Posts Tagged ‘rape’

Suzette Katrina Jordan

Suzette Katrina Jordan

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.

 

 

parents 1

 

I had the most loving, happy-go-lucky, jovial parents till I was 12-13 years, but thereafter things began to change. When I turned 12, I did not want to be accompanied by my mother when I went cycling in the lane behind our house in Kolkata but I was not allowed alone. I wanted to walk the short distance from home to Ballygunge Phari with my friends, but I was not allowed. If I went playing with friends and came home five minutes late, my parents acted like an earthquake had hit the city and I hadn’t reached home yet. Their worry translated into frequent scolding that made me angry. I just kept thinking; what are they so worried about?

At 14, when I wanted to walk the seven-minute distance from my home to South Point School, alone, I was greeted with a negative shake of head from my father. By then I had become so adamant that I put my foot down and said I was not going to school if my mom came along. They came to a compromise. They allowed me only if I went and came back with two of my female friends. They claimed they were concerned for me. I kept thinking I was a responsible girl, what were they so concerned about?

After school I wanted to join Presidency College but my father was keen on me going to the nearby girls’ college, Lady Brabourne. My father was the happiest when I took admission there, but the happiness did not last long when the admission test results were out in Presidency College. I had got through and I had my sights set on that college. My father was livid. Going to Presidency meant taking a public bus ride for almost an hour and going to a part of the city, which he felt was not at all familiar to me and also not too safe for women. My mother, however, stood by my decision and I joined Presidency College. But my mother had no clue that my joining the college would add to her stressful existence of being the mother of a daughter. Thanks to the traffic, political processions, college functions or fests, I was perpetually reaching home late. And she claimed her hair was turning grey while she waited for me on the balcony. I just did not understand what all the fuss was about as I was a grown up girl now.

drink

 

Then, when I graduated from college and started going to parties my dad drummed into my head not to accept any kind of drink from anybody at any party, “Beware, it might be spiked” was his refrain. When I went to the disco, my parents worried about the men all of whom they believed had ill intent. “If anything untoward happens what will we do?” was what they always asked me. I would say, “What nonsense, can’t I take care of myself?”

Now when I look back I think they were justified in their worry. They were prudent to know about all the beasts that lurk in every nook and cranny of our country, our city, our own homes. They knew girls in India – no matter what their age, status, class or caste – are never safe.

I wonder what my mom’s reaction has been to this news today http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/delhi/Five-year-old-girls-rape-case-Accused-arrested-in-Bihar/articleshow/19643044.cms

I am sure the paranoia she experienced in my growing-up years came back to haunt her but she’s probably glad that she doesn’t have a daughter growing up in these times.

10 things that have changed for the Indian woman.

 

Bindi

I started blogging on International Women’s Day last year and much has changed for the Indian woman since then. Some changes have been good and some bad. I list 10 of them.

1.    Violence against women has finally been acknowledged

For ages, rape, dowry deaths, domestic abuse were treated as isolated incidents that just happen sporadically in certain communities and to certain people. After the Delhi rape case it has been finally acknowledged by the Indian government that each and every woman out there risks being abused any time and something needs to be done about it. This awakening is a positive one.

2.    Helplines and apps

Special helplines and apps have come up for women which they can use in times of need. At least there is an effort to ensure safety for women. Something that was non-existent before.

3.    Women have found a united voice

For the first time in recent history so many women came together to fight against abuse. Women came out on the roads in Delhi and braved the December cold for days to protest against violence against women. The protests quickly spread to different parts of India giving all those sufferers a united voice. This has been followed up by the 1 Billion Rising movement that is expected to bring change for women the world over.

4.     Men are supporting the movement

Be it through Facebook, through blogs, through physical presence at protest marches men have also lent their voice and support. This has strengthened the women’s movement. I remember just after the Delhi rape case a policewoman on her way to work was being heckled on a Delhi public bus. Some men came to her rescue and took the culprit to the police station. This is indeed positive change.

5.    Police has been forced to register cases

After the furore caused by the Delhi rape case, no police station is likely to ever dare not register a complaint. I was reading that day a seven-year-old girl, living in a slum, was molested by her 17-year-old uncle. Her mother complained to the police and he was arrested. Earlier the mother would have definitely found it difficult to register her complaint considering her social status and nature of the complaint.

6.    Rape has become a hot topic of discussion

I was in Kolkata last month and an elderly uncle said, “These days there is so much talk about this ‘rape shape’.” (Aajkal ei rape shape niye khub lafalafi hocchey.) Rape was an issue that people rarely discussed in drawing room conversations. Now any such conversation is incomplete without it. But in this discussion there are usually people who are truly concerned and there are also people who think unnecessarily too much importance is being given to the issue and there are also people to whom this is another amusing topic apart from Bollywood and Indian politics.  Also I have noticed people of all age groups are comfortably discussing rape, something unimaginable in our Indian culture only a couple of years back.

7.    More rape cases are being reported

Either there is an increase in the number of rapes committed or now more cases are being registered and reported. But in the last three months, sadly, there are more reported cases of rape on minor girls (one as young as three years) than I have ever heard of in recent times. This makes me think that is so much talk about rape and no consequent punishment and safety network egging some people to explore the violent crime even more? Most of the minors have been raped or molested by people they know. This is a dangerous development.

8.    There is more fear among women

I was talking to a friend of mine in Kolkata and she said that after the Delhi case women feel more fear. “Whenever I take a cab I feel scared if there is a helper with him. If he suggests an alternative route or wants to take the less populated EM bypass I start panicking thinking he has some other plans. And then if I am not home at a decent time my mother starts panicking and keeps calling me to check if I am safe.” Many women are asked by their parents, guardians and husbands to get home early to avoid any “uncalled for situation”. A friend in Delhi said, “Women’s safety was always an issue here and I worried and fretted if my wife got late. But what has happened now is that the thought of rape is constantly at the top of our minds. What if… it’s a scary thought.”

9.    Indian women are perceived as the most abused by the international media

Never imagined Wall Street Journal would be interested in a small town in West Bengal called Barasat. But now they are. They have even written about how women wear long nails and pink nail polish not for beautification but to fight their abusers.

Check the article: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324616604578302620513689386.html

What they have written in the article is true but what is most interesting is the recent focus of the international media on violence against women in India. All top foreign media like The Washington Post, New York Times and The Guardian have been writing about women’s issues in India. That’s fine. But most often the tone is like India is the worst place for women. That’s unfair. If you look up statistics in Wikipedia you will see rape is probably more rampant in the US and UK than in India.  Following is an example from Wikipedia.

According to a news report on BBC One presented in November 2007, there were 85,000 women raped in the UK in the previous year, equating to about 230 cases every day. The 2006-07 British Crime Survey reports that 1 in every 200 women suffered from rape in that period. It also showed that only 800 people were convicted of rape crimes that same year, meaning that less than 1 in every 100 rape survivors were able to convict their attacker. According to a study in 2009 by the NSPCC  250,000 teenage girls are suffering from abuse at any one time.

10. Marital rape is officially not a sexual offence in India

Although women’s organizations have criticized the decision to not make marital rape a punishable offence in India I look at it this way that there are laws for dealing with domestic violence in India. Section 498A gives a woman the power to put her husband and in-laws behind the bar first and then proceed with the case. If marital rape is considered a part of domestic violence there is already a punishment in place.

 

The Guwahati incident

The Guwahati incident

Chances are you didn’t know. And even if you did you just browsed through it on the net or read it in the morning paper and moved on to TV to keep yourself abreast about what was happening after the rape of the 23-year-old girl in Delhi.

On December 7, 11 of the accused of the Guwahati molestation case have been given two years of jail term while four, including the journalist who covered the event, have been acquitted. For more details go to: http://blog.tehelka.com/guwahati-molestation-case-verdict-pricks-many-uncomfortable-questions/

But as Tehelka journo RATNADIP CHOUDHURYwrites : While the incident evoked a sharp response, it seems nobody cared about the judgment. No women rights groups were present in the court premises; there was hardly any reaction on the judgment from civil society who were up in arms to fight for proper justice for the victim. The fact that they did not bother to express their ‘happiness’ or ‘anguish’ over the judgment, makes it clear that public outcry is only immediate. The ‘national’ TV news channels only aired the judgment in ‘brief’ since it is no more the “TRP driver.”  Once again an issue from the Northeast faded out of the mainstream media mind space ‘too soon’, the disease long harped upon.

This goes on to prove that we are a flippant nation. As we observe Black Saturday today I raise a few questions:

Why are we so flippant?

India has a short public memory so it is easy to get away with anything and everything here. While it feels good that India has finally woken up to the issues surrounding women and people of all age groups and all classes have taken to the streets to join in protests not only in Delhi but all over India but the question is how long will the protests last and will there be any positive outcome?

First and foremost parents will tell their wards, “Beta don’t get involved in all this. You are safe why do you care for others? Tell what you have to say on Facebook you don’t have to venture out.” And as NDTV will move on to some new TRP-raking programme we will move with them too.

It’s a shame how the outrage we felt at the Guwahati incident fizzled out. Really, how many of us now care if two years is enough for the culprits or have we questioned why such criminals have been allowed to roam the streets on bail? And the girl, does anyone care about how she is and if she is okay? I just hope and pray the Delhi incident doesn’t die such a death.

Why are we so cowardly?

While we spring to social media with our instant reactions do we do the same when we are out on the streets?  How many of us can say that we have stood by a woman when she was being eve teased or molested? We talk, we write but when it comes to the real scenario we say, “Gosh! That’s none of my business why should I get involved?”  If the perpetrators of crimes against women knew that the public would be on the woman’s side if she raised her voice they would have thought twice before making a single move.

Let’s take it that the nation has woken up post-Delhi rape case then if I had been a journalist on the ground in India now the story that I would have done is by asking women taking public transport: Are more men coming to help when you raise a voice of protest inside a public bus or train?

A girl protesting in Delhi

A girl protesting in Delhi

Why are we so gullible?

It’s so easy to fool us. Really, believe me. The Government tried to prove that they were taking the girl out to Singapore on a six-hour flight for better treatment and we all thought they are trying to do their best. But not a single reporter asked a politician/doctor/government employee what exact treatment did they intend to give her there? Given MT Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore is the best in organ transplant but you can do a transplant on someone when that person is in a relatively stable state of health. Can you do it on a woman with her insides completely affected in septicemia? My layman’s brain says it’s not possible wonder what the docs have to say. The idea was to ensure Safdarjung Hospital docs couldn’t be blamed for her death. The poor girl has been yet another pawn in a political game.

By the way, there are 20 ministers in India with rape cases pending against them. Who are we kidding? We are pushing for capital punishment with this government?

There can only be rule of fear

Intellectuals are constantly talking about sensitization and changing of the mindset in India. It is possible but it is a long-drawn affair and can happen after 100 years. Definitely!!  What’s the immediate solution? I would say FEAR. Someone said on social media: If they sent the girl to Singapore for better treatment they should send the criminals to Saudi Arabia for better punishment.

The same Indians who pass lewd comments at women in their home country and don’t think twice before raping or molesting them don’t dare to look them in the eye in countries like Saudi Arabia or even in the UAE. Why? Because they are shit scared of the law and the police. They know one single complaint from a woman could land them in jail and end with deportation.

Capital punishment or no capital punishment there has to be fear of inevitable punishment then only women in India will be safer.

Kolkata

Women protesting against sexual violence in Kolkata. (Pic: The Hindu)

We were a bunch of enthusiastic Sociology students attending a seminar on violence against women organized by well-known NGOs of West Bengal. Inside the auditorium, people were animatedly discussing ways of averting abuse on women, while the tea counter outside buzzed with talk about a certain Trinamool leader named Mamata Banerjee, who had done an unthinkable feat, the night before.

From the snatches of conversation I gathered that some women were being trafficked into the notorious red-light area Sonagachi when they were rescued by some NGO workers and moved to a police station. The head of the NGO had called the Trinamool leader late in the night, asking if she could help in organizing the release of these hapless women from the police station. Banerjee said that she would look into it and had hung up. Moments later, to the surprise and relief of the NGO head, she was walking into the police station to personally see to it that the women were not harassed any further and were moved to a safe haven. The year I am talking about is 1997.

Fast forward to 2012 and we have the Chief Minister of West Bengal, the same Mamata Banerjee, who does not think twice before saying that the rape on Park Streetwas a “cooked-up incident” to malign her government. It’s easy to see that like all big stars – political or filmi – she has taken the easy way out by blaming the media for distorting her words.

I was wondering how could a woman, who was so sensitive to the plight of trafficked women, do such a volte-face just 15 years later. But I guess if you are constantly accompanied by half a dozen men in black safari suits with guns tucked in their holsters, you do lose touch with ground realities. So you take the easy way out again, put the blame on a woman, since trying to change the psyche of lecherous men in the state will be like trying to bend an iron rod with bare hands.

Frankly speaking, in West Bengal if you have not been sexually harassed in some way or the other it does not imply that you live in a safe environment, it’s just that you have been plain lucky. As a born and bred Kolkatan all I can say is, life for the fairer sex is a perpetual struggle. As soon as you step out of your home you constantly risk being groped, pinched, elbowed, lewdly commented at and if the time and situation permits your persecutor, you can be molested or even raped.

I am sure if a poll is run on the women of West Bengal on the abuses they face everyday, the answer in the affirmative will be a record high. But, of course, at the end of the day, the onus of being safe lies on the woman. If she can’t ensure her own safety then in the quest for justice she runs the bigger risk of being mentally molested by the police, the court, by the entire system.

Life in Kolkata has become such that women are becoming immune to the abuses that are perpetrated on them by unknown men because chances are, you end up in a bigger soup if you try to protest.

I am talking from my own experience here. I used to walk down SN Banerjee Road from the metro station to reach my office. The first day someone groped me I tried to raise my voice against him. Instantly I was surrounded by around 50 men, who asked me to point out where exactly I had been groped. Seething and embarrassed, I walked away.

What did I do to survive? I became more cautious. I always carried a file that covered my breasts and dodged the elbows and the hands with a precision that only boxers in the ring develop. I was successful this way for months till one day I was talking to my friend on the mobile and I was distracted. Result? Someone pinched my derriere. Reacting to my muffled shriek my friend asked, “What happened?” I answered, “Nothing! Someone pinched me.”

I realized that after being exposed to the abuse on Kolkata streets from my teens, I had finally become immune to that strange touch that used to initially feel like electric shock passing through my skin.

After I read about the rape of a widow on a train on the Ahmedpur-Katwa track, my mind travelled to my eventful train journeys both on local and long-distance passenger trains. During my college and university days if public buses were my nightmare, after marriage, when I had to travel to my in-laws’ home in Ichapur on weekends, I realized the groping men on the locals could give their counterparts on the Kolkata buses some stiff competition.

Trapped between hordes of men in an overwhelmingly-crowded compartment with my dupatta going in one direction and bag in the other and hungry hands trying to get into every curve of my body, I felt like a gladiator trying to win the fight but there was always a lion, who got a piece of me.

I decided to bow out of the arena and shifted to the women’s compartment. The incessant cacophony of the women fighting amongst themselves now felt like music to my ears. I was trapped between unknown sweaty women but there was a great sense of relief in it.

It was one such train ride when I had boarded a crowded ladies compartment from Sealdah at 10pm. After a hard day’s work I had dozed off in my seat. When I opened my eyes I saw the entire compartment was empty and there were four men sitting opposite me with a gaze that made me freeze with fear. I was about to call my husband from my mobile, who was in the next compartment, when one of them shifted to the seat next to me. Then they were all pretty puzzled to see me smiling. They followed my eyes and instantly started chatting amongst themselves like I did not exist.

The reason for their changed attitude and mine was my husband standing at the train door. He had seen the men boarding the ladies compartment and had jumped in behind them. That day I realized how fear actually felt and how lucky I was.

Now coming to long-distance train travel. My friend and I were going to Delhi to appear for the entrance exams at Delhi School of Economics and we were accompanied by her father and elder sister. Late in the night some men boarded the compartment and started making their bed on the floor. When uncle tried to explain to them it was a reserved compartment one man placed a shining dagger next to him on the floor and went off to sleep. Needless to say none of us slept that night. At the crack of dawn the men left the train without snatching our luggage, without forcing themselves on us. Luck was on our side again.

After I read about the Park Street rape, my mind went back to the innumerable nights spent at Tantra, the happening disco at Park Hotel. Yes, I was always there with close friends, who dropped me home later. I never accepted drinks from unknown people, although I did strike friendships there that I cherish, but you can say I was always extremely cautious. However, one particular night, I don’t know why, I threw all caution to the wind.

There was a private party at the Park Hotel banquet which I was covering from the newspaper I was working for at that time. The party promptly shifted from the banquet to Tantra. We had the office car with us but my colleagues wanted to linger on the dance floor. I was worried that my mom would be awake waiting for me, when this businessman, whom I had been introduced to earlier in the evening and had done some polite talk with, said he was leaving for his home on Ballygunge Circular Road – which was pretty near to my home on Garcha Road. I didn’t know him at all but I asked him for a lift. He readily obliged. I asked another journalist, I had met the same evening, if she would like to come along, dearly hoping she would. She joined us.

We got into his car parked in the basement, thanking him profusely for the trouble he was taking. It was 2 am and the car rolled into a deadPark Street. The gentleman stopped his car in front of the Park Hotel gate and said, “I have to pick up a friend.” The alarm bells started ringing in my head but I was glad that the other lady was in the car with me as if she would be the knight in shining armour if the men tried to get fresh.

The man, who jumped into the car, looked moneyed and sloshed and wasn’t in a state to converse. Then our lift-giver proposed that he would drop the lady at Gariahat first and then it would be my turn. I started hyperventilating hoping this was not a ploy to get me alone in the car. The lady got off at Gariahat and I continued. I could have got off there and hailed a cab. But I could not because a woman alone with a cabbie at 2am was an even more dangerous proposition than being in a car with two men- one sloshed and one apparently gentlemanly. I was safely dropped home. I was third time lucky.

But not everyone is. Women’s harassment in Kolkata is on the rise because some men have realized they can get away with it. After years of groping and elbowing and looking the other way and denying it if they are caught red-handed, these men have finally mustered the courage to go further. The rape on Park Street only proves that.

Mamata Banerjee would do well if she changed her stance on the case. If cases like this are dealt with an iron hand a lot of women might be saved from their daily ordeal. Isn’t it high-time the beasts hide in fear and we roam free?

PS: Does Didi know the meaning of International Women’s Day? I would have loved to ask her.

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