Hello, readers. It has been quite a while since I have written, but I could not hold off on this post. My assumption is that many of you have kept up with the news and know of the 23-year old young Physiotherapist student who died last week after a horrific gang rape in South Delhi. If not, the details have even been made into a Wikipedia page as “2012 Delhi Gang Rape Case”. You can also read the many opinions and analysis of the situation of both the rape itself and the political actions around it just through a Google search, so do not by any means just rely upon a Wikipedia page. Anyway, this post is not to just repeat the details and try to understand why it has taken so long for India to wake up to the much-needed change in its criminal justice system against rapists and eveteasers. This is just my way of remembering the victim, who easily could have been any of us. It is also my own pledge to not remain silent in any case of sexual harassment, which has gone on too long, and is something that I know many of us are sick of.
As I mentioned, the victim and her family remain unnamed, and so many have referred to her as “Amanat”, which in Urdu/Hindi dictionaries translates to “trust” or “faithfulness”. Still, it is a difficult word to translate into English because its meaning runs with deep emotions. I use it with a lot of flexibility here to interchangeably mean “value” or “treasure”.
***Update: The victim’s name was released this morning – Jyoti Singh Pandey – as we posted this. Our apologies. As you can tell, the story continues to develop. We are extremely proud of her father’s courage to release her name and start a new paradigm in which victims do not feel shame. Still, we also see the beauty in the nickname Amanat, hence, this letter is still addressed to that name.
You quickly became and will remain one of India’s most prized possessions. Our treasure. Our Amanat. The most valuable one, for the trauma that you underwent and your horrific experiences on that fateful night shook us, broke us and then awakened us from a deep slumber that has instigated in us a fervent desire to finally seek amends to a deep rooted culture of sexual atrocities against women in India. Amanat, you are invaluable because your premature death that occurred in such a brutal fashion has stimulated a revolution that seeks to make India a safe place for womankind. I am losing faith in God Amanat, for if there was a God then you or any other woman would not have undergone what you did. You are God, Amanat……You are God for me, for it is your martyrdom that is now leading the country towards eye-opening change.
I will never and nor can anyone else ever undermine the severity of what happened to you that night on the bus in Delhi but I want to recount an incident that happened to me a few summers ago in my hometown of Mumbai. I was on a crowded bus that I took everyday to the research institute where I was interning. An older man took the seat next to mine, and I thought nothing of it. I was just focused on getting to where I needed to be. A few minutes later, I realized that the man’s hand was pressed against my stomach. I screamed, Amanat, but it was a crowded bus and no one heard. I started yelling at the man, but it felt like there was not a sound coming out of my mouth. Everyone was busy trying to make space for themselves on that crowded bus and no one seemed to care about this 19 year old girl. The man sensing that maybe I was about to create a scene got up calmly and asked a commuter who was standing to take his seat instead. He pretended to be noble and courteous of his fellow passengers. This angered me so much more.
I felt murderous rage, Amanat. Rage at him for what he did to a girl that could have been his daughter’s age but mainly rage at myself for not taking greater action. I felt helpless, violated, and, unfortunately, embarrassed. The blood rushed to my face and I started wailing uncontrollably. No one bothered to ask me what had happened, in fact I am not sure if people on the bus even noticed at all. I did not make it known to anyone what had happened to me and I regret that. What has changed since this incident several years ago is that now I have a voice,thanks to you.
You have given me great courage, brave girl. The courage you have bestowed upon me will enable me to react differently today. I am stronger because of you. I will create a scene, be a “drama queen”, make sure my voice is heard, and do my bit if faced with a situation such as the one I was in several years ago. You breathed your last, but your last breaths infused new life into our souls. The gravity of what happened to me is insignificant compared to what happened to you, but it is up to me to make it significant from here on. I can hope that making my voice heard and applying a presence of mind and heart in scenarios of eve teasing, molestation, rape or other forms of sexual atrocity will curb the repetitive nature of those acts that currently ravage our country. Your loss has left us battered and bruised, but we will strive so that no one else will suffer like you did. Your suffering shall not be in vain.
I hope you are hearing our voices. I hope that you are watching from where you are. We are furiously demanding justice for you. Justice will come when India’s justice system gives your perpetrators the horrible fate that they deserve, but true justice will come only when a woman can travel home after a long day’s work without having to fear for her safety and well-being. It will be a long-standing battle, but we are fighting for you. You are invaluable, Amanat.