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RIP dear Light of our current lives

Very busy Sunday– writing and rewriting this piece in between hospital visits– don’t ask. At first, I included her name in the article.  As my editor said, what’s the point of asking them to name a law after her if we can’t mention her name.  My husband read this piece pre-publication and suggested that it wasn’t a good idea.  So removed.

A light leads the way forward from India’s crisis of conscience

Jan 7, 2013

What would Delhi’s “braveheart” have wanted? This is a question that faces India in the aftermath of the brutal rape of a student on the night of December 16.

The father of the victim revealed her name to The Sunday People newspaper in the UK on Saturday. “My daughter didn’t do anything wrong; she died while protecting herself,” her father told the newspaper. “I am proud of her. Revealing her name will give courage to other women who have survived these attacks. They will find strength from my daughter.”

More prescient words in the face of tragedy have rarely have been spoken. For far too long, and in too many cultures, victims of rape have had to shoulder the blame.

In many countries, laws grant victims anonymity, ostensibly to protect them and allow them to move on with their lives. But such protection also implies a certain culpability – “she invited it” – that is unusual with regard to the victims of other crimes.

The unspoken attitude is that women who have been raped – and the victims are usually women – are somehow different from the victims of other crimes. Attitudes in many societies, and not just in India, have a pejorative edge when it comes to rape.

In revealing his daughter’s name, the father was not just being brave. He may well change the course of Indian lawmaking and attitudes towards women. Certainly, his courageous action may break the stigma about naming victims, which still restrains journalists in India, including myself in this article, from naming this 23-year-old woman in print.

Politicians have gone on the record saying some very stupid things. One ventured that rape happens only in cities, not in rural India, which is absolutely absurd. On tea plantations and in villages, women are often molested by their bosses or even relatives. Others have made crass comments about how rape is a modern phenomenon. Also untrue, and idiotic to boot.

Naturally, these comments have been made by men. The good news is that such commentators have been mocked by Indians of every stratum. Protests and calls for more stringent laws against rape continue everyday. India, it seems, has finally risen in unison.

I am not 23, but I am a woman in India and, like most, I have experienced sexual harassment in a multitude of shades: in public and private, from relatives and strangers, on roads and in rooms, through word and deed. I am familiar with the sexual innuendo, taunts and threats that fall under the misleading phrase “Eve teasing”.

But my experiences are mere specks when compared to the scale of this tragedy. India is a minefield for women – as the mother of two daughters, I worry about this every day. It could have been any of us taking a bus home that night after watching a movie.

What would this woman have wanted? I believe that she would have wanted what her father has done: she would have wanted her name to be revealed. The nebulous way in which she has been described by the Indian media and public for so long is insulting given how much we know about the crime.

Some media call her nir bhaya, which means “without fear” in Hindi, when in fact she was probably terrified. They have called her Amanat, which means “treasure”, which she certainly was: a treasured daughter, sister and friend. They call her Damini, or bold, which she may have been. But it shouldn’t be an act of courage for a woman, with a friend, to take a bus in Delhi at 9.30pm.

The law is taking its course in this case with a speed that is unusual for India. People from all walks of life continue to protest in India’s unsafe streets. Politicians are half-heartedly crafting policy to make India safer – and keep the protesters at bay.

Given that her father has revealed her name, lawmakers have a new, powerful option. This woman could be honoured by a new stringent law on behalf of all Indian women. There is a precedent: in the United States, Megan’s Law and Amber Alert are named after children who were abducted and murdered.

If done right, and with a great deal of sensitivity, a similar law named after this young woman – a light who has been extinguished in our society – would be a step towards making our country safe. All Indians, both men and women, need such a collective conscience.

Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India: a memoir



  1. My spouse and I stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I may as well check things out.
    I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward to exploring your web page for a second time.


  2. You know everyone is focussing only on the attackers. Yes I agree the attackers should be punished (even by death if the courts so judge) for their horrible crime. But nobody is focussing on the other aspects. For example this girl had taken a private chartered bus which at the time was only having the 4-5 guys who were obviously drunk. Secondly it was around 930pm at night and Munirka is not the best area in that time of night. Also it was the bus driver who called the girl saying the bus was going to Dwarika so actually that girl was waiting on the bus stop for a regular bus and now this private bus stops and 4-5 guys are in it and the driver calls to her to say “Hey I am going to Dwarika, only Rs. 10, want to come”? Any self-respecting girl should know such an offer is best to be **refused**. Best is they should have taken a call taxi or government taxi at least there will only be one driver. The very fact that an educated and knowledgeable girl got into such a bus is a very sad starting point for her final night of horror and death.

    No I am not saying it is the girls fault. All I am saying is it is also up to us girls to exercise our judgement so such horrible things don’t happen to us. Try to travel in groups or at least be watchful of your surroundings. Otherwise no law and no police and no government can save you.


  3. Timely and well intended, but not, I’m afraid, effective as reportage or policy.

    Attitudes are “pejorative” (comments “made by men”) – unfair portrayals. Rape is, legally and universally – not just India, a question of consent, so all rape cases net down to “she invited it” versus “he intended it”. To suggest that some societies (or Indian societies) lean towards “invited” is grossly incorrect.

    You should also know that IPC 375 (Indian Rape Law) is one of broadest laws on this subject. Under this law, consent is very strictly defined from the POV victim *as well* as vicarious elements about the victim. It also explicitly defines “gang rape” and rape in custody – not commonly found in other laws of other countries.

    The problem in India is with the enforcement of the law. This problem is as old as the hills, whether it is bribery or extortion or cheating or rape or murder. Collective conscience is the best solution, but it will take the longest and hardest time to get there.

    Megan’s law and AMBERAlert are very silly in Indian context. Recordkeeping in India (whether it is taxes or Aadhar or health records or taxes or 3G) is already inefficient and overburdened. And everyone knows the poor state of signage (for basic things like roads and parks and community developments). Suggesting Megan’s law, or a variant of it, in India i.e. for registration/notification is really putting the cart before the horse. Same applies for AMBERAlerts under India’s generally state of communications infrastructure. Note I am not saying Megan/Amber are silly laws, I am just saying India is not ready for them yet so the suggestion that these laws will bite crime is what is silly.

    Surprising that, per your Monsoon book, when the New York cabbie and the two amorous passengers blew kisses and called you Miss India you called it a “New York moment”, but a cat call from an Indian street vendor is eve teasing? (Classic case of “Krishna kare to chamatkar, hum kare to balatkar”!)

    I am not being facetious with above. The most serious problem with Indian eve-teasing law (500x and 390 if I recall) is the definition for what constitutes “outrage of modesty”. My point here is that strengthening or augmenting the law is not the solution. It’s necessary to unequivocate the problem. The current general solution of empowered community groups like BlankNoise is the best solution.

    The best thing to do for public figures like yourself is to further the empowerment of such community groups by getting more communication (do a podcast, website, whatever), more funding and more link up with local law enforcement.

    I realize, somewhat painfully, that this post will attract some dumbwit comments calling me an apathetic India-bashing misogynistic nut. But as an Indian and husband and brother I am dead serious about the gravity of these problems and determined to do everything possible to make this a better world for our mothers/sisters/wives everywhere.

    Jai Mata Di


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