From my TOI blog : Freeze Frame
She is still alive and she is still willing to live. Her sodomized, gangrenous intestines have been removed surgically and yet her heart feebly beats on. Her body has started to reject antibiotics so she has been going through more surgeries and yet she whispers on ‘I want to live’. Her wounds don’t allow her to breathe on her own, she has been put back on the ventilator and yet she wants those who raped and brutalized her to be punished. She continues to will and continues to live. Her battered body continues to fight because of her unbroken spirit. That is her story.
I find myself in angry tears. Questions crowd my mind and judgment. ‘How is she still alive? What keeps her heart beating? Is it not better that she dies than live in such pain? Will her death put out the flicker of rage in us? Will the men who desecrated her body and tried to batter her spirit be let off with little or no punishment because of the lack of stricter laws? I have suddenly felt a stirring in me. A part of me that I had thought had died a long time ago has come alive.
As a girl, as a woman, I had been told that I have the right to live freely. But have I really lived freely? The answer does not please me. I realize that all these years, in the name of living freely in my city, in my own country I have only made compromises with myself. I have been made to feel embarrassed of being a girl. Even before I could understand that my little body was changing, that I was growing up, groping hands and elbows have told me that I was not a little girl any more. Men and older boys at busy street corners, crowded markets, on buses and trams have stared and ogled, passed jeering, lewd comments, tried to touch and stealthily touched – a touch that spread a feeling of hatred and fear as it told me that I would have to hide myself and my body, be embarrassed, be ashamed and feel guilty. .
Though enraged I walked on without a word. Later, I dressed more conservatively, though in vain, in the hope that nobody would taunt me or make passes at me. I walked faster on occasions when young men on bikes suddenly stopped and tried to whisper lewd nothings into my ears. I have on occasion entered a shop and waited till the man or men who had followed me have walked away after waiting outside the shop for me to emerge. I changed routes ever so often and took long detours to avoid ‘unsafe’ alleys, even in the daytime.
On one occasion I changed buses, because a man taking advantage of the crowd around him tried to expose himself in front of me. I got off the bus at the next busy intersection, had waited very close to a group of men and women who looked ‘respectable’ and caught another bus, all the while looking over my shoulder to see whether the man had followed me and then frantically looking around for a man or a woman I could approach if this man accosted me. Was I scared? Yes. Did I try changing anything? Yes, the next day onward I carried a bigger bag and a broader dupatta and took a more circuitous route home. I remember, in my younger days, furtive instructions being passed on to me by my older cousin sister or my mother to steer clear of a certain relative or family friend, a guidance I respected and abided by, though wondering what may have caused this.
The few times I did pluck up the courage to protest, to question the ‘respectable’ face behind the groping hands I found myself surrounded by a sea of poker faces, my fellow human beings, standing next to me, listening to my outrage yet deaf and mute to their surrounding, ensconced in their little bubble that cocooned them and kept them safe with the thought that ‘it’s not happening to me, so it’s not my problem’.
Those were days of growing up in a gray city of repressed men; days, when I was supposed to rejoice in the spirit of carefree youth. Were they? Alas! By the time I was in my early 20s, I had resigned to the fact that compromise was an essential part of growing up and living as a woman in a big, decaying, old city.
Now, after close to fourteen years of having survived three other cities, including Delhi and several countries, each of which left a few scars in my life, I have learned my lessons well. I know my limits, I know how to stay out of trouble, I know how to stay safe, I know I have to make certain compromises if I want to continue to enjoy myself without exposing myself to potential harm. I know that no one is safe – little girls, boys, married women, even the elderly – can fall prey to the viscous lust of these depraved creatures for whom it all seems to be child’s play.
So where did my tears come from today? Had they not dried up a long time ago? Why does the state of this unnamed girl who was raped, battered and left to die make me so angry? Why now? Why do I want anything to change? What is it that is forcing me to step out of my safety bubble and feel this outrage again? Is it the way she had been brutalized?
I know why. It’s her ‘never say die’ spirit and her incessant fight, even in her darkest moments, which tell me that I gave up even before I thought of putting up a fight. Her story tells me that I compromised too soon. She has razed the inhibitions that I have been living under for the better part of my life. Even in her defeat, her brutal assault at the hands of these beasts who call themselves men, she has taught me that there is no shame; there is no defeat; there should never be any compromises made; that life is worth living despite the barbs and arrows that fate unwittingly throws at one. Salute!