At 6 pm yesterday, a gangrape took place in central Mumbai. News of this terrible incident reached us a few hours later, after the young woman — a photojournalist — was taken to a hospital and reports of her rape appeared in a couple of city publications. (See here and here.) Predictably and understandably, outrage swelled through social media. Along with expressions of shock, horror, grief and disbelief, there was also curiosity.
It seems everyone wants to know what precisely happened and to whom it happened. How old is she? Where does she work? What was she wearing? How many people raped her? Where was she raped? How long did they rape her? What did her companion do? What kind of work makes a ‘girl’ go walking around an area ‘known’ to be frequented by drug addicts? So great was the curiosity that some, thinking themselves the Indian Twitter equivalent of Wikileaks, decided to let their followers know details about the raped woman. After a few minutes, better sense prevailed and the tweets were deleted, but hashtags and retweets remain.
Perhaps it’s understandable. This is a horrific, shocking incident and it’s easy for paranoid minds to confuse curiosity with perverseness and/or voyeurism.
So I’m here to answer the regular questions.
Yesterday evening, at around 6pm, I was gang raped. I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t drunk, I wasn’t provocatively dressed. I was doing what most people do at that hour: I was working. I’d done everything that girls and women are told to do in order to stay safe – it wasn’t dark, a male colleague was with me, I wasn’t in a particularly disreputable part of town – and it didn’t help. I was raped by five men and then left there, at the site of the crime.
You can find out all about me – where I work, what I like, who I know – by putting my name in Google. I also tweet a lot, so going through my Twitter timeline will give you many details about me. If you want to know what I look like, do an image search with my full name or look in Facebook.
Now that you’ve got all you need to imagine the gangrape better, I have a few questions for which I’d love answers.
The Mumbai Police has rounded up nine suspects, which is heartening, but this incident isn’t over even if my rapists are among those nine. How long before the guilty are caught and sentenced? Tell me about the men who did this to me. How old are they? What do they do? Why did they think that a woman is fair game for rape? Did they enjoy it? Have they raped other women? How did they think that they could get away with raping me? What did they do afterwards? Are they actually going to get away with it?
Perhaps it’s because the woman who was raped yesterday is a journalist, or because I’m often walking through unbustling streets at and after 6pm, or because reports of rape are becoming way too regular, but this latest incident feels like radioactive lead in my blood.
I, like every woman in Mumbai, have held on desperately to the hope that women are safe in this city. Yesterday, that faith was brutally violated. I was not subjected to the terrible ordeal that the young woman suffered, but the rapists made me and every other working woman in Mumbai bleed when they gangraped one of our tribe.
The dictionary defines ‘victim’ as a person who has been “harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action.” The journalist who was gang raped yesterday has been seriously injured, but she’s no victim. She's given the police enough details for them to be able to round up suspects. She has valour and strength and all our prayers for a complete recovery of body and spirit. She is a survivor, I am a victim. As are thousands of women who aren’t safe in a country that demands of them patriotism, sacrifices and taxes.
It might have been better if we were numbed by the constant reports of violence committed against women, but I’m not immune to the toxicity of rape yet. So I have one question: where is a woman safe in India?
Statistics tell us the largest percentage of sexual predators in India lurk within family and close friends, so homes are dangerous spaces. The streets are unsafe even when it’s light and you have company. Public transport is the least secure because curtained by crowds, sexual harassment is painfully easy. Private transport is so fraught with danger that certain car models are popularly known as ‘rape-mobiles’.
So where would you have us women go?
No, I wasn’t really raped yesterday. It was someone else, but I’m making this about me not just because I’m sickened by voyeurism masquerading as debate, but also because these crimes inflict physical suffering upon one woman but are committed against all women in this city and country. It is personal. It could have been any one of us. It happened to her, yes, but a tiny fraction of her experience was felt by all of us working women in India.
What would you have us do to be and feel safe?
To the police, the legal system, the political establishment, the men who think women are fair game for rape and the people who foster rapists: what will you do to make sure we’re not violated again and again and again?