Yesterday, the Supreme Court of India dismissed the petition filed by the Delhi Commission for Women and refused to stay the release of the juvenile convicted in 2012 Delhi gang rape case. This sober reflection on rehabilitative justice didn’t make me feel less conflicted. But glad this bill was passed.
Another judgement was pronounced by a court in Haryana. Judge Seema Singhal awarded the death sentence to seven men in the 2015 Haryana gang rape case. Among other things, she said, “We refuse to accept the names Nirbhaya and Damini given to us. Why should we be denied of our own real identity? We are proud of our identity and individuality and nobody has a right to take it away from us…”
As a teenager, I resented having to ring my parents after a late night anywhere to let them know that I was safe. I was with friends. I was going to be fine. So-and-so had a car and was taking us all back. We weren’t ignorant, no, that’s not what made us bulletproof. Like many, we just convinced ourselves that it wasn’t going to happen to us. We were lucky.
As an adult, I rage quietly. My anger is too visceral, too bodily to find refuge in or be contained by any utterance, and even at its most pointed, when it is white-hot and needle sharp, it articulates itself wordlessly.
Because there is no word for what happened to my mother when she was a teenager and was abused by a “harmless” relative. Because no words can begin to cover what my brother felt like when he was abused by a “friendly” neighbour, when he was a child. Because when my best friend was abused by her driver, who was “practically family”, she couldn’t speak about it for many years. It wasn’t because she lacked a supportive environment or understanding parents, you see. It just took her the years it did.
Safety has become a luxury when it should be a right. And relief’s twin is guilt which makes some apologise constantly for what they haven’t gone through. Angers meld in protest, but communion in pain is at once, real and unreal. Because no one’s wounds are the same. Because shame and fear cling to our bodies, which have memories of their own.
Yet when we are flooded with narratives of violence that are mythologised (not just by the media), we resist. For ourselves and for the unseen and the unheard for whom unthinkable forms of assault are routine. We fail, from time to time, but don’t want to.
What does humane justice look like? Can it ever be fair to everyone, really? How do we, as a society, play our part in righting the law so that we don’t build palaces on dung heaps?