Delhi: Darkness to Light, December 16, 2012.
March 25, 2013
By Bill Sundhu
I landed in New Delhi on the night of December 16th, 2012 – a night of infamy. It was my first visit to India after 18 years. Our family histories and ties are in India and it was to be a journey of exploring ancestral places and roots for the first time with our daughter and son. India has that pull. It is inescapable, powerful and profoundly personal. I remember how dark and eerily quiet the streets and gated shops appeared, on the drive through the city to our hotel – it was as if it had been abandoned and devoid of life – a remarkable contrast to the teeming crowds and intensity of daytime Delhi.
That same night, a 23 year old physiotherapy student – Jyoti Singh Pandey – was returning home after having gone out to watch the movie “Life of Pi” with a male companion. I had seen that movie one week prior to landing in India. It was a brilliant and moving film; at a poignant moment the main character submits and utters to heaven, “I surrender. What do you want from me?!” It is a profound question posed by men and women, through the ages. And yet, Jyoti Singh Pandey, did not submit – she fought against her assailants and for her life afterwards in the hospital. She was the victim of an unimaginably brutal and horrific rape by six men on a Delhi bus. She succumbed to her injuries and died on December 29th.
In the days to follow, I found it unbearable to drive by landmarks associated with that horrible night – the mall where she’d seen the movie, Safdarjung hospital, the bus stop where she’d been picked up, or the roadway where her and companion’s stripped and abused bodies had been dumped and no-one had stopped to assist for over an hour, and where police officers callously left them laying on the ground as they argued over who had jurisdiction.
On the night of December 22nd, we were trapped in central Delhi – the authorities had shut down roads and metro stations in and out of the city core – lathi-bearing police officers grinned as we tried to navigate our ways around steel barriers and the young protestors trying to make their way to Raisina Hill. A national symbol, India Gate, and the historic Jantir Mandir had also been closed off by the police wielding lathis and lobbing tear-gas canisters the day before.
The days and weeks to follow were equally painful, disturbing, remarkable and hope inspiring. I am lawyer and former judge somewhat hardened by 30 years in the criminal courts of Canada. I am well-traveled and have witnessed, more than a few times, the gut-wrenching plight of fellow human beings. None of that had prepared me for the depth of anguish one could feel during that time in India.
Much has been written about the brutal crime and does not need repeating. A few observations, however:
• Patriarchy: India is a highly male-dominated society and a deep, long change must necessarily occur in evolving society at large away from patriarchy;
• The Indian political class, judiciary, lawyers, and police must be accountable for their indifference, complacency, sexism and corruption;
• Caste: sexism and sexual violence must not be framed, as was by some, to define the victim as a middle-class. Sexual violence and discrimination is rampant against lower and scheduled caste women;
• Religious and cultural leaders that frame “honour” based on a woman’s “chastity” must be challenged and denounced. Rape victims do not “shame” their families and community; the rapists do – and, so-called leaders must begin to say so;
• Indian Women’s & Feminist Movements: They are second to none and they are heroic. India does not lack for intelligent, articulate, incredibly courageous or forceful voices of women. The discourse in media and on the street by Indian women and feminists was incredibly impressive and insightful. Indian feminists may need solidarity and transnational support; they do not need the misguided, self-righteous, and sometimes superior sounding advice of western women or commentators;
• Patriarchy and imperialist-colonial attitudes both need to be challenged and eradicated;
• Death penalty: I am opposed to the death penalty, including for rapists. Justice is too often imperfect and unequal. Death penalty may also render it harder to obtain convictions against accused rapists.
No doubt there are complex socio-economic, political and historical factors underlying violence and sexism as against women. And, no doubt, India has a serious problem that has been brought into acute focus by the brutal and dehumanizing crimes committed against Jyoti Singh Pandey in Delhi and against women daily across the wide expanse of India. The fact that women, men and especially young people took to the streets and on social media in massive numbers all across India to vent their fury against society and their rulers was inspiring – unprecedented in modern times and issues – and, perhaps, the awakening of a more democratic and humanist spirit. It felt so much like:
“If I do not speak, then who will…if our leaders and police do not ask or view her
as someone’s daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend…and, above all, a human being; then who will?
I must speak…I will stand up, I will fight.”
And, that causes me to believe in the spirit and action of the people of India. India just might be on the move in more ways than one…from the night of darkness towards the light.
This is my first Blog posting. I hope to embrace and write about things that matter: human rights, culture, law and politics, the free play of the mind, the dearness of one’s friends, our shared humanity, and look into the true Heart of Justice.
I hope you will enjoy reading and sharing your responses.