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Why There Can Be No Justice For Jisha


Remember the Dalit girl being dragged through the streets of Muktsar? And Pushpa and Murti, the Dalit teenaged girls in Badaun in 2014 whose rape and hanging was referred to by the shocked Western media as India’s Mango tree case? A case that was dismissed by CBI director Ranjit Sinha with this statement, “Our probe found that the two girls had committed suicide and weren’t murdered.”

The ‘probe’ also claimed that the girls had not been “sexually assaulted or raped” and cited the authority of the Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD) in Hyderabad, to establish this ‘fact.’ And the North-Eastern girl who was picked up with stunning impunity in a Bangalore street recently and while being molested, was told, “you are a whore?” A few years ago, while writing a follow-up piece on the murder of a North-Eastern boy in a city hostel, I had asked my students from the North-East just what kind of challenges they face in a city that does not for most part feel like home. Most girls had said that cars slowed down if they were walking alone and it was common to be asked, “So what is your rate?”

Home owners, I learnt,  did not rent out homes to “chinkis” as they ofcourse did drugs and invited boys home. And well, remember the Tanzanian girl who was stripped by a mob in Bangalore in February this year? Remember also the victims of the Nithari murders? And we have asked this question before…remember the name of even one of the children who were killed? Or the names of the Shopian victims in Kashmir?

What is the point of these disjointed beginning and questions? That in India, crimes are more brazen if the victims come without a blanket of financial and social privilege. And our responses to crimes are decided by just how close to the bone they are. Can you imagine the outrage if the Muktsar victim had been an upper caste girl and was dragged out of her office in the middle of the day and violated by a Dalit or a man of another caste or religion altogether? If the Badaun girls were daughters of a powerful village elder? If the Shopian girls were daughters of a government official posted in Kashmir? If what happened and continues to happen to North-Eastern girls in India routinely happened to Indian women in other countries where the locals may not have problems with “chinky” eyes but may not like the way we sweat and smell and dress and speak English or cook? Imagine also if an Indian girl was stripped by a Tanzanian boy in Bangalore after an altercation.
So yes, our reactions to a crime are very much determined by which rung of the power hegemony in society we are sitting pretty on.

What happened to Jisha, the law student in Kerala, whether we believe it or not, is neither unique nor unprecedented in India. Brutal rapes of women in conflict hit regions like the North-East, in Kashmir, in the many remote Indias that seem to have fallen off the map of our collective consciousness are everyday occurrences. And we don’t hear of them because we are not supposed to. And no, the Nirbhaya case did not hit the headlines and capture our media spaces and our horrified imagination only because she was like us.

Regardless of her caste, she was from a family that had known no privilege. She lived in a lower middle class area of the national capital and her father had to sell his only asset, a little piece of land to fund her dreams. What made news was not that she was raped but how she was raped. The entrails and the rod became a symbol of unspeakable courage and cowardice and the assertion of brute power over a woman who had dared to fight back. Like one of the rapists told  Leslee Udwin, “If only she had not fought back…” And because the details of the rape were so widely shared, they reached also those who were titillated by the possibilities of inflicting the same kind of brute power on a woman. The same, “Let us teach her a lesson,” symbolism was repeated with Jisha. An Uber driver in Delhi raped  a woman last year and threatened that he would do to her what was done to Nirbhaya.

Rape is a complex crime that has gender questions and most importantly, the idea of power and subjugation wrapped up in it. The notions of power can come from caste, from just the fact of having male genitals. In the news is also Sonali Murmu, a 30-year-old student who was found dead near a college gate in Jharkhand, with her hands cut off. The main suspect is a stalker she has known from school. Someone who could not hear and accept a loud and clear, ‘No.’
This inability to allow a “lesser being,” the right to assert the right to life and living on their own terms is what rape is all about. And Jisha’s rape and murder like Nirbhaya’s is about the assertion of entitlement and power and manhood and sexuality. Why did we not respond to the crime the way we responded to  Nirbhaya? Because the media was slow in picking up the facts like it always is when the story is not an instant click bait and has instead unfolded in Nithari or Muktsar or Shopian or Kerala.
The idea of “otherness” and distance extends not just to gender violence but to the disdain that a Kanhaiya attracts when he challenges the constructs of caste and power-based politics. It extends to a Rohith Vemula who was hounded out because he did not have the clout to fight back administrative bullying. It extends to inclusive universities like the JNU, to FTII, to any educational institution that resists the imposition of caste and religion coloured diktats. It extends to the way our religious gurus and our politicians woo as well as represent the privileged. To the way a Soni Sori is hounded for fighting for tribal rights in Bastar. It is good though that caste is now occupying an important place in our social and political discourse. And that we are seeing the night soil cleaners, the sewage workers, the garbage collectors in our news streams. Can there ever be any justice for Jisha? Or Somali Murmu? Or Pushpa and Murti? Or Thangjam Manorama Devi? Or the three Latawa sisters who hung themselves driven by their parents’ relentless desire to have sons in Chandigarh more than a decade ago? Or for Ruchika Girhotra?
Or any of the nameless victims of violence engendered by power in any form? We can only stop pointing fingers and see how WE facilitate and condone the misuse of power. How WE enjoy with impunity the privileges that come with caste, money or entitlement of one kind or another. Because when we start becoming accountable for what we see and ignore, it will be less difficult for the mainstream media and its brokers to distract us from the stories that really matter.
Reema Moudgil is the editor and co-founder of Unboxed Writers, the author of Perfect Eight, the editor of  Chicken Soup for the Soul-Indian Women, a  translator who recently interpreted  Dominican poet Josefina Baez’s book Comrade Bliss Ain’t Playing in Hindi, an  RJ  and an artist who has exhibited her work in India and the US and is now retailing some of her art at http://paintcollar.com/reema. She won an award for her writing/book from the Public Relations Council of India in association with Bangalore University, has written for a host of national and international magazines since 1994 on cinema, theatre, music, art, architecture and more. She hopes to travel more and to grow more dimensions as a person. And to be restful, and alive in equal measure.

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