I can vividly recall the thin pair of dry lips and the set of orangish tobacco-stained teeth peeping from behind as he used to grin at me. Raju was my middle-aged driving instructor when I was eighteen, and I remember how excited as I was on the first day of class when I sat behind the steering wheel of a grey Maruti 800. I never did notice the first few signs. When he brushed his hands against me, and touched me as he helped me with the gears. Too excited I was, to learn how to drive. To be free.
It happened on a tricky bend on a road when I was looking behind while putting the reverse gear. I felt his hand grabbing my left breast. At that time, I just froze. Too shocked to move. It was a deserted area and I felt utterly helpless. Then he unabashedly squeezed my thigh as he told me what a fast learner I was. I jerked away, I screamed at him, and all he did was smirk back at me. I fought back tears of fury as I drove back home and locked myself in my room. The revulsion was so extreme and so sinister that I pictured myself stabbing his gut with a knife again and again. I felt disgusted, and I felt like a coward, the weaker sex who is suppressed and who chose to do nothing. The anger continued to froth, and bubble and boil until it erupted and I wept my heart out.
Even though this was only one of the many incidents I had to face apart from being followed, stalked, sneered at, touched, groped, and hear disgusting remarks, I never had the courage to do anything about it. This is the fist time I am talking about it in public, and it is because Jyoti's incident has given me the guts to do it. When I thought about what I felt that day in my room as hot tears streamed down my face, I couldn’t even imagine what the women who get raped, abused, beaten, molested, tortured, burned, belted, hammered, stripped, bludgeoned feel. I have been trying to write about Jyoti’s death for quite some time now, but there is just so much inside me that I never quite managed to put it into coherent sentences. But I shall at least try.
As journalism students, we were following the case very closely and the morning when I received the news of her death, I spent the entire day reading articles about her to an extent when I simply could not read any further. Her death affected me. Her death affected all of us. The level of human monstrosity compelled everyone to come out on the streets and scream with fury and frustration. Till two days back, we did not even know her name. What we do know, is that she was assaulted so brutally that she lost her intestines. And after 13 days of unthinkable, agonizing pain, her life. Who is to be blamed? The girl, whose only offence was to go out for a movie with a friend? Or the perpetrators who had the nerve to commit the heinous crime? Is it our judiciary system? Our leaders? Our government?
A recent article I read echoed my thoughts completely when the writer wrote that the thing with rape is that it is not about sex at all. It is about power. When a man sees a woman in a short skirt walking with her friends and laughing, it’s not that he gets uncontrollably aroused and pounces on her. The guy pounces on her when he sees her independence and boldness as a threat to his place in the society. ‘How dare she? I’ll put her in her place.’ If rape was all about wearing revealing clothes and venturing out late at night, and being an Indian and not a Bhartiya naagrik, as RSS chief Mohan Bhagvat claims, then how do you explain 70-year-olds and 2-year-olds getting raped in their own houses by their own family members? Rapes, assaults, domestic violence all occur because men feel inherently greater than women. It doesn't matter if the girl is attractive or plain or young or old. They want to do it to make her feel terrified, while they enjoy their sadistic 'masculinity'. It is a way of exercising their control and asserting their superiority over women, just because they happen to have a penis. Bravo.
We may seem to be a country where we worship goddesses and place women on pedestals. In fact, even our country is our ‘maa.’ But let’s face it, the suppression and objectification of women runs rampant since ancient times. It is in our films—where a Shakti Kapoor or a Ranjit raped any woman available and it was shown in full disclosure, while a consensual love-making scene was always showed by a pair of embracing flowers. It is in our songs—where a shameless Honey Singh explicitly states his desire to rape women, and people dance to his music. It is in our everyday profane swear words, which we throw at each other mindlessly. It is in the videos played on our TV sets day by day, which seem to get impossibly vulgar one after the other, of scantily-clad and heavily silicone-filled women gyrating on the most obscene lyrics anyone can even conceive of producing. It runs in the subtle and sometimes outrageous sexist comments that men throw at women; it is when Aasaram Bapu says that Jyoti should have called the rapists her ‘brothers’ and asked for mercy; it is when Mamata Banerjee says that rapes occur due to the increasing interaction between girls and boys; it is when a husband asks her wife to not wear a sleeveless blouse or travel alone; it is when a girl is frowned upon if she has more male friends than female; it is when a woman is winked or whistled or leered at. It runs deep in the system, in the mindset, in the blood; and to find a solution to this deep-seated problem is going to be extremely difficult. I do not know the solution, but I do hope there are people who will come up with it. Meanwhile, we will all do our bit to fight the menace.
Be proud of your body. It is YOUR body. Love it, use it, flaunt it. We shall not succumb to how the chauvinistic men want us to be. It is time to break free. Do not ignore the sexist comments. Kick the next guy who ‘eve-teases’ you a swift kick between the legs. Have male friends. Go out with them. A lot. Have nice, feminist boyfriends who respect your individuality. Take part in protests and answer back to those old aunties who say ‘aaj kal ki ladkiyaan haath se nikal gayi hain.’ Give a piece of your mind to anyone who tells you that a woman’s place in our ‘social system’ is to be a housewife and let the husband take care of her. Scream. SCREAM YOUR LUNGS OUT. Why should we take it? This should have been done way, way back, but at least the people are waking up now. I know Jyoti's life is too big a price to pay to shake the people up out of their complacent stupor, but at least there is some change taking place. Is it the awakening of a whole new India? A safer, better place for women to live in, where they can wear shorts and walk alone out of a pub without being molested or teased or attacked? Or is it all going to die out and women will continue to be mutilated because it is too late to change the monster our country has turned into?
I sincerely hope it is the first one. It is time we witnessed a revolution. It is time we live in a country where we know that travelling in a bus will not lead us to our own destruction. It is time we step into the light.