A little over two weeks ago I was gallivanting around this city of my birth, meeting friends, trying to write, and perhaps downing a cup of tea at one of the many cafes I visit. It must have been about 9pm. I can’t remember. It was just one of those days. At around the same time, just about 2 kilometres from my home, a 23-year-old girl boarded a bus with her friend after watching Life of Pi at a mall in South Delhi. She was beaten, gang-raped, and brutalized before being thrown out of the bus and on to the road. She lay there on that cold night, with her friend, until she was rescued and taken to the hospital.
The girl struggled to live, fought until her body gave up on her. And somewhere every woman in this city felt her pain and the anger, felt it at its very core – in a way that shook us out of our complacency. The nameless 23-year-old, who dreamed, hoped, and worked for a better life – just like all of us – was one of us. She was our friend, our sister, our daughter; she was me. And somewhere every man and woman felt responsible for what happened to the girl. I do. Because every time we ignored a catcall or a lewd gesture, we ignored the girl’s scream for help. Because every time we ignored that man who rubbed himself against us in a bus or on a crowded street, we ignored the girl’s scream for help. Because every time we discussed women’s rights in our drawing rooms, and forgot about it the next day, we ignored the girl’s scream for help.
For the first time since I can remember, men and women have taken to the streets calling for a change, demanding a change. My society is now talking about things that have for long been a taboo, things we have learned to ignore, deposited so neatly in the realm of us and them.
We seek justice, not just for the girl, but also for us. We demand the right to feel safe, to be considered equals, to be respected, and not to be treated as a second-class citizen. We have acknowledged, finally, that rape is not about sex, but about power.
For the first time since I can remember, my country has awoken. As we shake the 2012 dust off our feet, let us look forward to an India that is truly progressive – a country that respects its women and treats women as equals, not just at the workplace, in our justice system, or political space – but in our society and our home. Let us look inwards and create change in our homes and our society, urban and rural. It will take some time in coming. Change always takes time, but it will happen. And let us remember this nameless girl always.
Remember her when the news channels forget their righteous anger. Remember her when the protests die down. Remember her when the candlelight marches dim. Remember her when the politicians ask us for their votes. Remember her, when justice is served. Remember her.
Don’t forget her. Don’t forget this anger.
An Elegy to an Unknown Girl
Did the air ruffle your hair?
Did your cheeks turn pink because of the cold?
Or was it because of something he said.
Was it a film that you wanted to see?
Did you laugh or cry?
I am so curious to know.
When did the tide turn?
When did the light become dark?
When India slept, you were awake.
I feel the pain.
I feel the iron rod
tearing into my entrails.
I feel the defilement.
Was it possible to switch off the body
like an electric switch?
You sleep now.
India is awake.
Will your blood on earth spring into a flower?
I think I know you now.
You and I are bound together.
*This verse is by a person very close to me, who prefers to remain anonymous*