Hope and fear af­ter her death

DNA Sunday (Mumbai) - - SECOND - DOU­BLE DIP­PING

Pa­tient X is not the first woman to be gang raped and beaten in grue­some fash­ion. If there’s one thing th­ese past weeks have shown us, it is that in­ci­dents of sex­ual vi­o­lence upon women hap­pen en­tirely too fre­quently in In­dia. But there was some­thing about the case of Pa­tient X: lan­guage failed us. How do you de­scribe a young phys­io­ther­a­pist who has been gang raped, left for dead and who gave an of­fi­cial and de­tailed state­ment to the po­lice while fight­ing to stay alive? To talk about her with­out re­veal­ing her iden­tity, do you rechris­ten her, or leave her anony­mous? Fury, out­rage, help­less­ness — th­ese proved to be limp, in­ad­e­quate words for the feel­ings that coursed through so many. We looked for words to de­scribe Pa­tient X, her ex­pe­ri­ence, our re­ac­tions and came up empty. But still we kept try­ing. She was a woman, not a girl. She’s not a vic­tim and as of Satur­day, she’s no longer a sur­vivor. She is the in­spi­ra­tion for a move­ment that will hopefully not fiz­zle out now that she is a silent statis­tic.

The most dan­ger­ous thing about statis­tics is that they can be ma­nip­u­lated and in Pa­tient X’s case, this is al­ready un­der­way. There were ru­mours last week that the pow­ers- that- be in Delhi wanted to en­sure Pa­tient X was dis­lodged as the one around whom the pro­tes­tors ral­lied. Whether or not this is true, the fact is that the spin doc­tor­ing of Con­sta­ble Tomar’s death, the at­tempts to equate pro­tes­tors with rab­ble and shift­ing Pa­tient X to Sin­ga­pore did di­vert at­ten­tion from rape leg­is­la­tion. In le­gal terms, this is now a case of at­tempted mur­der, which means the spot­light has al­ready shifted from rape. This in turn means that the di­a­logue Pa­tient X in­spired is per­ilously close to wind­ing down. On one hand, this means the clam­our for death penalty or chem­i­cal cas­tra­tion for rapists is less, but so are the de­mands for re­forms and re­vi­sions.

It is, how­ever, go­ing to be one very long haul be­cause misog­yny is deep- rooted in us, both men and women. Even while the protests have “gone vi­ral”, In­dian po­lit­i­cal fig­ures con­tinue to make cal­lous, of­fen­sive state­ments like Abhijit Mukher­jee’s com­ment about pro­tes­tors be­ing dented and painted, and Kakoli Ghosh Dasti­dar’s pro­nounce­ment that a pros­ti­tute can’t be raped. The di­a­logue that a vast sec­tion of the coun­try is en­gaged in seems to have eluded peo­ple like Ghosh Dasti­dar and Mukher­jee en­tirely. If this is how lead­ers with ac­cess to me­dia and ed­u­ca­tion re­act, and if th­ese are the ones set­ting ex­am­ples, then how can we hope for the less priv­i­leged to think dif­fer­ently?

As I write this, I’m sit­ting in Kolkata, which, wrapped up in Christ­mas lights and win­ter chill, is at its pret­ti­est. So far, I’ve heard of no protests, peace­ful or oth­er­wise, be­ing held here. Till now, I’ve kept my dis­tance from the plac­ards de­mand­ing death penal­ties be­cause I’m yet to be con­vinced that such mea­sures bring about at­ti­tu­di­nal shifts. To­day, how­ever, I’m des­per­ately hop­ing to lo­cate a protest and yes, it is more for my peace of mind than any­thing else. To­day it feels op­pres­sive to flit from one year- end fes­tiv­ity to an­other, pre­tend­ing I’m not haunted by ev­ery­thing I’ve read about Pa­tient X — her fear, the trauma her body suf­fered, the grief of her fam­ily, the way ev­ery­one from politi­cian to ac­tivist has used her to for­ward their own agenda — and my own fear that we will not change. That we will for­get about her and it’ll take an­other woman suf­fer­ing some­thing even more bru­tal to push for change again. To­day I’d like to be­lieve that hope and change are in our midst.

The sad truth is that there are no prompt so­lu­tions. What we can do is work to­wards dis­man­tling the prej­u­dices that seem to be in­trin­sic to our so­ci­ety. It’s not go­ing to hap­pen overnight or en masse, but per­haps it’s not delu­sional to hope for a next gen­er­a­tion less scarred by prej­u­dices.

At present though there’s only de­spair and this ter­ri­ble grief. And a prayer for the woman who should have been able to take a bus home af­ter watch­ing a movie. May she rest in peace and may the rest of us not squan­der the op­por­tu­ni­ties that she paid for with her life.

deep­an­jana. pal@ dnain­dia. net

DEEP­AN­JANA PAL

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