Two people told me on Wednesday, 26th December, that they were “raped out” and blamed the news media for it. One refused to let the word “rape” enter conversation and another said she was exhausted. “What’s left to say?” she said. I just had one thought in my head while hearing their need to stop thinking and talking of the horrific incident in which a young woman was gang raped and a young man was beaten up: “You’re in luck because from the look of things, we won’t have ’cause’ to talk about rape soon.”
This is neither the first nor the most brutal rape that we’ve heard of in India or even in Delhi. Something about this woman’s experience — maybe it was a slow news week; maybe it was an astrological combination — moved us. Some took to the streets as protestors. Some discussed the incident at home. Some wrote. Some listened. Everyone despaired. We tried to teach ourselves the right language to articulate our feelings: don’t say “girl”, say “woman”; she’s a “survivor”, not a “victim”. (Meanwhile the government mishandled the situation with incredible aplomb, but that’s another matter entirely.)
On Wednesday morning, I heard a rumour that the survivor of the young woman had died. She’d had a cardiac arrest while her fragile, battered body hadn’t been able to withstand. Then came the news that the hospital was under a strict gag order because the government had instructed as such. On Wednesday’s agenda was Constable Tomar, who (ironically) also died of a cardiac arrest. The government and Delhi Police were making it seem as though Tomar’s death was caused by injuries inflicted on him by reporters whereas he was just an old man with a weak heart who had over-exerted himself. They won’t let the news of “the girl’s” death out, I was told and I could tell how disturbed my ‘source’ was because this same person had argued vehemently days earlier about how you can’t respectfully call a 23-year-old woman a girl and unless you’re her senile grandparent. How long can a death be kept quiet? I asked a few people. “They’re counting on New Year’s Eve celebrations to distract everyone.” Seriously? A New Year’s party would distract us? “She’s a stranger to almost everybody and we’re raped out, remember?” Someone else told me, “Watch, they’ll pack her off somewhere. That way protestors don’t have a place to attack.” Later that day, it was announced that the Delhi rape survivor was being sent to Singapore for treatment on Thursday morning.
Today, there are confirmed reports that she has died.
Usually, when I hear rumours that seem true-ish, I put them up here. It’s partly because I’m all for circulating information, but also because it’s worth keeping track of how much slips between the cracks and how long it takes for news to reach us. I didn’t this time for one simple reason: I chose to be in denial, as though not writing out those reports would make them less real. I just didn’t want it to be true. Had this woman survived, it’s not as though life would have been easy. Doctors had to remove her intestine and the psychological impact of these traumatic incidents would have presented enormous, painful challenges in her everyday life. This is probably why an idiot (woman) parliamentarian said that if she survived, her life would be like that of a living corpse. But there was something about this woman — a determination? a grittiness that women wished in themselves and saw in her as she gave her statement from her hospital bed, battling terrible pain — that made us wish for her survival. It seemed like she could be one of those rare, amazing women who are not broken by the rape or the rapists.
And I suppose she wasn’t. She did, after all, fight her injuries and infections enough to give a detailed statement that is elaborate enough to nail the six bastards who raped her. I just wished she’d actually survived, not just in words and in spirit.
Let’s hope we don’t run out of things to say.
Edited to add: In case you were somehow unmoved by the death, here’s an article that was written just before she died. In it, the reporter talks to the woman’s younger brother. He’s 19. Selected excerpts:
The first time he saw a pseudonym flashing on TV, he says he raised the issue with doctors and some police personnel. “I thought the channel in question had got my sister’s name wrong, because they said ‘Damini’s condition is deteriorating’ — they addressed her like that. I was reassured from the first day that our names, my sister’s name would not come out. I was furious,” he says.
He has since learnt the ropes, even the terms for it. “Somebody explained to me it is a phenomenon known as personification. I don’t like it, but they say she is the face of a movement,” he says.
The flood of relatives and neighbours has not made things smooth either. “People want to know what she said, what she wrote in notes, how long she had known her male friend, who was accompanying her. Relatives want us to ask doctors if she will be able to get married and have children. My parents have become tired of answering questions,” he says.
Politicians have gone so far as to seek a meeting with the girl. “There is a risk of infection, we have said that repeatedly. But the requests continue to pour,” a senior administrative official at Safdarjung Hospital said.
Meanwhile, the family’s efforts are concentrated on keeping the victim as guarded from the hue and cry as possible. While she wants the accused to be hanged, the brother says, she is also scared.
“She does not know her intestines have been removed. She doesn’t even know the extent of the public outcry,” says the brother. “Even when her friends or relatives come to visit, she asks us how much they know. When she hears of politicians coming, she gets scared. She keeps asking my mother if she has told anyone what happened.”