The ‘normalcy’ of violence—sexual violence being the most perverted—is India’s lot. One girl’s nightmare focuses the light.
| by Amba Batra Bakshi, Chandrani Banerjee
Courtesy: Out Look India
( December 29, 2012, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) “Didi has always made us proud. Aisa kabhi nahin hua ki hamein unki wajah se kuchh sunna pada. Woh hamare parivar ka garv hai (We
never had to hear anything on account of her. She is our family’s
pride),” say the two brothers (18 and 20 years old respectively) of the
girl whose rape and brutalisation a fortnight ago has stirred the whole
nation. They were seated outside her ICU room at Safdarjung Hospital in
New Delhi, hours before she was flown out to Singapore for further
It often takes one crime or individual to be the pivot of an issue
that had never hitherto received its due attention. The young girl, who
was the victim of brutal gangrape and savagery has become just that: a
hero for thousands across the country. As Jagruti continues to fight for
a life that will have to be reconstructed with a lot of medical help
and her own tremendous will, fighting alongside her is a whole gamut of
Indians: from big towns and small, students and professionals,
middle-class individuals to activist groups, women, and men. They are
marching in protest, holding candle-light vigils, and venting ire on
social networking sites. We at Outlook have decided to name her Jagruti: the awakening. She is our woman of the year.
“I feel for this girl from my heart,” says Valerian Santos, father of
Keenan, who was killed last year after he and his friend Reuben tried
to intervene in a sexual harassment case in Mumbai. “Perhaps more than
my son.... I was crying for her.”
Singapore-bound Jagruti being taken to the airport. (Photograph by Hindustan Times)
Till the other day, Jagruti was like any other ordinary girl, who had
gone for a movie with a friend and was coming back home by bus. Her
friend’s objection to lewd comments by six men on the bus visited upon
her a nightmare from which only death seems to promise an early exit. If
she fights off the physical odds, which we hope she will, full
emotional recovery will likely take longer. Gratifyingly, Jagruti has
shown immense determination so far, telling her friend who was with her
through the ordeal, “mujhe sangharsh karna hai (I have to fight)” when he went to Safdarjung Hospital to meet her (see interview).
Rape is a sordid reality in India, in all its gruesome manifestations (see column by Meena Kandasamy),
so routine that, most often, it evokes no notice. Jagruti’s case has
brought the reality closer home, shaking the indifference of
middle-class India, reminding them how vulnerable women are in a world
both modern and traditional, a world with antiquated attitudes towards
women, a world of strange predators in the guise of men, a world of
perverts who prey on children....
Photograph by Jitender Gupta
And so the anger erupted. There was the genuine citizen came to
express his or her solidarity, along with the curious onlooker, the
rabble-rouser and those keen to get a piece of the political and human
action. The media kept a constant vigil as well, both outside the
hospital where Jagruti lay and with relentless coverage, in print and on
First, the political class treated the protesters as an administrative problem, then they started to deliver political homilies.
political class with credibility should have been able to strike a
chord with protesters expressing human concerns. Instead, they first
treated the process as an administrative problem, then started to
deliver political homilies. Eventually, the scale of public outrage
compelled high offices to speak up: the prime minister on television,
the President and the Lok Sabha Speaker, a sitting judge of the Supreme
Court. The government also set up several committees to look into the
incident as well as the overall issue of women’s safety. Union minister
of state for home R.P.N. Singh told reporters that photographs, names
and addresses of the rapists will be uploaded on the Delhi police
website (www.delhipolice.nic.in). He also said the government-run
National Crime Records Bureau had been told to prepare a directory of
convicted rapists and upload their photos and personal details on its
official website (www.ncrb.nic.in).
But the statistics remain depressing. The young Akhilesh Yadav, on
assuming the chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh, had promised to
deliver better law and order. In the 10 months of his leadership, 35
cases of minor girls being raped and killed have been registered. There
were 1,895 rapes in the state in 2011. “There is no denying that men are
getting increasingly insolent in committing crimes against women,” says
Arun Kumar, the state’s additional director-general of police. “In
fact, the women’s powerline service that we launched to curb harassment
of women through crank calls received 61,000 complaints in just one
In Mumbai, the Maharashtra State Commission for Women has been
without a chief for four years. “It’s meaningless to have a commission
without a head as no one can put pressure on the government to act,”
says a former chairperson. “Women actually have no one to go to now.” In
fact, fed up with the inaction of the administration and the corruption
of the police, victims of sexual abuse in Lucknow have organised
themselves under the banner of what they call the Red Brigade.
Comprising largely of young girls in the 17-25 age group, they wear red
kurtas and black salwars and help victims fight rape cases in court.
Felled by the mob? Grieving family of Delhi cop Subhash Tomar. (Photograph by Jitender Gupta)
Jagruti’s case has become a lightning rod for all such women across
the country. There is outrage in Calcutta as well and as sociologist
Bula Bhadra there says, “The act of rape, as the one that happened in
Delhi, is the manifestation of a complex social problem which does not
have a ready solution. It requires a complete overhaul of the system
where we look at many different aspects of society. From the patriarchal
content of our children’s textbooks to the manner in which
advertisements portray women, society is perennially conditioned to
treat women as subservient. Rape and molestation of women in our society
is a reflection of this.”
Indeed, women in India regularly deal with objectification,
trivialisation and different forms of sexual harassment. Jagruti is
typical of the young urban woman in modern India—educated, ambitious,
wears western clothes, visits malls, watches movies, uses public
transport—yet struggles to negotiate her space in a society ruled by
The eldest of three siblings, Jagruti had just finished a four-year
course in physiotherapy at a private medical college in Dehradun. Her
father, who has a modest job in the aviation sector in Delhi, had sold
his ancestral land in his UP village to ensure an education for all his
children. He thought himself a “lucky man” as his children were the
first generation to be educated in his family. His daughter was doing
her internship before she would start her career as a paramedic.
She was alert, say doctors, when she was brought into emergency at
the All India Institute of Medical Sciences before she was taken to
Safdarjung Hospital. Her state had left even the hardened doctors
shaken. The unspeakable acts of bestiality had ruptured her intestines
and damaged her reproductive organs. The doctors did not think she would
survive the night. At the time of writing, she has survived a
Her condition looked “positive” in the first three days, with her
being able to communicate clearly with the doctors through writing. She
told the doctors that her throat felt itchy with the ventilator. She had
written—“there is irritation in my throat, please clean it with
suction”—according to Safdarjung Hospital medical superintendent B.D.
Athani. A paramedic herself, Jagruti perhaps understands her situation
better. She has had to give her statement to the subdivisional
magistrate twice, partially in writing, with gestures and responding to
However, once the infection spread, her condition deteriorated, with
doctors claiming that the iron rod inserted into her body could lead to
septicemia. She has already been through three major surgeries in the
last 10 days, one in which most of her large intestine had to be
removed. Then she developed respiratory problems and suffered two
cardiac arrests. She was critical before being flown to Singapore for
Although her family is grateful for all the support and help, they
are upset over the problem between the SDM and the police over taking
their daughter’s statement. Says D.K. Mishra, uncle of the male friend
who was with Jagruti, “This fight between the police and SDM has been
very disappointing and diverts the focus from the issue. One should not
go after publicity in such sensitive issues wherein every word matters.
It would have been encouraging had it been handled more responsibly.”
“From the patriarchal content of textbooks to ads portraying women, our society’s
conditioned to treat women as subservient.”
while people have every right to express this scale of indignation at
what happened to Jagruti, they also have to be responsible in their
reactions and desist from vigilantism. “Hang them,” has been almost the
universal reaction, and castration a close alternative. It brings to
mind the December 2008 incident in Andhra Pradesh when two women
engineering students of Warangal—T. Pranitha and K. Swapnika—became
victims of an acid attack by three young men. The main accused,
Srinivas, was apparently targeting Swapnika as she had spurned his
advances. People were angry, and three days after the attack, the police
shot dead all three, allegedly “in self-defence”. Swapnika died a month
later. Human rights activists raised the issue of “mob justice”, but to
this day, the then Warangal SP, V.C. Sajjanar, is hailed as a hero for
the “encounter” and “instant justice” he delivered.
The Lucknow-based Red Brigade, of whom we have spoken earlier, also
admit to vigilantism. “Yes, we believe in public thrashing of people who
indulge in physical exploitation of women or sexual abuse with minor
girls,” asserts Usha Vishwakarma, the brigade’s ‘commander’. Basically,
it speaks of a yawning deficit in justice delivery, which the people are
themselves seeking to fill.
The rage in Jagruti’s case has been unprecedented. But it should not
make us blind. The outrage has touched various strands of society. But
there cannot be a kneejerk reaction to a complex issue. Even on the
night Jagruti was being flown out to the state-of-the-art Mount
Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore, a 42-year-old woman was gangraped by
three men in a vehicle and then dumped in Kalkaji in south Delhi, some
kilometres away from the mall Jagruti and friend had gone to and
returning from where they had boarded a bus that was to become a chamber
of horrors. Rape And Our Politicians
No sitting member of the Lok Sabha faces a rape charge
Six persons who declared that they had rape charges against them
contested the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Of them, one is from the
Rashtravadi Communist Party, one from the RPP, a third from the Bahujan
Samaj Party, another from the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha while two were
Political parties gave tickets to 27 candidates who contested
state elections in the last five years and who declared they had rape
charges against them. Of these, seven were independent, five from the
SP, two each from the BJP and one from the Congress. Ten of these are
from UP alone and five from Bihar.
Six sitting MLAs have declared rape charges against them. They
are Sribhagwan Sharma (SP, Khurja, UP), Anoop Sanda (SP, Sultanpur, UP),
Manoj Kumar Paras (SP, Nagina, UP), Mohammad Aleem Khan (BSP,
Bulandshahr, UP), Jethabhai G. Ahir (BJP, Shahera, Gujarat) and
Kandikunta Venkata Prasad (TDP, Kadiri, AP).
When Outlook called Paras, he said the Delhi gangrape
incident was “shameful”. “The culprits should be punished. It’s an
open-and-shut case.” But what about the charges against him? “They are
politically motivated and were slapped on me by someone who was
instigated by the BSP.”
Source: Individual affidavits/Association for Democratic Reforms *** 20 Horrific Cases Up To December 2012
1973: Aruna Shaunbag: A junior nurse at King
Edward Memorial hospital in Mumbai, tied with a dog chain, assaulted
and raped by a ward boy. She lost her eyesight and has been in a
vegetative state since. SC turns down mercy killing.
1978: Geeta and Sanjay Chopra were kidnapped
for ransom in Delhi in the infamous Ranga-Billa kidnapping case. The
culprits raped Geeta before killing them both.
1982: Tulasa Thapa, a 12-year-old Nepali girl,
was repeatedly raped before being sold into prostitution. Ten months
later, she was brought to JJ Hospital in Mumbai where she died of brain
tuberculosis and three sexually transmitted diseases.
1990: A 14-year-old school girl was raped at
her residence in Calcutta and killed by a security guard. Dhananjoy
Chatterjee was executed in August 2004, the country’s first hanging
1996: A 16-year-old girl was sexually harassed
and assaulted continuously for 40 days by 42 men in Kerala. In 2000, a
special court sentenced 35 persons to rigorous imprisonment but the
Kerala High Court acquitted them in 2005.
1996: 25-year-old law student Priyadarshini
Mattoo was found raped and murdered at her house in Delhi. Ten years
later, the Delhi High Court found Santosh Kumar Singh guilty.
1999: The estranged wife of an Indian Forest
Service officer, Anjana Mishra’s car was stopped at a desolate place on
the outskirts of Bhubaneswar. She was gangraped in front of the friend
she was travelling with.
2002: A fourth-year medical student was
gangraped at knifepoint on the terrace of the Khooni Darwaza monument
situated on the busy Bahadurshah Zafar Marg in the capital.
2003: Shari S. Nair, a teenaged girl hailing
from Kiliroor, Kottayam, Kerala, was sexually abused after being
promised roles in TV serials. Shari later died after giving birth to a
2004: 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama was
tortured and allegedly executed by personnel of the paramilitary force
of 17 Assam Rifles stationed in Manipur, after being picked up from her
2005: 28-year-old Imrana was raped by her
father-in-law in Uttar Pradesh. The village elders and Sharia courts
nullified her marriage saying her husband was now her son.
2005: A Delhi University student was gangraped
by four men inside a Santro for several hours and dumped in south
Delhi, unconscious and without clothes.
2009: Two young women were raped and murdered
in Jammu under mysterious circumstances, allegedly by CRPF personnel.
One of them was two months pregnant at the time.
2010: A 30-year-old BPO employee was raped by
five men near her home in south Delhi. The woman was pulled into a mini
truck, raped repeatedly and thrown out two hours later.
2011: A nine-year-old mentally disabled girl
was raped on a Mumbai train in front of five other passengers. The child
could not scream or shout or speak because she was disabled.
Feb 2012: A 37-year-old woman was gangraped in a
car on Calcutta’s Park Street after coming out of a bar. Mamata
Banerjee first said the case was cooked up to embarrass her government.
Dec 2012: An eighteen-month-old baby, the
daughter of pavement dwellers, was found by her mother one morning
covered in blood. Doctors said she had been raped and tortured.
Dec 2012: A two-year-old was raped, allegedly
by her maternal uncle, and thrown into a thorny bush in Baroda, Gujarat.
She died after being taken to the hospital.
Dec 26, 2012: A 20-year-old woman was allegedly
gangraped by 10 people on the banks of Manimuktha river near
Virudhachalam in Tamil Nadu, according to police.
By Amba Batra Bakshi and Chandrani Banerjee with Prachi
Pinglay-Plumber and Prarthna Gahilote in Mumbai, Sharat Pradhan in
Lucknow, Madhavi Tata in Hyderabad and Dola Mitra in Calcutta