My trib­ute to Jy­oti: ‘iwant to stamp out rape’

Del­hibus vic­tim’s friend

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A win­dra Pratap Pandey looks down while ca­ress­ing the thin gold ring that sits snugly on the sec­ond fin­ger of his left hand. “I like wear­ing it,” says the 28-year-old be­spec­ta­cled soft­ware en­gi­neer. “Some­times, it re­minds me of the good things that have hap­pened… be­fore that hor­ri­fy­ing night.”

It’s a ring he gave his friend Jy­oti Singh a few months af­ter they first met. But she re­turned it to him just days be­fore they boarded a bus in Delhi, say­ing he should wear it for a while and she would take it from him later. “She didn’t give me a rea­son and I did not think too much about it,” says Awin­dra. “But I never got to re­turn it to her.”

He bites his lower lip, try­ing hard to con­trol his emo­tions as he talks about the night – Sun­day, De­cem­ber 16, 2012 – when Jy­oti, 23, was raped on a mov­ing bus in In­dia’s cap­i­tal, New Delhi, be­fore the two were thrown naked and bleed­ing on to the road and left to die. She bat­tled her hor­rific in­juries for 13 days but even­tu­ally died, say­ing she hoped her at­tack­ers burned to death.

Al­though it was not the first time such a heinous crime had been com­mit­ted in the coun­try, Jy­oti’s case made in­ter­na­tional head­lines be­cause of the sheer bru­tal­ity and the groundswell of pub­lic ire that fol­lowed in its aftermath. To Awin­dra, it’s an in­ci­dent he will never be able to for­get.

“I wish I could have saved her that day,” he says. “I tried my best, but the men over­pow­ered me and at­tacked me. I don’t think I’ll ever for­get that.”

The pair had met two years be­fore through a mu­tual friend in Delhi. On the fateful day Jy­oti gave him a call at around 1.30pm and asked him if he had any plans. “She was full of life and en­joyed win­dow-shop­ping and watch­ing movies,” he says.

They de­cided to meet at Saket Ci­tywalk. The 160cm tall Jy­oti, dressed in a brown and black woollen pullover and jeans, sug­gested watch­ing Life of Pi. “She liked it very much,” he re­calls.

Mean­while, ear­lier that day, about 25km away from Dwarka in a slum called Ravi­das colony in South Delhi, Ram Singh, a school bus driver, and his younger brother Mukesh were plan­ning to liven up their Sun­day.

To­gether with two friends who worked on and off as as­sis­tants on the bus – 17-year-old Raju (name changed for le­gal rea­sons) and 28-year-old Ak­shay Thakur – they be­gan drink­ing in the evening. At around 8pm, Ram and his friends got into the bus and set off. “Let’s go and have some fun,’’ he re­port­edly told his friends. On the way they picked up two more friends

– Pawan Gupta, 19, a fruit seller, and Vi­nay Sharma, 20, a cleaner and gym in­struc­tor – and headed off to the city.

Spot­ting the cou­ple, they stopped the bus and lured them in, say­ing it was headed to Dwarka, their des­ti­na­tion.

How­ever, once on the bus, the six men, four of whom pre­tended to be pas­sen­gers, at­tacked Awin­dra and Jy­oti be­fore drag­ging her to the rear of the bus and tak­ing turns to rape her for more than 45 min­utes.

Even­tu­ally the men snatched all the duo’s be­long­ings, dis­robed them, dragged Jy­oti by her hair and threw them off the bus. It was much later that a passerby found the naked and bleed­ing cou­ple and in­formed the po­lice, who re­port­edly wasted pre­cious min­utes de­bat­ing which ju­ris­dic­tion the case would fall un­der be­fore fi­nally tak­ing them to a govern­ment hospi­tal in Delhi. Joyti died from her in­juries on De­cem­ber 29.

An­gry protests erupted all over Delhi, which quickly spread across the coun­try. Stu­dents, women’s or­gan­i­sa­tions and civil rights groups launched all-night vig­ils, sit-ins and demon­stra­tions.

Ri­ots and vi­o­lent protests also broke out in some parts of the coun­try with the pub­lic de­mand­ing that the ac­cused be tried and con­victed speed­ily.

In keep­ing with the sen­si­tiv­ity of the case and lo­cal laws, the name of the vic­tim was not re­vealed un­til re­cently but the me­dia be­gan re­fer­ring to her as Brave­heart.

Last Septem­ber, four of the ac­cused – Mukesh, Vi­nay, Ak­shay and Pawan – were found guilty and sen­tenced to death. An­other sus­pect, Ram Singh, was found dead in his cell in March. The teenager who was found guilty of tak­ing part in the rape was sen­tenced to three years in a re­form fa­cil­ity, the max­i­mum term pos­si­ble be­cause the crime was com­mit­ted when he was 17.

But a year-and-a-half since the tragedy, the wounds are still fresh in Awin­dra’s mind. “They did try sev­eral times to take this ring from my fin­ger,

but couldn’t be­cause it was too tight,” he says. “But they took away ev­ery­thing else we had – our clothes, jew­ellery, watches... It’s tough but I am slowly try­ing to get back to a nor­mal life al­though I’ve lost the mean­ing of the word nor­mal,” he says. It took around two months for him to re­cover from his phys­i­cal in­juries. “But I don’t think men­tally I’ll ever get over it,” he sighs.

It’s clear that the hor­rific crime has changed Awin­dra’s life for ever.

“I used to get ir­ri­tated by triv­ial things; I was quite a short-tem­pered per­son but those who know me say I’ve changed a lot. I’m no longer the per­son I was. Noth­ing can ever up­set me more than what hap­pened that night.’’

Awin­dra says he’s con­stantly haunted by the nightmare he ex­pe­ri­enced on the bus. “The im­ages of the in­ci­dents in the bus keep recurring in my mind.”

He is cop­ing by build­ing his char­ity – Jagriti – to help women in need. “We must change so­ci­ety; that is fair jus­tice. We have to stop these types of men from walk­ing our streets.

“We have to help people in dis­tress, we can’t turn our backs on women who are sub­jected to such ter­rors by men. We all have a part to play.’’

Awin­dra, the son of a lawyer and brought up in a mid­dle­class In­dian fam­ily in the north­ern In­dian state of Ut­tar Pradesh, first met Jy­oti through

‘She was a car­ing and am­bi­tious girl… I’m sure she would have gone on to lead an ex­cep­tional life’

mu­tual friends in Delhi where he was work­ing as a soft­ware en­gi­neer, in May 2010. “She was learn­ing to be a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist in Dehradun and had re­turned to her home in Delhi for her hol­i­days.”

As they chat­ted over stud­ies and fu­ture dreams they quickly bonded and ex­changed mo­bile num­bers.

“She was a car­ing and am­bi­tious girl,’’ he says. “I’m sure, if she had sur­vived the at­tack she would have gone on to lead an ex­cep­tional life, she was just that kind of girl. We used to chat about ev­ery­thing. She was very in­tel­li­gent and she had an opin­ion on most things.

“We used to have re­ally en­gag­ing con­ver­sa­tions about al­most any sub­ject un­der the sun.

“She was ex­cited about her fu­ture and wanted to go abroad to study. She had a pas­sion for serv­ing the poor and needy and she used to ac­tively par­tic­i­pate in med­i­cal camps. She wanted to do good in her life.’’

As much as Awin­dra’s friend­ship with Jy­oti went from strength to strength, they had never spo­ken about mar­riage. “We had never thought about mar­riage but we were the best of friends and I had a lot of re­spect for her.

“I ad­mired her as a woman and achiev­ing what she had even though her fam­ily had no money. She was full of life. She had a very pos­i­tive out­look and she had faith in life, it was a very en­dear­ing qual­ity. She never moaned and never had re­grets about any­thing.”

Awin­dra and Jy­oti spoke ev­ery week over the phone, and tried to meet when­ever pos­si­ble in Delhi.

But go­ing to the cin­ema to­gether was their favourite hobby.

“We used to al­ways go the cin­ema if we were in Delhi. We loved films,’’ he said. On that fateful day the two watched the 6.30pm screen­ing of

A Life of Pi at Saket Mall, in South Delhi, and af­ter­wards man­aged to catch an au­torick­shaw to take them home from out­side the shop­ping mall. But the driver re­fused to travel the full dis­tance to their home and dropped them off in the mid­dle of nowhere.

“We were re­ally an­gry with that driver be­cause he chucked us out be­fore we reached home,’’ Awin­dra re­mem­bers. “We tried to find an­other auto but be­cause our des­ti­na­tion was far, no driver was in­ter­ested.’’

Even­tu­ally, at around 9.15pm, a white bus with blacked-out win­dows stopped right next to them on the road. Teenaged Raju, jumped off and asked the cou­ple where they were go­ing.

“I’ll never for­get his words,’’ Awin­dra says. “When we said our des­ti­na­tion, he said in Hindi: ‘Sis­ter, we’re go­ing to that area,’ and we just jumped on.

“Those kind of buses are very com­mon. I’d used them be­fore, we didn’t think any­thing strange, didn’t even hes­i­tate and we bought two tick­ets for 10 ru­pees each as soon as we got on. We took a seat, they switched off the lights and we moved on,’’ Awin­dra re­mem­bers.

Within four min­utes of the lights go­ing out, Ram Singh was the first to ap­proach Awin­dra and be­gan mak­ing lewd com­ments about Jy­oti. When he told them to stop, they be­gan to slap him. One of them be­gan to at­tack Jy­oti.

“I man­aged to hit them a few times and tried to stop them,” says Awin­dra. But one of the men fetched a metal rod from the rear of the bus and be­gan hit­ting him with it. “I could hear Jy­oti

cry ‘Help, help, help!’ but I couldn’t do any­thing be­cause they started to hit me on the head and on my legs and arms,” says Awin­dra. A blow to his head im­mo­bilised Awin­dra and he fell on the floor of the bus.

“That’s when they took her to the back of the bus. I could hear her cries. My eyes were open, I could hear ev­ery­thing, but my body was paral­ysed. I couldn’t move.”

As Awin­dra lay un­able to move on the floor, he heard the men say Jy­oti was dead. They then turned back to him and tried to fin­ish him off with the rod, blow af­ter blow. The at­tack went on for 45 min­utes.

“I could hear the cars, people on the streets go­ing about their evenings as we passed. I was des­per­ate to call out for help, for some­one to save us. If only they could have heard us. I still can’t bear to think about that night, it ter­ri­fies me over and over again.’’

Even­tu­ally, the bus driver stopped and they threw the cou­ple out on to the road, naked, blood­ied and se­ri­ously in­jured. The group didn’t care if they were alive or dead.

Awin­dra re­mem­bers them un­suc­cess­fully try­ing to run over them both with the bus, be­fore speed­ing off.

“For 20 min­utes we were on the road, naked, scream­ing and beg­ging for help but no one came,” he says. “Cars, au­tos and bikes slowed down, took a look and sped away. I kept wav­ing for help. The ones that did stop just stared at us be­fore driv­ing off again. No­body did any­thing, people ig­nored us as if they didn’t see any­thing.’’ Even­tu­ally some­one did call the po­lice. But by this time Jy­oti was bleed­ing badly.

“The po­lice took about 20 min­utes to ar­rive and when they did, they wasted time ar­gu­ing and de­cid­ing the sta­tion ju­ris­dic­tion of the crime,” Awin­dra says.

“There was no am­bu­lance; I had to carry my friend into the po­lice van. At first the po­lice took us to Delhi’s AIIMS (All In­dia In­sti­tute of Med­i­cal Sci­ences) Hospi­tal and then to Saf­dar­jung Hospi­tal. So much time was wasted and all the while we were both in so much pain. Even at the hospi­tal there were no doc­tors and as I waited shocked, no­body pro­vided me with a cloth to cover my­self.

“I was ly­ing in the cor­ri­dor naked and in pain. I re­mem­ber sit­ting on the floor a very long time.’’

Awin­dra closes his eyes tight as though try­ing to squeeze the ter­ri­ble thoughts and im­ages out of his mind.

“I can­not for­get even one sec­ond of that night,” he says. “Some­times I am ter­ri­fied of clos­ing my eyes be­cause I am scared I will be haunted by the mem­o­ries of the hor­ren­dous night.

“Ev­ery sin­gle mo­ment was trau­matic. But with­out doubt, with­out any hes­i­ta­tion, the time when my friend was call­ing me for help on the bus and I couldn’t get to her or help is the worst. I was com­pletely help­less to go and save her and it tortures me ev­ery day.

“If only she re­ceived bet­ter care sooner, she would have sur­vived,” he keeps re­peat­ing. “She was brave. She wanted to live.”

Awin­dra still finds it dif­fi­cult to sleep. “I keep dream­ing that it is hap­pen­ing again and again. I keep hear­ing her cry out for help.” His in­juries, too, were hor­rific. He had a frac­tured right leg and couldn’t move his arms for a month as well as not be­ing able to sit or walk for long be­cause of in­juries to his back.

Jy­oti re­mained in hospi­tal in Delhi for 10 days be­fore she was trans­ferred to Mount El­iz­a­beth Hospi­tal, Sin­ga­pore, for fur­ther treat­ment. Awin­dra man­aged to see her on De­cem­ber 20 while she was in in­ten­sive care in Delhi.

“As soon as she saw me she moved her hands to ges­ture me closer,” he re­calls. “She was pleased when I told her the cul­prits had been caught. But she kept try­ing to say that we shouldn’t have boarded the bus. She was in pain, but she was cer­tain to let it be known she wanted the men burnt alive.’’

When Jy­oti died of her in­juries in Sin­ga­pore, her death made global news and high­lighted even fur­ther the rape cri­sis in In­dia. Vi­o­lent protests that were con­tin­u­ing un­abated in In­dia flared up on Delhi streets with women of all ages tak­ing to the streets to show their rage.

Awin­dra says he tried to stay away from any­thing that re­minded him of the dev­as­ta­tion im­me­di­ately af­ter her death.

“It was plas­tered all over the news­pa­pers and TV and the streets were full. I felt I had to change my

ac­com­mo­da­tion and I left my job soon af­ter. My par­ents wanted to me to move back to the fam­ily home but I re­fused; that would have been an in­jus­tice to the cause. It was hard but I wanted to stay in Delhi and fight. I don’t know where my strength came from but I de­cided not to break. I was de­ter­mined to seek jus­tice.’’

Awin­dra had to iden­tify the men soon af­ter the in­ci­dent. The mem­ory still angers him. “I was so an­gry when I saw them; I recog­nised each and ev­ery one of them. I wanted to kill them there and then. I faced them in court too.

“They have been un­re­pen­tant through­out. There is no chance of re­form­ing them. They de­serve the death sen­tence. They are as ar­ro­gant and bru­tal as they were that night.”

Now, Awin­dra can­not for­give ev­ery­one who let him and Jy­oti down

‘There are no words to de­scribe what those men did to us. Ac­tu­ally, the word bru­tal is too weak’

that night. “Not a sin­gle hour has passed since that un­for­tu­nate day when I don’t re­mem­ber Jy­oti. She is al­ways on my mind. An­niver­saries don’t mean any­thing. Ev­ery morn­ing I get up and I re­mem­ber her, so I can say that ev­ery day is an an­niver­sary. What hap­pened that dread­ful night was not the fail­ure of the sys­tem but so­ci­ety as a whole – the au­torick­shaw driv­ers who re­fused to take us home, the people who saw us on the road naked but didn’t help, the po­lice who ar­gued with each other while we lay in pain, the hospi­tal staff who ig­nored me and then, of course, the six men who com­mit­ted the crime.

“Ev­ery­one was to blame to a cer­tain de­gree that night. I never thought people could be so bru­tal.

“There are no words to de­scribe what those men did to us. Ac­tu­ally, the word bru­tal is too weak a word. It still haunts me to this day.

“My up­bring­ing was very nor­mal and I was told to be good to ev­ery­one and never harm oth­ers. But I have stopped trust­ing people now. I’ve be­come very sus­pi­cious. The mem­ory of that night will now shape my fu­ture.’’ Awin­dra has ploughed all his grief into work­ing on a women’s char­ity. Jagriti pro­vides free health check-ups for women, work­shops in the vil­lages where both men and women are taught women’s rights. There is also a call cen­tre for women in dis­tress or the vic­tims of vi­o­lence and abuse.

Awin­dra adds, “Only when you ex­pe­ri­ence pain yourself can you feel other people’s pain. That’s what has hap­pened to me. Now I know how im­por­tant this char­ity work is for the fu­ture of women. Af­ter go­ing through this aw­ful ex­pe­ri­ence my­self, I know how im­por­tant it is to help people in dis­tress. When I help other people in dis­tress, I can for­get what we have been through for just a minute. It has helped me move for­ward in life.’’

Awin­dra has about 60 vol­un­teers help­ing him with the char­ity, which is based in his home state. They are help­ing tens of women ev­ery day.

“Most of my vol­un­teers are men,” he says. “We’re good men, and we show there are good men too in In­dia. We want a bet­ter coun­try for our­selves, for our so­ci­ety to im­prove, and we want our moth­ers, sis­ters and daugh­ters to feel safer. I couldn’t help Jy­oti that night, but help­ing these women in any way pos­si­ble makes me feel I am not com­pletely use­less. I can help af­ter all.

“My friend’s death has served as no les­son to any­one in power. Even now I face dif­fi­cul­ties hir­ing an auto and if you com­plain to the po­lice they pass you on to the next depart­ment. Noth­ing has changed and I doubt any­thing will.

“Trag­i­cally, rape af­fects the hon­our of a fam­ily and the girl in In­dia. If one is mur­dered that is ac­cept­able but a rape sur­vivor is not ac­cepted. And this has to change; we have to bring about rad­i­cal changes in In­dian so­ci­ety.

“Jy­oti was such a gen­tle soul and I miss her ev­ery day. The best and only trib­ute to her now is to en­sure that no one suf­fers like her again in In­dia and to make ev­ery ef­fort to stamp out rape.’’

The white bus in which the crime was com­mit­ted

The big sTory

Jy­oti’s par­ents are still com­ing to terms with their loss

The big sTory

The big sTory Demon­stra­tions were held across the coun­try fol­low­ing the vi­cious at­tack

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