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.

102 comments

  1. A woman’s life extinguished….a nation seduced by hatred, media channels making a ‘meal’ of the situation by fanning the flames, an establishment that responds with banalities…and no one really looks at the root cause of the problem:- Social inequality, a distinct gender bias ( and so a total lack of relationship between the two beautiful polarities), all aided by a country under the grip of crass and severe consumption of all kinds.

    Time to begin the journey home…for each one, for each family. Time to bring the heart back mainstream…for that is the only way home, that is the only way to heal. Time for some real silence. Time also for a regulatory/legal rethink. Time to contribute with action. Time for a new leadership…a new personal leadership…led by the heart.

    In sorrow and in silence.

  2. “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.”

    I hope she does not get entered in the chronicles as a girl without name. She defied death after the unspeakable trauma. This might have been her Rosa Parks moment beginning the end of sexual assaults against women. I wish her name goes down in history.

    • Dear Nilanjana Roy,
      The immensity of responses to your article on the December 16 Gang Rape goes to show that our “daughter of India” may not have suffered, fought and died in vain. My gut says as a result of this horrific incident the discourse of rape and sexual assault will have changed in India.

      • my previous comment awaits approval…..so here I am logged in as twitter’s ni.sa.re.g.
        for medical help rape victim was flown to Singapore,for punishing the accused have they decided which country’s laws to apply?#DelhiGangRape goodreads.com/book/show/6503498-mother-india … It is time I find courage to read this book.

  3. This is a great text, it says pretty much what I think and as many other people, I don’t say. I know I’m wrong and I feel really bad about it, I’m not proud at all, but I’m glad that some people, like you, actually do. Thank you, even though the subject is absolutely not something we should be thankful for, your words make me wanna do something about it.

  4. howmuch ever we cry out loud its like ringing bells in deaf ears…while tey just pretend to be deaf….we dont have to wait for the world to end ppl like these jerks are enough to make woman extinct.such a disgrace to mankind.

  5. With folded palms…I bow down on my knees. As a male…as an indian male, I ask for forgiveness..the heart is shattered, as if something has died forever within. I have scribbled few lines for her..
    Senses as they went numb
    Each one retreated in his cocoon…
    and pretended to be dumb
    At that very hour…
    Somewhere in some moving bus…
    I was being raped
    and stars in my eyes
    Were getting forever reshaped.
    As I looked out of the window,
    I could see darkness all around
    sky full of vultures
    hyenas ran the ground
    Where are you oh humanity! I shout..
    any reply???.
    I would forever doubt !!

  6. Reblogged this on Voiceswriter and commented:
    parents/guardians need to be good role-models and set good examples for their kids before they come out and mix with society. Such a senseless tragedy and justice must be served in this case. Real men don’t rape.

  7. India ia a screwed up country unable to handle so many things… there are so many rapes everyday…by rapes I don’t mean women being sexually violated, I mean abuse of power and authority and through and through corruption. All this capitalistic explosion of recent years has meant an “to each for himself or herself” culture. Sad but true. Is India a livable country at all ? The civic and governance infrastructure is so broken and value system is so abysmally low. Indians deserve all this for putting up with the governance they get. There is no sense in pointing fingers at this and that. The fault lies within each Indian citizen who participates in the system. And expecting a overnight transformation is naive. It usually takes a generation or more. It is up to the younger generation to take charge.

  8. I have been following this anonymous girl’s story and I don’t want that this strength and united voice against violence should stop here with the passing away of this beautiful soul ! I feel very sad about her but nevertheless, one feeling of avenging these souls is growing in on me. And I am ready to go to any level to make the life of all the girls better and safe! It’s not for her alone that I am ready to step in this, rather now, it’s for me and for all us!! I wish that everyone would just stand up for themselves and then, we won’t need to grieve for someone again!! Please stand up for yourself.. 😦 😦

  9. I have been following this anonymous girl’s story and I don’t want that this strength and united voice against violence should stop here with the passing away of this beautiful soul ! I feel very sad about her but nevertheless, one feeling of avenging these souls is growing in on me. And I am ready to go to any level to make the life of all the girls better and safe! It’s not for her alone that I am ready to step in this, rather now, it’s for me and for all us!! I wish that everyone would just stand up for themselves and then, we won’t need to grieve for someone again!! Please stand up for yourself.. 😦 😦

  10. We never knew her name….for that matter we never knew her and what her dreams about the future were….But the symbol she became showed us the fabric of the society we live in ….it opened our eyes and entered our souls for more than a fleeting moment ….she has ensured that we shall no more sweep what we always considered someone else’s problem under the proverbial carpet.
    The complex issues like Governance, Policing , Education, Reforms , The Caste System …etc all got together within a matter of hours and got debated under the symbol….all over our country….I think this is only the beginning of the Dreams she had..let us all nurture this and take it on and on ,maybe even to generations to come….for that will be the same time it has taken for what we are today….
    We were only waiting for the Symbol ……

  11. Extremely well written.
    What a horrific state of affairs.
    This is all so sad and hopefully there will be changes in the right direction.
    As an average British male I find the thought of rape sickening.
    These bastards are not men and to see them protected by the state is a disgrace.

  12. I wish words had the power to change a person, let alone a country. But every drop of water in the ocean counts if you are a believer. I hope that we are about to witness a change, change towards a better and civilised society called India!

  13. […] Blog: For Anonymous, by Nilanjana Roy 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. (Click here) […]

  14. Beautifully, sensitively and compassionately written piece! Not only touched the heart but left a lasting impression!

  15. Crush the hands of the persons who are in power.My brain has stopped functioning , it has become cold like packed ice.
    Can think of an electric chair for rape culprits not gallows.They have no right to live. Drastic punishment can be the only the only punishment of
    rapist.

  16. rape is a violence and it can be committed even against men. but unlike in some advanced countries, it is not treated simply as a violence of a personal nature in the Indian subcontinent because we attach patriarchal values to the woman’s body which even the women have internalised. the way ahead is through education and awareness; time consuming and evolutionary. the anger of today might add a little revolutionary push to the issue.

  17. Nilanjana.,You have put it in words what I have been feeling. We were so used to be in state of amnesia where we could close our eyes to such incidents. But this one has shook us so hard as if it can happen to her in heart of city, it can happen to any women. Lets make sure that this anger, this rage is used constructively and lead to new era , a safer world for women.May her soul RIP in eternal peace and warmth.

  18. m speechless…it cudnt get worse! I hate being a part of dis country….that INDIA..i thot…is d best place i was born in…today i take it as a shame…its my humble request to all those who have even a cent of humanism left…please stop playing with a female…respect a woman…she is the most beautiful creation of god…don’t butcher her..she has equal rights as anybody else…let her live…let her live a free life…a life dat wudnt end up Killing her Soul…

  19. Thank you for wonderful piece. You are not alone there is a protest Streaming live now in OHIO after a gang rape. ALSO PLEASE see this piece by AVAAZ. I have no idea if it is feasible in India, but if it is working
    to empower girls in Afghanistan it’s got to be worth a thought. Girl power in Afghanistan has never looked so good http://tinyurl.com/d3ajqtv

  20. Reblogged this on Systems Savvy and commented:
    There are times when I worry about the consequences of sharing my thoughts about politics, the economy, religion, etc. This isn’t one of them. This post, by Nilanjana Roy, is a must read. Please share it as well. These are our sisters, mothers, and daughters; not someone else’s. This needs to stop.

  21. I’m not Indian. I live across the border in the ‘enemy’ state but the pain transcends cartography. Sending you and every woman of India my love, prayers and strength. There will be justice, Inshallah.

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