For Anonymous

(Photograph: Ruchir Joshi)

(Photograph: Ruchir Joshi)

That girl, the one without the name. The one just like us. The one whose battered body stood for all the anonymous women in this country whose rapes and deaths are a footnote in the left-hand column of the newspaper.

Sometimes, when we talk about the history of women in India, we speak in shorthand. The Mathura rape case. The Vishaka guidelines. The Bhanwari Devi case, the Suryanelli affair, the Soni Sori allegations, the business at Kunan Pushpora. Each of these, the names of women and places, mapping a geography of pain; unspeakable damage inflicted on women’s bodies, on the map of India, where you can, if you want, create a constantly updating map of violence against women.

For some, amnesia becomes a way of self-defence: there is only so much darkness you can swallow. They turn away from all the places that have become shorthand for violence beyond measure, preferring not to know about Kashmir or the outrages in Chattisgarh, choosing to forget the Bombay New Year assault, trying not to remember the deaths of a Pallavi Purkayastha, a Thangjam Manorama, Surekha and Priyanka Bhotmange, the mass rapes that marked the riots in Gujarat. Even for those who stay in touch, it isn’t possible for your empathy to keep abreast with the scale of male violence against women in India: who can follow all of the one-paragraph, three-line cases? The three-year-old raped before she can speak, the teenager assaulted by an uncle, the 65-year-old raped as closure to a property dispute, the slum householder raped and violently assaulted on her way to the bathroom. After a while, even memory hardens.

And then you reach a tipping point, and there’s that girl. For some reason, and I don’t really know why, she got through to us. Our words shrivelled in the face of what she’d been subjected to by the six men travelling on that bus, who spent an hour torturing and raping her, savagely beating up her male friend. Horrific, brutal, savage—these tired words point to a loss of language, and none of them express how deeply we identified with her.

She had not asked to become a symbol or a martyr, or a cause; she had intended to lead a normal life, practicing medicine, watching movies, going out with friends. She had not asked to be brave, to be the girl who was so courageous, the woman whose injuries symbolised the violence so many women across the country know so intimately. She had asked for one thing, after she was admitted to Safdarjung Hospital: “I want to live,” she had said to her mother.

We may have not noticed the reports that came in from Calcutta in February, of a woman abandoned on Howrah Bridge, so badly injured after a rape that involved, once again, the use of iron rods, that the police thought she had been run over by a car. We may have skimmed the story of the  16-year-old Dalit girl in Dabra, assaulted for three hours by eight men, who spoke up after her father committed suicide from the shame he had been made to feel by the village. Or some may have done something concrete about these things, changed laws, worked on gender violence, keeping their feelings out of it, trying to be objective.

But there is always one that gets through the armour that we build around ourselves. In 1972, the first year in which the NCRB recorded rape cases, there were 2,487 rapes reported across India. One of them involved a teenager called Mathura, raped by policemen; we remember her, we remember the history and the laws she changed. (She would be 56 now.)

Some cases stop being cases. Sometimes, an atrocity bites so deep that we have no armour against it, and that was what happened with the 23-year-old physiotherapy student, the one who left a cinema hall and boarded the wrong bus, whose intestines were so badly damaged that the injuries listed on the FIR report made hardened doctors, and then the capital city, cry for her pain.

She died early this morning, in a Singapore hospital where she and her family had been dispatched by the government for what the papers called political, not compassionate, reasons.

The grief hit harder than I’d expected. And I had two thoughts, as across Delhi, I heard some of the finest and toughest men I know break down in their grief, as some of the calmest and strongest women I know called and SMSed to say that she—one of us, this girl who had once had a future and a life of her own to lead—was gone, that it was over.

The first was: enough. Let there be an end to this epidemic of violence, this culture where if we can’t kill off our girls before they are born, we ensure that they live these lives of constant fear. Like many women in India, I rely on a layer of privilege, a network of friends, paranoid security measures and a huge dose of amnesia just to get around the city, just to travel in this country. So many more women have neither the privilege, nor the luxury of amnesia, and this week, perhaps we all stood up to say, “Enough”, no matter how incoherently or angrily we said it.

The second was even simpler. I did not know the name of the girl in the bus, through these last few days. She had a name of her own–it was not Amanat, Damini or Nirbhaya, names the media gratuitously gave her, as though after the rape, she had been issued a new identity. I don’t need to know her name now, especially if her family doesn’t want to share their lives and their grief with us. I think of all the other anonymous women whose stories don’t make it to the front pages, when I think of this woman; I think of the courage that is forced on them, the way their lives are warped in a different direction from the one they had meant to take. Don’t tell me her name; I don’t need to know it, to cry for her.

101 comments

  1. My heart cries . So moving . Time for change.

    1. Absolutely profound, an issue that affects all of humanity. Excellent piece of journalism and awareness, that will hopefully wake people up to not stay silent.

    2. Prasad MBD · · Reply

      each one of us are guilty. we are afraid of preventing crimes. we are not moved by unattended accidents on the roads. we don’t help the needy. look in to yyourself

    3. The same with me, its just so difficult to digest what happened with her. :(

  2. [...] For Anonymous: Indian author of The Wildings writes a poignant essay to the anonymous girl who was gang-raped in Delhi and then thrown from a moving bus. She died in Singapore. But this piece is more than just one women. It is about a nation in crisis and shame. [...]

  3. We start from the beginning. From Draupadi’s vastraharan. And then to our own lives unwanted daughters some of us, battered wives others. Those who are fortunate to be neither will be discriminated at their place of work or when a university professor proclaims that a girl does not need a gold medal because she will end up at the hearth. We are slotted from birth and through our lives into that place where one may physically or verbally abuse us. And from that dark corner sometimes emerges a rage big enough to make one the abuser herself. I am ashamed to be a woman, even more ashamed to be a mute one on occasions and today I am ashamed to call myself Indian.

  4. I read your piece and am moved beyond words. I too followed the story of that young woman and bled for her and many others who like mist have evaporated into the layers of society, behind walls made of silence and painted by fear. What is strikingly sad is that the culture of violence is not in your country alone, here in my country, south africa the statistics are beyond repulsive. The issue of violence against woman is not a national one, its global. As women we need not be subjected to this and this fight is not for women alone, its also for the man who are our brothers, fathers, husbands and sons. For many of us women, with her passing a small portion of us died too. Humanity is interconnected.
    Thank you for writing such a moving piece.

  5. Deepak M. · · Reply

    Its very hard for me to even reply or comment. Its some sort of total break-down of the society. Sharing her pain. Blank.

  6. The problm in india is few ppl think that they can get away after doing anything. No strict punishments! Infact talk bout punishment only if u face trial. Majority of d cases don’t see the trial as d criminals easily buy the system. Rape or murder, why can’t we create a system where everyone has the fear of trial!!! In this particular case I know the accused won’t get away but bout those other thousand cases which doesn’t get reported? You kill a person, rape someone but u r out roaming free in the world may be planning to do another crime! Y??? Because we have a FaBULOUS system! My fren lost her 23 year old younger brother. He was brutally murdered! The accused accepted his crime but is free on bail! There has been no hearing after the bail session. Its been more than a year now!!! To get justice, was he supposed to be murdered in a gruesome, sensational way!! Wat is the solution to all these???

  7. Deepak M. · · Reply

    Enough.

  8. Avani Patel · · Reply

    beautifully written and so raw. amazing on all accounts

  9. Sumit Mazumdar · · Reply

    Each one of us can take a short step. We promise that from now one we will never remain just a spectator when we see a woman harassed. We promise that we will fight against female foeticide. We promise that
    we will teach our

  10. Same atrocities happen again and again. Anger also dies down gradually. The only action we can take (as many as are willing) is to hit the politicians, of whatever hue, by not voting in coming state and national elections.

  11. John Rathbone Taylor · · Reply

    Nilanjana Roy, I am a British male with a love of India and things Indian. But my admiration for India has to be adjusted as a result of what happened to ‘Anonymous’ and because of what you have written here, because of the heart-breaking story you have told. It was posted on my Facebook page by a women friend and I want you to know what I replied: “Caron, thanks so much for posting this ‘article’. It is so much more than that though. It is a rationally written but emotionally truly piercing cry, and it strikes home. It’s hard not to feel irrational in response, to wish extreme punishment on the men behind these crimes, but I have to admit reading this account makes me feel that way. More important though is the political action that MUST be taken by the Indian Government. Where can we ‘outsiders’ best focus our pressure and demands? I want to get behind this. This horrendous account of the perpetual viciousness of rape crimes against Indian women, and the extent of social and political indifference towards it, is making me re-assess the positive opinion of Indian society that I have held for some time. This cry from Indian women for a step-change in recognition of what is happening and for help with their plight MUST be answered urgently. John.”

  12. no change will happen. india has a corrupt government and society!

  13. What is wrong with men who would do this? Why would they do it?Have they no humanity? Would they think it was OK if someone did this to their mothers, sisters or wives? It’s beyond me. I’m almost ashamed to be man.

  14. Enrico Fourie · · Reply

    A deep red stain, blight on India’s liberation and the globes enlightenment and civilizationà

  15. Livid and furious–women must unite worldwide and demand social change, to significantly impact how male violence is tolerated.

  16. Raja Srivastava · · Reply

    Very nicely described and Very Touching.

  17. Neelu Khanna · · Reply

    Heart rending & briliant piece, Mandira.

  18. Reblogged this on Journeys to democracy and commented:
    But it’s not just India… “Sometimes, when we talk about the history of women in India, we speak in shorthand. The Mathura rape case. The Vishaka guidelines. The Bhanwari Devi case, the Suryanelli affair, the Soni Sori allegations, the business at Kunan Pushpora. Each of these, the names of women and places, mapping a geography of pain; unspeakable damage inflicted on women’s bodies, on the map of India, where you can, if you want, create a constantly updating map of violence against women.”

  19. This was an extremely passionate post. As a woman half a world away, I cannot even fathom the fear Indian women must suffer on a daily basis. My heart cries out for the women, past, present and future who must suffer this horrific pain before something, ANYTHING is done to put a stop to these atrocities. I shall share this story to my twitter and facebook accounts lest these women be forgotten.

  20. Reblogged this on Eideard and commented:
    Thanks to Om Malik for the link to this thoughtful post

  21. Easy to forget when there is no name or common label to associate with her. We need to brand this so everyone remembers like 9/11. We need to change and for that we should not forget. No more apathy

  22. Your article speaks for all the women all over. Today the learned us know a thing or two about self defence or pepper sprays, we also need to impart this to people who never have a chance to learn things and most importantly teach our men to respect her.

  23. Nicole Anastasi · · Reply

    It is time for men to stand up and be appaulled about what happens to women in general – your mothers, sisters, neices, daughters – you ensure women remain “in their place” because it suits your purposes. It disgusts me that the men of india are not thouroughly outraged but they hide a very deep secret – it has no effect on them, so where is the problem. You praise your gods – and then you torture – you torture with abuse, hands, fists but you torture more with your disregard, just another woman what difference does it make…… The difference is that those woman MAKE you fathers, brothers, uncles, nephews, sons DOES THAT ALONE NOT MEAN WE DESERVE SOME RESPECT, SOME COMPASSION, SOME PROTECTION & SOME CONSIDERATIONS AND CARE. We nuture, we breed, we teach, we hold, we bleed (once a month, just to be a woman), we dream, we pray but no one can tell me why men see us as insignificant and deserving of this treatment. MEN OF INDIA – STAND UP AND BE MEN AND PROTECT THOSE THAT CANNOT PROTECT THEMSELVES.

  24. Nuzhat Kidvai · · Reply

    A very heart rending and powerfully written story that raises some very pertinent questions. There are much broader issues that need to be settled so we can regain our humanity. Brilliantly written article and
    totally resonates with with the very core of our being. A little part of us dies with each rape incident we hear of. We need to stop constructing a shell to prevent the pain from scorching us! In Pakistan when women protest they are told “rapes happen everywhere”, as though that makes it acceptable. We are told by raising our voices we tarnish the image of our country. Rape is the only crime in which the victim carries the burden of shame. It is the rapist who must bear the shame of committing this horrible crime. And it is the Government & the State that should feel ashamed of tolerating violence and not protecting victims of violence, instead of telling women not to talk about it.

  25. Well written. I fervently hope that we wont be affected by amnesia this time and more importantly ensure that the lawmakers don’t suffer it(amnesia) too.

  26. Heartfelt, really ABOUT the woman (and all the many women) who lost her life to the patriarchal violent men. The first article/opinion I have read where I sensed truly that someone cared, really. Nilanyana Roy for all the sisters everywhere. Thank you

  27. Thank you Nilanjana – for really speaking for her – she who was a student, a sister, a daughter, a girlfriend, a friend. She has been reduced to “the gang rape victim” and this is not anonymous as such this is the media – frenzy. Your piece is the first I have read that really speaks for her with a heartfelt being. I cry with you.

  28. Nilanjana, this is a beautifully written protest against a succession of male-perpetrated crimes against women in your extraordinary country.

    I join your cry – the cries of men and women around the world – for a halt to this violence, for laws that punish, and laws to protect. I prey, also, for education and spiritual guidance to turn the tide of an attitude toward women that must be placed at the heart of the ‘situation’. I cannot believe the men of India are any more vile than men elsewhere – but when ignorance leads women to choose to abort female foetuses, how can we expect men to respect the rights of the other half of the human beings in their society?

  29. Thank you.
    Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.

    No one has the right to treat another human being as the receptacle for his anger, lust, frustration, and weakness, and then throw that being away like a piece of garbage. What kind of a “man” would join in a gang to do this to another human being, instead of standing up to protect her – or him? One with no honor, no dignity or self-respect.

  30. so unbelievably powerful.

  31. Thank you, Nilanjana, for sharing your thoughtful words. I, as many, am a survivor of rape. I’ve been following this story closely. I’m grateful for the way you honor her.

  32. Very well written piece. But, where is the Solution? Where do we even start?
    Indian Society as a whole with very small exception does not believe in Gender Equality or Equal Rights for Women. Talk to our mothers and fathers. See how our fathers treat mothers. See how mothers raise their sons and daughters. . bias against girls & women start very early on in our households. Watch movies and see what “the Item Songs” do to our masses. In lower middle and poor class, there is prevalent violence, assault and rape, and in the upper middle and rich class there is sexual harassment and demand for sexual favors for jobs and promotions. In the Epic Ramayana, Rama tortured Sita and banished her to death, and in Mahabaratha men disrobed Droubathi! Indian culture is terribly backward and acutely biased against women for over 5000 years. Modernity means nothing in India. But what’s the solution? Women Empowerment & Constant Struggle in a land where the most powerful person is Sonia Gandhi, and powerful Opposition leader is Sushma Swaraj. And there are Mamata Banerjee and Jaya Lalitha! The woman who sings the most popular “Item song” “Maya Maya” is Chinmayi and the dancer is Mallika Sherawat! I am crying for REAL Solution! Can you please help me out?

  33. Subrahmanyam Kalinathabotla · · Reply

    Well written. To set an example, personalities like Navjot Singh Sidhu should be put behind bars. There is no justification for rape or murder.

  34. Derrick Harris · · Reply

    This is just a great, moving post. As the father of a young daughter, my eyes have been opened to the cruelty women still face in the world, and it saddens me. Hopefully, this incident will help bring about meaningful change.

  35. Reblogged this on SAngram Bhandari and commented:
    Nilanjana poured out her grief into words that did nothing but touched the heart to the deepest. I never saw this side of the incident, I never knew what it felt like when all of this happened. This article just made me realize about my reluctance to the real issue. In the midst of Shashi Tharoor suggesting to name the law after victim’s name and debating about Honey Singh’s obscene lyrics we (Or at least me) forgot what actually outraged the fire. I am no judge to say whether incident has already been politicized or what but all I can say is don’t let this fire, that has been ignited, cool down just like it those every time. I mean, most of us have already forgot about so many major incidents that took place in 2012. Ministers watching obscene clips, CWG scams, Death of Ajmal Kasab are some.
    And these lines are gold:
    “I don’t need to know her name now, especially if her family doesn’t want to share their lives and their grief with us. I think of all the other anonymous women whose stories don’t make it to the front pages, when I think of this woman; I think of the courage that is forced on them, the way their lives are warped in a different direction from the one they had meant to take. Don’t tell me her name; I don’t need to know it, to cry for her.”

  36. Reblogged this on finding development and commented:
    ‘That girl, the one without the name. The one just like us. The one whose battered body stood for all the anonymous women in this country whose rapes and deaths are a footnote in the left-hand column of the newspaper.’

  37. An amazing message packaged in an excellent post

  38. jay gurudev ! Time is not cry. Time to wake up. To change the polytical culture. Burocracy culture also. Laws are enough. perfect amendment is necessary. We all should change ourselves. Wake up INDIA. Get up INDIA. Stand up INDIA !!!!!

  39. I think there is too much sexual repression, too much separation of genders, too few approved means for hormonal outlet – repressing the instinctual aspects just creates great pressure in youth who lack sufficient wisdom and balance that comes with time.

  40. So nice a narrative.

  41. GJohnson · · Reply

    Let us be under no delusion as to why the victim of this vile act remains anonymous. Had she been my daughter then I’d be shouting her name from the rooftops while demanding that her killers be brought to justice. Instead we have a pixilated father. Why? Because the “shame and dishonour” brought on his family overrides all else. Until India confronts this insane thinking her culture will continue to be seen by more enlightened societies as medieval — Paleolithic even — and uncivilized.

    1. John Taylor · · Reply

      Jyoti Singh Pandeh. Her father has released her name because he wants the world to know it and to remember her. We shall.

      1. Dr. Koshi · ·

        May this girl be the voice of the voiceless. If she were a slum child would anybody have cared? Nevertheless this is a start. Personally instead of asking men to stop, women and girls must be taught to fight back every rude comment, expression of unwanted desire, etc. No allowances. Show how to kick men where it hurts, blind them with easily available cheap chili powder. Carry chili powder syringes to shoot into a man’s nose if he gets too close. Coughing and sneezing stops brain activity easily. Dont let politicians tell you what they will do, get all the Women politicians and activists in one space and decide as 60% of India what to do as a powerful part of India. Then take this out into the world

  42. thank you for this; I have not been able to express my feelings about this girl. you have done so eloquently. Like you I have not needed to know her name in order to cry for her.

    http://carolinescamera.blogspot.co.uk/

  43. Beautiful tribute.
    I am pretty much inured to the things that happen around me, but this incident did pierce my armour. And this piece made me cry again.

  44. Tresa Anthony · · Reply

    You have put our grief, thoughts and yes shame too so poignantly in this write up. Saying thank you seems to belittle this sharing somehow…
    FYI, friends in Delhi are trying to get FB likes to a page they have created towards a memorial (public installation) for Jothi Pandey.

    http://www.facebook.com/BraveheartMemorial?notif_t=page_name_change

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