Insensitive as this may sound, the excessive focus on one case is inappropriate. It is also unfair – to the thousands of rape victims across the country.
Today (20 December 2015), three years and four days after participating in one of the most horrific rape cases that India has heard about, one of the rapists – the most brutal of them – will walk free. He was a juvenile at the time of the rape, which resulted in a young girl’s death. So he got just three years in a juvenile home. There is something awfully, awfully wrong about that.
So, once again, as it has been every December since 2012, the Jyoti Singh (‘Nirbhaya’) case is in focus, with the annual lamentations about how nothing has changed for women’s safety. Once again, words like braveheart, courageous, strong, inspiring are used to describe her.
Jyoti Singh (her real name, which is how her parents now want her to be referred to) was undoubtedly a braveheart. From all accounts she resisted her rapists fiercely and therefore brought more brutality on herself. But, insensitive as this may sound, this excessive focus on one case is inappropriate. It is also unfair – to the thousands of rape victims across the country.
Yes, the incident was far more gruesome than the many incidents of gang rape one has got inured to hearing about. That is what galvanised the massive protests that locked down the heart of the Capital for ten days. Those protests did see some changes in the rape laws, though some of those changes have been flagged as being problematic. But to hold that young girl who died as an exemplar for all women subjected to rape, to keep on about how fiercely she fought her rapists and how she was determined to bring them to book is actually being insensitive to other rape survivors.
PM Modi with Jyoti Singh’s Mother
Words like brave, courageous, inspiring are hardly ever used for these countless women who have been raped and then have lived to go through a hell that an insensitive system and callous society puts them through. They don’t have documentaries being made on them or funds being set up in their name. They don’t even have fast track courts set up to try their cases speedily (one exception was the Uber rape case in Delhi last year).
In constantly lauding Jyoti Singh’s fight to death, have we ever stopped to think what subliminal effect this may have on other raped women? Would we be leaving them with a complex, that they did not put up a stiff enough resistance? These are the questions that would have been put to them – often mockingly – to make light of the rape charge.
And what subtle message does this give to someone who did not resist because she could not? Because she was drugged. Because she was being blackmailed. Because a knife was being held at another person’s throat. Read this chilling account by Sohaila Abdulali of the choice she was faced with when she was a victim of gang rape. “If either of us resisted, the other would get hurt. This was an effective tactic.”
Five days before the December 16 anniversary, a Kolkata court convicted three men of raping Suzette Jordan in 2013, eight months after the Nirbhaya incident. Jyoti Singh’s parents decided to reveal her name only now – because they also wanted the juvenile rapist to be named – but Jordan (who died earlier this year) discarded the cloak of anonymity several months after she was raped. She was denied entry into an upmarket restaurant after that and publicly humiliated.
It is only after Jordan revealed her identity that she earned the label of being brave, courageous and strong. But was she not all of these when she went to the police and complained? When she was subject to character assassination by none less than the chief minister of West Bengal? When she appeared in court and had to endure people clicking pictures of her on their cellphones?
Was the young girl who was with her male friend in Delhi’s Buddha Jayanti Park when she was raped by men from the President’s Bodyguard in 2006 not brave when she filed a complaint? Did she not know that the fact that she was with a male in a park in the afternoon would be used against her? Was the woman who was raped by the Uber cab driver not brave when she showed presence of mind to get the cab number and went with her parents to file a police complaint?
There are countless such women and most of them wage a lonely battle, with no help from women’s groups or activists. Judges pressure them to arrive at a compromise with their rapists, even favouring marriage. In villages, they and their families are subject to social boycott. Jyoti Singh’s rapists were convicted and sentenced; in many cases rapists walk around freely, threatening the victims.
After the 16 December incident, the Indian Express tracked down a young woman who was abducted from Dhaula Kuan in Delhi three years earlier, subjected to gang rape and thrown out. She spoke about how her case had made little progress, how the investigating officer did not take her calls, how she was sacked from her job and how she was refused compensation. Why is this woman not brave and courageous for continuing to persevere in such adverse circumstances? Her rapists were finally sentenced to life imprisonment in October 2014.
Without meaning any disrespect to Jyoti Singh, the term Nirbhaya should really be used for all the countless rape survivors. It’s time to focus attention on these Nirbhayas and make the world a slightly better place for them.
Seetha is a senior journalist and author
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