On this date, four years ago, India stood still. Nobody talks about it anymore. It’s old news. It’s not like what happened on that portentous day is a daily reality for 95% of women in India. Right?
Allow me to refresh your memory. Jyoti, a medical student, informed her parents that she was going out with a friend of hers to watch a movie. They watched Life Of Pi. Around 8 pm, on their way back, they boarded a bus. Little did they know how much that one decision would cost them.
The bus was empty save for five grown up men, a juvenile, and the driver. The men felt they were perfectly within their rights when they approached Jyoti and her companion to enquire as to why they were out so late.
“None of your business.” A response as daring as this was met with explosive rage and rightly so. Jyoti owed those men an explanation. Right? Wrong.
These two had to be made an example of. Awindra, Jyoti’s companion was beaten mercilessly till he was barely conscious. The lights were switched off. Jyoti was carried to the back of the bus where each of these men took turns in punching, kicking, biting and raping her.
She took the wrong bus. Her fault. Right? Wrong.
The men were drunk. Irrelevant. It was nighttime. Irrelevant. She was with a boy. Irrelevant. Her clothes? Irrelevant.
What matters is that the men didn’t think that what they were doing was wrong. They were merely teaching her a lesson. They weren’t overcome with lust. It was rage. Overwhelming rage. At her audacity.
Lust doesn’t compel men to thrust an iron rod inside a woman who is crying out for help. Lust doesn’t make them want to shove their fists inside a woman and pull out her intestines. Lust doesn’t make men want to spill innocent blood to satisfy their needs.
The naked and battered bodies of the two friends were thrown out of the bus. From the bushes, they cried for help in barely audible voices. It was hours later that a kind man offered them sheets to cover themselves up.
“Do you know how a cow looks when she has just given birth? That’s what the girl looked like when I saw her.”
The doctors at Safdarjung Hospital claimed that they had never seen a case like this in their entire careers. At Jyoti’s parents’ arrival, the gynecologist tearfully broke the news to them. “Judging by the extent of her injuries, she has 2-3 days, at best. We’re sorry.”
On 17th December 2012, huge protests were led in the capital city. Men and women walked together, demanding justice. It wasn’t just about the victim anymore. It was a collective cry for freedom. The first of its sort.
“Hang the rapists!”
On 29th December, Jyoti succumbed to her injuries in a hospital in Singapore. Her last words to her parents were, “I’m sorry.”
Of the five accused, one committed suicide in Tihar jail. In 2013, the four accused were sentenced to death. The crime warranted the death penalty. The juvenile was given a sentence of three years.
Mukesh Singh, unemployed.
Akshay Thakur, bus cleaner.
Vinay Sharma, gym instructor.
Pawan Gupta, fruit seller.
In 2015, Arvind Kejriwal assisted the juvenile in setting up a tailoring shop for him. He was given Rs. 10,000 and a sewing machine.
It is 2016 and the sentence has not yet been carried out. The case has gone to a final appeal at the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is YET to pass judgment on the original verdict and sentencing.
Manohar Lal Sharma didn’t hesitate for a moment before volunteering to represent the defendants pro bono. He has since gained notoriety for his vile statements and unabashed victim blaming, breathing life into rape culture with each word that comes out of his mouth.
“Until today I have not seen a single incident or example of rape with a respectable lady.” Sharma has said that Jyoti and Awnindra are “wholly responsible” for the incident as an unmarried couple should not have been on the streets at night.
“Even an underworld don would not like to touch a girl with respect.”
“In our society, we never allow our girls to come out of the house.”
Mohan Bhagwat of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has gone on record to say that rapes only occur in Indian cities, not villages because the women adopt Western lifestyles.
Sharma still holds that his clients are innocent.
The following are the words of Mukesh Singh, one of the accused. (Translated in English)
“You can’t clap with one hand. It takes two hands to clap.”
“A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night.”
“A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.”
“Boy and girl are not equal. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night… doing wrong things, wearing the wrong clothes.”
“Only about 20% of the girls are good.”
“We thought that if we do ‘wrong’ things with them, they won’t tell anyone. Out of shame. They’d learn a lesson.”
“The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape a girl, they won’t leave her like we did. They will kill her.”
“We wrapped her intestines in a cloth and threw it out of the bus.”
Do you see the similarity in the views the accused and Sharma hold? On the one hand, we have criminals who are justifying their crime. On the other, we have a lawyer who is making rapists confident. If the people who are supposed to serve justice and the constitution hold such archaic views, is there even hope?
Let me tell you. There is. I am angry and so are you. Our voices will not be quelled by the people who cling so desperately to their age old norms. We will not be vilified by people who are blinded by gender roles.
I will wear whatever I want. My bra strap will show. I will go out with whomever I want. I will drink if I want to. I will smoke if I want to. I will buy condoms if I have to. I will not put my sanitary pads in black plastic bags. I will unapologetically walk into temples when I am menstruating. I will touch pickles and I will enter the kitchen while I bleed. I will not be belittled for breastfeeding in public. I will not be cat-called. I will not be slut-shamed. I will not be prude-shamed. I will not be touched without my permission. I will not have aspersions cast on my character for wearing jeans and hanging out with boys. I will mock those who tell me otherwise. I will not cross my legs when I sit. I will spit on our culture and I will spit on the society. I will still be respected.
Gone are the days when women were complicit in their own oppression. We will not be silenced anymore. We are strong and we are fierce. If you stand in our way, we will shove you aside and watch as you dissolve into nothingness.
I am woman. Hear me roar.