Four years ago in Delhi, a gang of five men* and a boy raped and brutally murdered a young woman. The internal injuries she sustained from a metal rod being thrust inside her eventually caused multi-organ failure. She died a few days later, despite desperate attempts to treat her in specialist unit in Singapore. The men were all convicted and sentenced to hang; an under-age boy who was complicit in the rape has just been released from a juvenile detention centre. This week, the Supreme Court has been hearing arguments from lawyers appealing against the death sentence.
It is forbidden for newspapers to reveal the names of women who have been raped. This girl was given the pseudonym “Nirbhaya” – meaning fearless one. Her mother has broken silence and named her as Jyoti. The rape became headline news and there were riots demanding justice for all rape victims. There were ambitious plans to help women who had been assaulted, including “one stop shops” to provide all the care a rape survivor might need. Four years on, and not a great deal has happened.
Today, on the anniversary of the rape, there were two public events which I attended in Delhi. Narinama took place at the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts. It was scheduled to start at 10:30, but didn’t get underway until almost 12 noon. Unfortunately for me, much of what was said in the sessions was in Hindi, so I had to rely on a translator to whisper in my ear. I got the jist.
The first session was with women who were entrepreneurs, talking about their journey to success, and glass ceilings.
An amazing band of drummers from Bihar entertained us. Even though it was 23C, they must have been feeling cold, as all wore heavy jackets over pink and light green sarees. The name of the band was Nari Gunjan Sargam Mahila, nari gunjan meaning “humming women”. They warmed themselves up belting out some drumming humming rhythms.
The second session was called the “Female Gaze”, with an actress (she was in “Brick Lane”), the celebrated film maker Leena Yadav (director of “Parched”) and a former experimental film actress now a feminist columnist called Pooja Bedi. This was more interesting for me as they occasionally spoke in “Hindlish”. Pooja was very glamorous and talked about being the best you could be, even if this was playing “sexy roles” in Bollywood films. She got married and was the best housewife and mother she could be, until the divorce…Now she is the best columnist she can be, and she drives the same model Mercedes as her ex husband.
Next, a vivacious elderly lady led a troupe of women chanting slogans and singing songs about women’s rights and condemning violence against women. I now know the Hindi word “Ekata”, which means “unity”.
There was no lunch break scheduled, and the event was running an hour late. We slipped out and had some food from a stall in the gardens. Allo chaat, alloo tikki, fruit channa chaat, and daulat ki chaat for dessert. See my Facebook post for menu details and translation.
At 2:30pm we moved to a second, more political event, held near the Jantar Mantar (astronomical garden). There is a designated road where people come to protest and raise issues. It resembles Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. We walked past a rally demanding a homeland for Gurkhas and a group of people protesting about the lack of awareness of autism, before we came across Nirbhaya Chetna Diwas. Television cameras pointed at the stage, reporters were milling about interviewing people, and there were even a few protesters. The mother of Jyoti/Nirbhaya, Asha Devi, spoke for a few minutes, but most of the speakers were politicians. She is wearing a blue and white sari.
Again, it was mostly in Hindi but it was also ear-piercingly loud (PA systems in India are always deafening, probably to counter the constant chattering in the audience). Why has the government not spent the money it allocated to help prevent further assaults on women, like CCTV cameras on buses, additional toilets and fast-track courts? Why have the convicted criminals not been hanged?
A member of parliament (Lok Sabha) for NW Delhi was talking about changing attitudes through education. I smiled when he said, “But we can’t even blame the British for the failings of the education system!” It has been 70 years since independence.
We lit candles and took photographs before driving back to the office with a Sikh version of Lewis Hamilton. Honestly, I have to shut my eyes sometimes because the driving is so manic and lawless. I was so drained and exhausted that I didn’t even go to the “Satan and Angels” party at the branch office.
* One of the men committed suicide in jail.