The Nirbhaya gang-rape case shook the country, unveiling the reality of the situation in India. It has been five years since and India has yet to overcome the ruthlessness of that incident. At a recent event held for Women's Day, the ex-Karnataka DGP, HT Sangliana made a comment on how women should surrender when faced by an attacker, in the presence of Asha Devi, Nirbhaya's mother. Not only did he offer some disturbing advice; but, he backed it up with a comment on Asha Devi's physique. He said, “I see Nirbhaya’s mother, she has such a good physique. I can just imagine how beautiful Nirbhaya would have been.”
After everything that Asha Devi and by an extension, every woman in the country has gone through, this comment did not go down well with India. When you spend years trying to empower women, a person of authority being this shallow feels like a kick in the gut. Maybe this is why we need better authority figures, who honestly care about the cause and don't just use it as a medium to stay in the good books.
Outraged by his insensitivity, Asha Devi penned down an open letter to the man, HT Sangliana. It read as follows:
"When you commented on my physique, you did not think twice about the inappropriateness of it – in fact, you thought nothing of further associating it with the beauty of my daughter Jyoti, who is no longer alive, who died such a brutal death.
But after making these abominable comments, your advice to young girls is what crossed all limits, I feel. You said that if someone overpowers you, then what a girl should do at that moment is surrender, because at least that way, she will live."
Not only did Sangliana offer the most sexist advice, he also repeated what we've been hearing all these years. Fix ourselves, instead of asking the men to not rape.
Asha Devi continued, "Not only did you disrespect the fight that my daughter put up in those monstrous moments, you also displayed the sick, patriarchal attitudes of our society at large. My daughter’s rapists too had expressed a similar thought – how they could not tolerate the fact that she was fighting back. It is indeed a matter of great shame that the thinking of the so-called caretakers of society such as yourself and the thinking of the criminals, seem to me, to be exactly the same.
You are perpetuating the same regressive attitudes we’ve been living with all our lives as women, telling girls again and again, that they must remain weak, that no matter what, they must keep making compromises with the ugly situations they find themselves in. And when someone forces himself on you, you must make your peace with it so that he deigns to spare you, your life.
In the end, I would also like to ask you if the same advice should be given to our Indian soldiers too? Shall we say to them, those who protect our borders day and night, that the next time you are attacked, you must throw up your arms, and surrender? At least our soldiers’ lives will be saved."
First published in The Scroll, this open letter has touched a cord with every girl who has ever heard comments about 'asking for it'. India has gone too far with victim blaming, further propagating the trauma. And we are glad we found a voice in Asha Devi.
If you have to absolutely read anything at all today, let it just be this one open letter!
Image Courtesy: DNA