The white horses kept returning to my mind. In the middle of the night I would wake up and think of the child who went looking for them.
I am guilty, like many others in the media, of having woken up very late to the horror of a story that has now shaken the conscience across borders— international, national, religious, caste, gender. I hope it has.
I read stories, chargesheet, blogs, statements, arguments. Somebody was defending the accused. Others were attacking those who defended. The media had taken a stand, a homogeneous one, for once. I watched the television debates to see how low our politicians could stoop. I saw a TV anchor, angrily ask “why in a temple”. They did not spare a child. How does it matter whether it was a temple, church or mosque. Who cares, except that Asifa’s father did not look for her in the temple, thinking it was a sacred place.
I wondered where there was scope for debate in this case. It was in black and white-- an eight-year-old girl was raped and killed. Where was the grey area that gave space for arguments and counter-arguments.
Asifa had got new clothes stitched for a wedding in the family, she loved her ponies, was free-spirited and not grown up enough to distrust people, like any girl her age, anywhere in the world. But, Asifa was not fortunate enough. There is a thin line—that of luck—that protects several of us, from some kind of assault. How long do we rely on luck to save us? What do we do? When we take to the streets, it is seen as going against the government. Why does a protest to demand action against the accused become an anti-government agitation? And if it is, why is it so? How do you describe those who protested in Jammu against the arrest of seven accused in the case? I remember having gone to India Gate for the Nirbhaya rape protest. I do not recall anyone at that time protesting against the arrests of those accused. Nirbhaya’s story appalled people for days, months, years. So will Asifa’s. It did not fade off from my mind; it should not. I watched a captivating serial on Netflix to distract myself from it. I felt guilty for wanting to be distracted. I want the anger to remain.
These are stories that have left the country shaken. But, almost every woman will have a story to tell. Most of these may neither surprise nor shock, but that’s where lies the genesis of misogynist brutishness. It needs to be nipped in the bud. I remember the days I travelled in crowded DTC buses, as most women who did would, and the attempts by men to touch women wherever and in whichever way they could. To say it was exasperating would be an understatement. I used to be indignant that they could take advantage of a woman just because she was there, standing or sitting next to them. Once when I asked a man to keep off, he shouted back “itna nakhra hai tho ghar se kyon nikalte ho (if you are so fussy why do you get out of your home).” Nobody supported me. There was silence. But, that was the early 1990s. I hoped things have changed. Today, we are still fighting to be allowed to be wherever we want, without fear of having to pay a price for that freedom.
I regret today not raising that first hand that touched me, without my consent, and shaming it in the bus, at the risk of being called a mad woman. We all stand guilty of letting that hand go free. We want Asifa’s story to be alive. We want the truth to come out, whatever that may be. We want those who contemplate rape to be afraid, not women, girls or children. We want everyone to know that you cannot get away with not just rape, but even molestation. There may be times you can get away with murder, but nobody should get away with rape.
So should it be in Unnao. While the victim cried hoarse that she was raped by a BJP MLA, her father died after being beaten up in police custody. Chief minister Yogi Adityanath's administration left it to CBI to arrest the accused MLA. In both Kathua and Unnao cases, all one wants is for the truth to come out. And, when it does, I hope, hopelessly, that everyone just seeks the punishment the guilty deserve, and quickly.