16th December has become a day that we all remember, since 2012. Before that it was just any other day, like it still is for some people. But we want to change that. We want everyone to know and understand what it meant for one person, to be alive and a woman one moment, and then suddenly to be reduced to something that can be used, abused and discarded. Like Jyoti Singh was. Her mother told us, at a public gathering for her remembrance, that she would like to be remembered as Jyoti and not Nirbhaya, the fearless and the consequently nameless entity, to whom unspeakable violence was stormed on the night of 16th December 2012.
But do we want to remember 16th of December as the day when one woman was violated and left for the dead, on the side of the road, on a cold dark night, on the sidewalks of suburban Delhi… Do we want to be reminded, that despite thousands of women being violated every day in our country, she became the faceless nameless everywoman who was raped in the very city where women claim their personal spaces in air-tight BMWs and centrally heated malls? Jyoti’s fate became the fate of all those women who are outside the protection of class and money and strong male characters fighting their battles for them. In fact she died because she thought she could stand up for herself, she thought she could open her mouth and her words would be heeded. But her strength was quickly muffled by the most iridescent example of our patriarchal attitude towards women who think their voice matters – to be put in her place because she has a gender that can be penetrated, with penises, with metal rods, and with the desire to silence her voice. As many have been silenced before, and many will be in the future.
As we got up on the bus, plastered with posters that force you to look back and wonder what really was the reason for Jyoti Singh to have met such a violent end… and you keep wondering, because there IS no reason for it, as there never is for violence, other than personal attitudes towards those whom we feel are weaker than us. Weaker… this feeling of being weaker isn’t so much as self-reflective as it is imposed by those who want to make us weaker, as women, as mothers-daughters-sisters-wives, because then we belong to the men who define our being. But when you are forced to think beyond what you have been taught to believe, it makes us uncomfortable, like the balance of power is shifting, and that is what makes the change difficult. After all, we are all powerless in the face of everyday realities, such as – war, terrorism, natural disasters and ultimately life itself, but we derive power from the weak, and the conflict of genders is embedded in this system of hierarchy which puts men on top of women in every aspect of life.
The bus moved through the city, a city which is used to the cold and darkness of human realities, I was only paying attention to the people who were out on the streets, going about their daily routines, unfettered by the harshness of one person’s fate. As I observed the reactions on the faces as they glanced over the huge bus plastered with large letters to make you remember, I found men and women reacting differently to this phenomena of forced remembrance. The men, some of who noticed the bus and could read the poster, stared unflinchingly. Some seemed like they felt ashamed, for their gender, collectively. Some pointed the bus out to their friends, and they all stared till a few jeered at it, perhaps reminiscing the incident from that point of view which we women so fearfully avoid. Some even stopped in their tracks, peered out of their car windows, some gave the bus way to go ahead, like we were carrying some kind of disease ridden message that could infect them if they got too close.
But it was the reaction that I saw in most women that surprised me, or maybe not, considering we don’t want to look at, think about, or even remotely seem interested in, sexual violence. I can understand why. It’s the most personal, most intimate, most zealously guarded aspect of our lives – sexuality. And when that aspect of our being is dragged outside the privacy of our comfort zone, and abused by people who don’t understand it and know only to destroy it, makes us fearful. And fear is not a desired mental state, even though most women live in it their entire lives, not knowing that a father who does not allow you to have male friends, or night outs, or trendy clothing, is not protecting you but perpetrating the same violence in a manner that has become acceptable in our society. So as these women looked away, they did not look away because it made them remember something that don’t want to, it’s because we know exactly how Jyoti Singh felt that night, even if we weren’t put through her pain, we can feel it from her afterlife. We know how it feels to live in a society that sees us as walking objects of desire, as things that can be taken and used and thrown out once our consumption is complete. It is also because, we don’t need to remember… as it is impossible for us to forget.
Jyoti Singh is not just Jyoti Singh, she is all of us. She is in every one of us, as we meander through labyrinths of sexual harassment and friendly innuendos that aren’t meant to be, as we walk dark alleys, as we board buses, as we exit our protection of walls, as we take up jobs, earn money, talk to men as equals, or make decisions that are for us and us alone. We are not just mothers, daughters, sisters and wives, we are people, and we are not weak. Rape is a crime, but we are more than our vaginas. And that is what is most dangerous about us, that one day we will not care about being penetrated, and become more than what society deems we are contained within.
Jyoti is not dead. She lives in every woman who understands her voice and is not afraid to die for it. She is me, you, and every person who becomes more than their designated selves. 16th December is not a special day, it is every day a woman is violated. It is every day a woman dies voicing her rights. It is every day a woman is aborted in the womb in this country. It is every day a woman becomes a victim of her gender. So, remember this day as every day of the year.
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