How many went to bed that night with the same questions?
What kind of human does this to another?
How could they beat her so brutally?
How brazen to think they could get away with it?
Meanwhile, the younger of my teenage daughters wants to celebrate the end of her exams by going out with friends for dinner to the same mall where the previous night the 23-year-old student had gone to see Life of Pi (did she like it? Did she get a lump in her throat in the same parts that I did?).
I don’t know how to tell my daughter that the medical student now battling for her life had cleared every check-mark on my precautions list. She was accompanied by a male friend. She had taken public transport. She had her cell phone with her. It was not late at night. She was just a girl trying to get back home after a movie.
On social media, on the streets, on news channels and in newspapers, everywhere a slow-burning rage is building. People have taken to the streets, at India Gate, outside the home minister’s house, outside the Delhi chief minister’s residence, in Chandigarh and in Mumbai. People who are just saying “Enough”.
As a journalist I am trained to distance myself from the story; to remain objective. I have never participated in a candlelight vigil. I have never drafted a petition demanding change. I almost never sign chain letters. But now I felt helpless and angry. I needed to believe that we have not given up and reached a point of no return.
On Twitter, writer Kiran Manral suggests an online petition. What good would that do I wonder? But, I begin writing.
Stop Rape Now, I write on change.org in a petition to the President of India and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. It outlines practical solutions, short-term and long. I don’t own this petition. It is a manifesto of the collective voices I hear.
Fast-track courts. Imposition of the maximum sentence. Clear all pending cases. Train and sensitise police.
Get Parliament to stop weeping before TV cameras and pass at least two pending bills, including the Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill and the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill.
Consult with the Ministry of Human Resources and civil society to see how to tackle growing misogyny. It’s a beginning.
Writing is cathartic. But this petition (http://www.change.org/en-IN/petitions/president-cji-stop-rape-now) has tapped into a simmering anger. In just over 24 hours, we hit 59,000 signatures. Some add suggestions from castration to the death penalty. Others voice their personal histories.
There are sceptics: “Signing a petition is going to stop rape? I take it you only read fairy tales?” questioned one. “What is the point of this online activism?” asked another.
Raheel Khursheed of change.org has some answers: “We are trying to enable an attitudinal change so that lack of interest in issues turns to engagement and then to action.” According to change.org, in November, a petition started by Sunita Kesara resulted in the shutting down of asphalt factories in Karauli, Rajasthan. In March, a petition by Ranganathan Manohar of Bangalore resulted in the banning of discriminatory practices by a temple.
In Sandy Hook, USA, it took the killing of 26 people to get the president to talk about gun control. In Ireland, it took the death of Savita Halappanavar to relax abortion laws, especially when the mother’s life is at risk. In India, will this horrific gang-rape become our tipping point?
Sometimes a tragedy hits you so hard, it knocks you back, leaving you out of breath, helpless, flailing. This was somebody else’s daughter. She could have been mine, or yours. On Wednesday, still on a ventilator, she scribbled a note to her mother: “Mummy I want to live.”
A terrible thing happened to a girl who was trying to get back home after a movie. To not respond or speak or rage or demand change would make us less than human.
Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.