fields of the same village, unencumbered. “Why are you so disturbed, do you think this has happened for the first time in our country?” the maid asks me. I search for words, too ashamed to be part of a society that breeds rapists. I feel a shame shared by many Indians like me, but a shame that does not reach the politicians who run my country. The police, the Khap panchayats, the politicians have almost always blamed the raped woman for inviting the act upon herself. Even if she were to survive the rape, she knows a blighted existence awaits her and so she prefers to commit suicide instead. India is a God-fearing country but sadly, women in India are treated like children of a lesser God.
The 23-year-old girl, this child of a lesser God, who lost her life this morning is being called a ‘Braveheart’ by the media? Did she want to be called brave? Is it brave to be raped, have your organs torn apart and then be thrown out of a moving bus? Is it brave to be left to die naked alongside a road? The girl did not want to be brave, she just wanted to live. And let’s us not call her Nirbhaya (fearless) or Braveheart and glorify her death, let us learn from it. We have been silent observers for far too long. Let us not forget about the girl’s sad end with the next tragedy. Let us keep the rage in our hearts going till the law is changed, let us not expend it all at once. We all feel wounded right now, let this wound fester till something substantial is achieved.