Jyoti

I am a horrible person. I’m cynical, I imagine the worst-case scenario and more often than not the idea of humankind behaving with any kind of selflessness or kindness makes me snort with disbelief. This is not the bad part. However, the fact that the world isn’t much better is definitely a cause for tears.

Last week, while reading newspapers that tried to find that elusive balance between getting into the festive, year-end spirit and sustaining their coverage of violence against women in India, I remember thinking, “Someone is going to up the ante. This isn’t cutting it anymore.” Just the thought gave me the shivers and I gulped more tea, and did my best to not think such icky thoughts. I’m aming those who believes one of the few silver linings of the terrible gang rape that took place in Delhi on December 16, 2012, was that newspapers took this opportunity to show readers how widespread violence against women is. It isn’t something that happens only in villages or late at night or to women of dubious moral standing. Most women in India have been at the very least groped and almost all of them, in some recess if their mind, think theirs is a unique experience. The memories of being molested in public places, at social events, in homes, wherever, comes with a deep sense of shame. The business of being a woman is a solitary affair in India. You don’t share because you fear you will be judged by other women (and often, you are). I don’t know whether a week of constant reports of crimes would be able to counter centuries of inherited insecurities (read: socialisation), but I do think it made men and women aware of how prevalent these crimes are. And how inventively brutal the perpetrators of these crimes are. This is good. But the tipping point from feeling outrage and empathy to being “raped out” is one the newspapers needed to be wary of. They needed to choreograph the coverage better, offer a few constructive pieces, take a break and then return to the subject of gender violence. But of course they didn’t. Net result: readers start getting sick of the subject. So what do you do then to get the eyeballs? You up the ante and find something sensational.

First, Zee News telecast an interview with Awindra Pandey, who had been with the woman who was gang-raped. He was beaten up by the same men and thrown out of the bus with her. In the interview, Pandey criticised people in general for turning a blind eye to people who need help. He recalled passersby staring at him and the raped woman (both nude and battered), some even talked about them, but no one came to help. He complained the Delhi Police wasted time figuring out nitty gritty like jurisdiction etc, leaving the two of them in their wretched, naked condition. (The amount of time wasted differs from interview to interview. In one, it was 15 minutes, in another it was 45 minutes.) The police also didn’t want to carry her body and made him carry her into the van. He then complained that the police could have taken them to a hospital that was closer than Safdarjung Hospital. Once at the hospital, Pandey said they had to wait for a long time till any doctor came to look at them. He said he believed that if his friend had got better treatment, she would have survived.

In short, he was upset with everything and everyone. And it’s only natural that he would be. The man went to see a movie with a friend and the next thing he knew, the two of them were in the middle of a gruesome, gruesome attack. On top of that, with his friend dying, you can’t expect this man to feel charitable towards the world around him. Of course, he’s looking for people and things upon which he can pin the blame. This is what we all do when we encounter far slighter tragedies. This is the only way we can make sense of terrible events. So give the man your sympathy, but would you take his complaints without a tiny pinch of salt? I’ve very little love for the Indian police service, and even less for Delhi Police, but the fact of the matter is that if they’d argued for even 2 minutes, it would have felt like forever to Pandey. Should they have made an injured man carry his unconscious friend into the police van? Of course not. But the average police joe, like the civilian bystander, is petrified that they’ll be blamed for the crime. This isn’t a justification, but it is an explanation. Similarly, chances are he’s absolutely right that no one at the hospital came to treat them until the paperwork had been sorted out, but it’s also true that no one had believed that a person with the injuries that this woman had suffered would survive even a day. Surely the doctors of Safdarjung Hospital deserve some credit for that, rather than being blamed as the ones whose lack of expertise may have caused her death?

That was round one.

Then yesterday, the UK tabloid The Mirror had a scoop: “India gang rape victim’s father: I want the world to know my daughter’s name is Jyoti Singh Pandey.” I have to say, when I read this, my first reaction was to cheer for Badri Singh Pandey, father of Jyoti Singh Pandey, for the pride he had in his daughter. I like feminist or leaning-towards-feminist men. What to do? Considering the Indian news media has, with astonishing insensitivity, rechristened her things like Nirbhaya and Amaanat and heaven knows what else, announcing her name was like re-establishing her as a person rather than as a symbol. Jyoti Singh Pandey was no longer just an anonymous victim of a heinous crime, but a person, with a name, with ambitions and aspirations, with courage. All of that lovely, fuzzy stuff. Ok, so her father had picked The Mirror, but what the hell. The Indian legal code doesn’t allow any local news media to divulge her identity (that’s supposed to somehow “protect” the person who has been raped) so Pandey went with the most persuasive foreign journalist, I figured. I have no trouble believing a journalist for The Mirror would be able to wheedle and eke with greater efficacy than most others. The point was that Pandey hadn’t behaved like a stereotypical, conservative, patriarchal Indian man, and this was remarkable considering his lower middle-class background. This was particularly satisfying to me because it really annoyed me that Arundhati Roy had smoothly assumed Jyoti Singh Pandey was a member of the affluent middle class. Roy had probably put on her Sherlock Holmes cap and deduced that a woman in Delhi who goes to see an English film (if I remember correctly, Jyoti had gone to see Life of Pi) in a multiplex MUST be posh. Annoying woman. As it turns out, the Pandeys are affluent. Badri has some agricultural land and makes a very modest living in Delhi. His wife has at best completed basic schooling. Their daughter, however, wanted more and she convinced her father to sell some of his land to fund her education.

Then, reading the article in The Mirror, I came to this bit.

Badri said Jyoti’s friend Awindra was not her boyfriend – just a very brave friend who tried to save her.

He said: “There was no question of her marrying because we belong to different castes.”

IMG_4421
Fading light, Mumbai, 2012

This was when I was certain that Pandey had not wanted his daughter’s name to be revealed and The Mirror had done something sneaky. Not that caste and gender discrimination are necessarily inter-related, but I just found it hard to believe that a man who puts up difference in caste as the reason why two people can’t be in a relationship would be quite so progressive about a raped woman’s dignity. And whaddyaknow, I was right. The father told Hindustan Times that he had said that he wanted the world to know his daughter’s name only if the law to punish rapists was named after her. That’s the level of heroic stature and public applause Jyoti Singh Pandey has to attain to earn the right to not be ashamed for having been raped. “I want my daughter to be known as the one who could bring a change in the society and laws, and not as a victim of a barbaric crime,” Pandey told Hindustan Times. Except the fact of the matter is, she was raped and she only becomes a “victim” when she’s seen and treated as such. In fact, if he had made her name known, that would probably have been a step towards erasing the victim tag.

That said, at least Badri Singh Pandey did do what he could to give Jyoti an education. I just hope he encourages others to do the same and doesn’t tell them to keep girls at home because his experience of educating a daughter and sending her to Delhi ended so tragically.

Incidentally, the word “jyoti” means light. How perfectly and heartbreakingly fitting.

6 thoughts on “Jyoti”

  1. I can;t tell you how incensed I am about this post. These were affluent people!! Are you stupid. Her father sold his little plot of land his only asset, they described as having roti and salt to eat. The girl studied in the dayime and worked in a call centre at night.

    Awindra blamed everyone as he naturally would !! but lets take it with a pinch of salt.

    You really talk absoute bollocks. Unadulterated crap. These valiant people struggled valiantly to improve their lives and have suffered such horror most people can not even begin to imagine.

    You are one self-satisfied arrogant smug pseudo pretend intellectual so far up your own backside you can’t tell wrong from wrong.

    I do wish it had been you on the bus that night you silly pambered Bombayite looking down your nose sneering at other people’s misfortune.

    I had better stop before I get carried away and start using real profaniies.

    Who reads this inane junk. No comments so far I see. Well there’s a surprise.

    Do us all a favour and close down this heap of manure.

  2. I had the misfortune to stumble upon this article last night and I wish I had not read this puerile, cat’s vomit of snide, sly insinuations about simple people whose integrity and didnity you can only dream of. I would place it on a level with the Godman Arse araam Bapu’s remarks recently.

    You call yourself a jounalist (what of, the gutter press)? At least learn to break up your post into neat paragraphs and make succicnt, clear points.

    I suppose your education, privileged background, your sophistication., your suave worldly wise knowledge entitles you to sit in your ivory tower in Mumbai and look down upon the common people.

    This article should be stuffed where the sun doesn’t shine.

  3. Wow. even I’ve never been so outre on your blog before like these guys ^^^.

    having said that though, in this piece, for example, I would have slept on the framing of this sentence –

    “The point was that Pandey hadn’t behaved like a stereotypical, conservative, patriarchal Indian man, and this was remarkable considering his lower middle-class background.”

    That’s kind of not very cool to say, and it’s a little ugly, even.

    Also the throwaway comment where you express disdain about the father’s lack of erudition in being unable to discern between tabloids and broadsheets was kinda sus, brief as it was. I know it’s a personal blog, and it’s meant for unedited venting, but it comes off a little mean girly.

    Still, re the other comments, wow.

  4. The western world especially Britain, which was riddled with it, is moving away from “class”. Sure those delineations existed before and to a shade of grey still do now, and without acknowledging that, it would not be possible to strive towards a better world of a classless society.Then to impose class onto a society already riven with caste, sub caste and sub-sub caste is crass and irresponsible.

    As to the friend of the victim’s testimony : it is a well known fact that witnesses, victims, even bystanders’ views are distored by the fear, stress and trauma of a violent crime especially one on an unprecedented scale like this one. Recollection of faces, conversations, timelines, events, places all become warped. Hell this happens in normal everyday life too.

    But where I must take you to task is regarding the father and family. You are an intelligent person (I think) even though you chose to hide behind a persona that you beleive adds to your mystique – it does not – you must have had a measure of these unfortunate people. Everyone and their cat can tell these are simple, and that should count as a badge of honour, good decent folks whose great dignity, endurance and decency are unsurpassable. How in heaven’s name would a man who works double shifts as a loader at the airport have the sophistication to deal with the media i.e. journalists, blood brothers of that other pack of hyenas : politicians. Perhaps you could guide them.

    On another note. All around the world people’s hearts are melting and want to help financially to set up a Fund or a Foundation to enable the brothers to complete their education, and further on to perpetuate Nirbhaya’s memory with scholarships, refuge centre for battered women, help and counselling for the vitims of rape.Of cource you can’t be arsed to do something positive and get that off the ground. Much easier to write crafty articles which increase your pomposity by leaps and bounds.

    On the question of help for your fellow citizens, the response has been poems by Bollywood (rotten to the core) ‘mega’ stars, zilch from the billionaires like Ambani, Mallya, Azim Premji etc. etc. etc. As to the politicians it is enough if they keep their mouths shut as should those painted and demented Godmen who smear their faces with myriad substances, park their arses on thrones which belong to a film set and preach superstitous junk from ancient scriptures, amassing wealth that Solomon would have been envious of, and which their followers lap up with an astonishing appetite.

    India. What will save you? Maybe, just maybe, Nirbhaya, a beautiful soul that truly was a braveheart.

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