Friday, February 03, 2006

Questions, questions

How do you react to a man who is lying in hospital, minus three limbs?

How are you supposed to look when you step into the government hospital's trauma ward? Are you supposed to look extra-cheery, or deferentially sombre? Are you supposed to sit down beside him, and talk of the incident, in great detail, or are you going to stand awkwardly, say commiserating nothings and then go away, because... what can anyone say anyway, under the circumstances?

And what do you do when the man begins to sing? When you can see he's still a relatively young man, with only the first few lines forming on his forehead. A still-young man with a lean, tanned body, eight children, a strong sense of pride, and a strong, singing voice? What do you say when he sings an old pheri-wala's song: a woman's song, telling the bangle-seller to go away and peddle his wares elsewhere, because the man is dead, and his wife cannot buy these bangles.

How do you react when you meet his daughter, a girl who was gang-raped when she was still a schoolgirl? What sort of questions are you supposed to ask?

There was one part of me that didn't want to meet these people. That part was hoping that they'd (whoever 'they' were) protect the girl from people like me, from a city-dwelling mediaperson who arrives with a camera and notebook and asks intrusive questions.

But ultimately, there was nobody to protect either of us - her from my questions, or me from my dilemmas.

So, I sat there in the brick-paved courtyard of the office of the CPI (M-L) Liberation (incidentally, the only political outfit who has been supporting the family and spearheading the subsequent protests), across from the girl - now married, and carrying a baby in her arms - and her mother.

The winter sun was a little too harsh, and we were squinting at each other. At first, I just sat there, pen and notebook in hand, unable to begin. The first few questions were asked by the human rights' team who was visiting the place as well. I just took notes silently, and when, during a lull in the conversation, they all looked at me, I could only ask, "How old is the baby?"

Slowly, we began to talk.
Not of the rape. Only of court decisions, appeals, convictions, testimonies. Only of the pressure from the rapist's clan to withdraw the case. Only of the consequences of her father's fight, which led to his losing both arms, and a leg. And she told me she was not going to change her statement, not for love or money - "I'm not going to sell my father's faith."

And my mind wanders to Zaheera Shiekh and her ever-changing statements.
And back again to this girl - A baby to think of. A marriage to build. A father in hospital, incapacitated for life. Seven siblings. A mother who has already suffered a paralytic attack on one side.

Where does the courage come from?

And later, writing the story, one corner of my mind was telling me leave her out of this. Don't quote her. Don't use her real name... but she's already stronger than that. She's been strong enough to stand up on a stage, during a protest rally, and speak of the rape and the aftermath. She doesn't need me to protect her anonymity. She wants justice, not anonymity.

This once, I was rescued. I was spared from grief and tertiary guilt through the courage of this man and his daughter. But I will face the same dilemma a thousand times. One corner of my mind will always heave an extended sigh of relief when I do not have to deal with the victim. When I do not have to confront the ugliness of the human race, in the form of damaged lives, bitter memories. When I do not have to ask myself questions to which there are no answers.


heretic said...

Am both ashamed and inspired at the same time. I'd have given up.

More power to the lil gal who found it in herself to fight back.

Dr. Gonzo said...

Do you want a nice sounding answer, or the seemingly rude but truthful answer?

The first one is, that girl is courageous, and her father more so.

The second one is, "We all gotta do what we gotta do. One has two options at her stage. Be courageous. Lose dad's limbs, lots of other unthinkables. Feel that you are larger than life, fighting against something that is larger than what you have understood till now from life. The other option. Forget it. Pragmatically you come out best. Your life is inertially the same. You feel ashamed of oneself. And can't fall asleep late nights."

She took the first option. Could just as easily have taken the second. It is we, the fringe observers who insist on heroism and other titles.

It is in the end, a struggle to fight one's own demons, to understand what one him/herself would have done, to placate the self. Which in turn is a fallacy. Coz when the time comes, we all gotta do what we gotta do.

smriti said...

read your article in Frontline...and a few other articles while I was on the page. There is everywhere a clamor for justice, in Bant Singh, in India's investigation of the ship full of asbestos,in the community colleges. what is frightful is that one must continually clamor for it - haggle, fight, debate, lose limbs. how selfish mere discomfort begins to feel before them. what is terrifying too is the fact that those of us who merely witness, merely report, haven't had to clamor just as much, and even if we have had to our clamors don't match up somehow.
thanks for telling us about banta singh, his daughter...i almost said, their story, but it is never a story.

m. said...


keep going :)

Anonymous said...

Aap to Badwani gayee hui theen?

Annie Zaidi said...

heretic: i think so too
prakriti: nobody insists on heroism. we'd all understand if the girl and her father shut up and went on with life, as they knew it. but the struggle to fight one's own demons is sometimes part of a larger struggle to over turn the patterns of life as we know it. that is how heroes are made.
smriti babe: that is the hardest bit of all - knowing that the clamour must continue. knowing that it's one long fight followed by another longer fight. and knowing that we are the ones who must make/amplify all that noise.
m. : thanks, and i guess i must.
adnan: gayee thi. laut bhi aayi.

Neela said...


I read your article in Frontline - extremely courageous of you to report this,I must say.

Keep it up!


Kaunquest said...

Hello, Moving, nothing more to say really. Hope to read the frontline story. Can I read it online? Could you post the link here?

Asmita said...

don't know if I am wrong or right....

one thing that all of us subconciously look for is faith of people around us. when you write with honesty and affirm your support, the person who is fighting the battle gets the courage to go on. in this case, the father had the courage to ask for justice for his daughter because he had the faith that his daughter will stand by him and she hasn't let him down.

one of the prime reasons why most of us hesitate to take action when we see injustice being commited right in front of our eyes, is that we have lost the faith in fellow beings. we fear that they will not come forward to support us. who wants to fight a losing battle, one which does not directly affect him except perhaps leaving with a sense of guilt? and it is so easy to hush the voice of shame these days.

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