I haven’t met Suzette Katrina Jordan in person although I would love to. As a Kolkatan and as a woman I know how much courage it takes to do what she is doing. So while talking to her over the phone from Dubai I was not at all surprised by her conviction. “I have always questioned every norm and never accepted anything just because it is the system,” said Suzette in an intense voice.
So it is obvious why Suzette decided to fight for her dignity after she was gang raped on February 5, 2012 on Park Street at gunpoint inside a car. Although after the incident, for the last one and a half year her life has been a constant battle, Suzette feels that being called “the Park Street rape victim” was the greatest sham, the worst nightmare she had lived.
She tells me why she wanted to reclaim her identity and how her life has been since she did so…
“A TV channel unethically showed most of my face and gave out my address and my father’s name so many people actually knew I was the Park Street rape victim”
I see no reason to hide my face behind a dupatta when most people in my neighbourhood know that I was the one raped on Park Street and I have been tolerating their stares for the last 16 months. I am the victim and I have done nothing wrong then why should I hide my face every time I talk on TV or go to a procession? I was finding this absolutely ridiculous.
“Since I have revealed my identity I have been getting more threats”
Since I revealed my identity and came on TV the threat calls have gone up manifold. Only a few days back someone in the locality told a family member: Apni oi Park Steet er meyetar barir lok na? Okey bolben ektu chepey jetey, khuub lafalafi korcchey. (Aren’t you from that Park Street girl’s family? Tell her to step back she creating a bit too much of noise.)
“I am in a lot of financial crisis but I will never accept any kind of compensation from the rapists”
Even before the incident happened I was going through a tough financial situation because the small data-entry-cum-call centre business that I was running with my sister had gone bust because two employees had run away with all our money. Then after this incident I went looking for work through an NGO. People somehow understood that I was the “one from Park Street” and never gave me a job. My confidence reached an all-time low along with my finances. There were days when there was nothing to eat at home. I felt so ashamed to ask for help from my friends or family.
My friends, who often dropped in, understood my predicament and bought me food and groceries. This was the time when I was repeatedly offered big money and out-of-the court settlement but I cannot imagine living on that dirty money. I want justice, I want to see those men behind bars.
“It is amazing how some people have given me more respect than ever before”
My teenage daughters have been the pillar of my strength. Happily enough I have not seen any change in the attitude of their friends towards me. I used to be very friendly with them and whenever I go to their school now they still greet me with the same warmth and respect. In fact, the principal of my daughters’ school, with whom I have had a difference of opinion many times, have been so supportive. Also I am grateful to my lawyers who are fighting my case for free and are working so hard just to give me justice.
“I think my single parent status has often gone against me”
Since the incident happened, the fact that I am a divorced single parent has been looked upon as a crime. But no one has appreciated the fact that I have been dignified enough not to tell people the reason for my divorce (which she tells me is domestic violence) and draw sympathy from it.
“It is absolutely ridiculous that Ma Durga is worshipped with such fervor in Kolkata”
I have grown up in Kolkata and while we were teenagers, we could wear anything we wanted to, go anywhere we wanted to. Now every woman is constantly judged for what she is wearing, where she is going, whom she is befriending. On top of that, from the autowallah to the boss at the workplace you are taken for granted. Only recently I was screamed at by an autowallah because I didn’t have Rs 1 change. When I retorted people around me said, “Choley jaan. Ei shober modhye porcchen keno? (Better leave, why are you getting involved in all this.) This is the attitude that is killing us.
Then you are molested everyday on public transport, your breasts are touched, your derriere is pinched. It’s a nightmare. So much brutality is happening to women in Kolkata and in the suburbs but still people in power say these are one-off incidents. I wonder what they say when a four-year-old girl is raped? Do they ask if she was drunk? Or do they ask if she was a prostitute? I am not fighting against the government because governments come and go. My question is why can’t women expect some basic rights in a place like Kolkata where Ma Durga supposedly reigns?
“My daughters will never get the freedom which we got as young girls”
If my daughters want to go to the movies I say no because I am always worrying for them. If they come home five minutes late I break into a sweat. I never remembered my parents being so tense all the time. For starters Kolkata is not the same anymore. On top of that they have a mother who has decided not to keep her mouth shut. So as a consequence I am curtailing their freedom because sometimes I am scared for them.
“I wonder if there will be any real change”
I have been blessed to have come in touch with so many amazing people who have been supporting my fight and believe in change. But what worries me is that no concrete step is being taken by the people in power. Like I believe there can be more stringent policing or monitoring. But the good thing is there has been an awakening and women are willing to fight for their rights.
“Indian women are very strong they just need the push”
In India, anything happens to a woman and you are expected to hide. Talking about it is complete taboo. If she talks about the injustices that happened to her then she has to face the flak. I think it is very important that we talk about these things and sensitize the next generation about it. Just because we don’t talk people are harbouring all kinds of botched-up notions and acting accordingly.
“I wonder if I can ever go back to a Park Street disco to dance”
I have always loved dancing and music is my life. I really enjoyed going to the disco with my friends, I enjoyed dressing up. All that has changed for me now. I don’t think I will ever be able to go back to a disco because it will bring back my trauma. I have felt really uncanny the couple of times I have been on Park Street in the last 16 months. But at least one thing has changed for me. I have a name again. People don’t call me the “Park Street rape victim” anymore.
Suzette currently works for a helpline counseling victims of violence.