I acknowledge that I am in no position to speak on behalf of a departed soul who endured so much torture and fought for her life till the very last breath; however, I would like to use this medium to pay tribute to her courageous spirit through a hypothetical speech.
Please note that these are purely my personal views and I wholeheartedly respect Jyoti’s family and friends as I share this small post.
Respected citizens of India and the world,
As your Damini and Nirbhaya, I am forever grateful for your support after the night that may have blighted my history, but not my present. The reason why I have the unique privilege to address you, as a common woman of India, is because I am perceived as a victim of a widely rampant crime; though the reality is that my story survived, much like me, under the debris of other untold horrors of rape. I fear that my degree, my background, and my gender would, alone, not qualify me to address such an issue on behalf of countless other women whose cases have been abandoned or ignored under the pretext of crying wolf and whose voices have drowned from the extremity of sex trafficking, inheritance of misogynistic norms, and the rampant circulation of titillating rape scenes. I wonder what merit you may have afforded me to stand up for women’s rights had I not suffered so tremendously.
Perhaps some of you may still be plagued with trivial questions in the depths of your misguided subconsciousness – What was I wearing that night? What did I do to provoke the men? What was my relationship to my friend who was supposed to protect me? And most notably – What was I doing at that hour of the day as an independent, educated woman? Certain men and women in power positions across India stooped to that very level of thinking by making appalling claims condoning the act of rape rather than condemning it, from criminal godmen suggesting that I should have begged for mercy to ministers banning more liberties for women. A female Parliament member, Sushma Swaraj, suggested that even if I managed to survive my ordeal, I will be like a living corpse; my dignity violently stolen by my rapists. As a woman, she could not be further from the truth. When they did not have my consent to touch my body, how could they ever take away my honor? My assailants may have shattered me physically beyond repair, but no man or woman can ever shatter my spirit.
Even then, I still have not lost my faith in men for men can be victims too. I am proud of my father who served as a security guard and aircraft loader to support his family on a meager income. He sold his land so I may receive a decent education and gain the self-confidence that aids me to speak up today. My brother has also been a constant source of strength; his prayers matching your prayers, his steps matching the steps of hundreds of other men just like him to fight for change.
To be honest, I do not remember much from that fateful night itself but I do remember that my mother contacted me with great concern about my whereabouts after I left the mall with my friend. Her message often flashes across my mind as I may, one day, be in her position and contact my daughter in trepidation as she boards a bus to get home.
If you ever chance to stop at a busy red light in Delhi, you will notice people riding on a mixed bag of transportation ranging from luxury vehicles, rickshaws, bullock carts, buses, scooters and not to forget, the odd sellers and beggars roaming to every car in the scorching heat, lightly tapping people’s windows for money out of a purchase or pity. Some of these people in the surrounding flow of traffic may try and get a peek of the passengers inside the luxury vehicles, chauffeured or non-chauffeured. Instantly, the delineation between the upper middle class, the middle and the not so middle class is evident through this exercise. My commonness is defined by my ability to do without those luxuries of a chauffeur and servant and even today, I cautiously board the female reserved compartments in metros and complete my own chores. It is only after reaching this level of self-empowerment that I truly feel like I have assimilated into the common fabric of my people for it is the common citizen who cleans another man’s dishes, drives another man’s car and the rest who dare to peek inside, hoping to be seated inside the cool comfort of a car.
My dear brothers and sisters, we really only have two choices — to give up in the course of flaming tribulations, or to rise up from the scattered ashes of the same. The former is easy to do but the latter is precisely what is expected of all of us – to choose the less worn path of humility and hardship and bring about the necessary change, starting with our mindsets. It is what we must do. Because our strength today can become someone else’s strength tomorrow. That is the hope I live with.
In the end, those men punctured my body but not my soul.
I would like to part with a few lines of inspiration penned down by a remarkable woman whose life story epitomizes the second choice – Maya Angelou. I hope it serves to raise you up as much as it did me.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
Rest in peace beloved Jyoti.