She was Jyoti Singh Pandey, not nirbhaya

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Today, the Supreme Court of India upheld the death penalty awarded to all the four rapists – Akshay Thakur, Pawan Gupta, Vinay Sharma, and Mukesh Singh, who, along with one Ram Singh who killed himself in the jail, and Mohammed Afroz, the juvenile who was the cruelest and most brutal… among the lot of six devilish men who raped and destroyed Jyoti Singh Pandey that horrible, fateful night in Delhi on December 16, 2012.

I am not concerning myself with all those who have erupted over how death penalty should be abolished in a country considering itself a civilised one. This is because I am yet to attain the large-heartedness required to view such a person from the lens of human rights. Anyway, Indian law allows death penalty only in the ‘rarest of the rare’ cases and this one has been deemed as such.

This is what the Supreme Court has said: (link: Nirbhaya case highlights – Indian Express)

“The casual manner with which she was treated and the devilish manner in which they played with her identity and dignity is humanly inconceivable. It sounds like a story from a different world where humanity has been treated with irreverence.”

My question is, isn’t every case of rape and sexual exploitation an instance of treatment of the other (women, children – girls AND boys) in a devilish manner in which the perpetrator plays with their identity and dignity, which is humanly inconceivable? Doesn’t every such instance sound like a story from a different world where humanity has been treated with irreverence?

The court also said while upholding the death sentence that the offence had created a tsunami of shock. 

I still think that the above statement reflects the imperfect way in which justice is perceived in our society. What if this tsunami had not come? Would the crime have become any less devilish? Would Jyoti have suffered any less than she did?

Which moves me to ask another question: HOW do we really perceive sexual crimes in our society? 

Is it the fact that so many people in the society got all shook up by this one crime that made all the difference in looking at how severe it really was – trying very hard to set aside knowledge that they inserted a rod into her body and pulled out her vital organs? So, is it the number of people that matters? What if Jyoti and her friend that night hadn’t been left for the dead on one of Delhi’s busy roads and had instead been found in some far-off town or village?

What happens to all such cases of extreme brutality but diminished proximity to the Capital? I should not need to utter the word ‘extreme’ to qualify brutality here. Sexual abuse is the very worst form of abuse and there can’t really be a continuum or a scale of suffering or humiliation one undergoes; there may be for the sake of technicalities, which may exist for the sake of a society that finds it hard to choose the appropriate response to such crimes but that’s exactly is the issue here! – we’re back to the drawing board.

Where does the mischief end and abuse begin – and abuse end and horror begin – and horror end and devilishness begin? So, think again, is it the numbers that matter? Is it about the large number of people feeling shocked, disgusted, angry and feeling fearful and unsafe? Why is it that this instance had people up in arms at protests across the country while hundreds of rapes occur everyday without this level of brutality but it is rape nonetheless – if you can imagine a non-brutal way that would be a travesty. Isn’t this a societal flaw? A loophole that makes such dangerous elements as these six men feel a lot safer than their victims?

Along with the judgement, apparently, the court also had a few words on the ‘situation’ regarding the society.

The judgement Link here itself gives the following statistics:

A percentage change of 110.5% in the cases of crime against women has been witnessed over the past decade (2005 to 2015), meaning thereby that crime against women has more than doubled in a decade.

An overall crime 318 rate under the head, ‘crime against women’ was reported as 53.9% in 2015, with Delhi UT at the top spot.

And the following commentary: 

Stringent legislation and punishments alone may not be sufficient for fighting increasing crimes against women. In our tradition bound society, certain attitudinal change and change in the mind-set is needed to respect women and to ensure gender justice. Right from childhood years’ children ought to be sensitized to respect women. A child should be taught to respect women in the society in the same way as he is taught to respect men. Gender equality should be made a part of the school curriculum. The school teachers and parents should be trained, not only to conduct regular personality building and skill enhancing exercise, but also to keep a watch on the actual behavioural pattern of the children so as to make them gender sensitized.

This is what I wonder about. Culturally, we take a very serious view of rape. But our view is extremely flawed. It is consistently victim-shaming. This view is reflected in the fact that for centuries we have chosen to hide our girls and curtail the freedoms of our women rather than let them live freely. We treat rape victims with ostracisation, humiliation, and a huge lack of empathy, individual, social, and sadly, institutional.

Our view needs to focus on the perpetrators. What makes these men want to do such things? What makes them think they can go ahead and do it? What makes them think they can get away with it? Wait. Scratch that last question – the answer to this is completely obvious. Our policing and judicial systems, and of course our political class, should be made to answer.

The problem lies with our men. Only with our men. It is not about the victim.

Who is Nirbhaya? Nirbhaya was a woman who was brutally gang-raped on December 16, 2012, who succumbed to her injuries 2 weeks later in a Singapore hospital.

And who is Jyoti Singh Pandey? Jyoti was a 23-year-old physiotherapy student and daughter of Asha Devi and Badrinath Singh, one of the three children in a family from Ballia, Uttar Pradesh. Her parents sold their ancestral land to make sure their daughter, along with their sons, had equal access to education. She always wanted to be a doctor and serve people. Yes, she died a victim of a brutal, cruel gang-rape. Let’s not hotfoot around her identity. Maybe we have this the wrong way up in our society.

This is what her father had said earlier: “We want the world to know her real name. My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, she died while protecting herself. I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks. They will find strength from my daughter.”

Let’s face it. This is damaged men who know nothing but a perverted world view. For them, anyone who is less powerful than them is just a place, a theatre, a thing where their acts can be carried out. They and their less active variants – individuals or institutions that aid them to act around in our society pose an ever greater threat to our safety.

This is not about teaching men to “respect” women. This is about teaching men how to be human. Sadly, most of these aren’t.

And the quantum of punishment is another travesty – max 7 years life imprisonment. Which is rarely given. That’s why it falls upon us women to become ‘nirbhayas‘ and ‘daminis‘ and all. Because we simply do not have a choice. This shouldn’t be Jyoti’s fate after all she has been through. She should be Jyoti Singh Pandey.

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