Delhi gang rape verdict: Is it a crime to be born a girl in India? – by Maheen Usmani

After the verdict, the family could not contain their grief with the mother saying the court might just as well acquit the rapist. PHOTO: AFP

She came from a small town in Uttar Pradesh, but she had big dreams.

Her father may have been just an airport baggage handler at Delhi’s international airport who earned $200 a month, but he supported his daughter’s ambition and sold his ancestral land to finance her studies.

Having enrolled in a four year Physiotherapy course in Dehradun, she came to Delhi for an internship after finishing her final exams. To supplement her income, she worked nights at a firm and gave tuition to school children. She slept for only three hours because she was in such a hurry to reach for the stars. Her two younger brothers looked up to their brilliant sister who encouraged them to study and promised them a life beyond the downtrodden area where they lived.

Life of Pi” was playing at a shopping mall on that fateful afternoon when she decided to go see it with a male friend. Afterwards, they stopped to admire a sparkling fountain and she called her brother to say she would be home a bit late. When her brother called her cell phone much later, there was no response.

Hours ticked by before all hell broke loose.

After watching the movie, the couple boarded a private bus which was idling nearby.

“Didi, didi come, we are going towards that side”, called a young man from the bus door.

As soon as they settled in their seats, the bus driver and five other men started making lewd remarks.

“What’s going to happen tonight when you reach home?” Snickering and much elbowing ensued.

The taunts continued, so her friend told them off but it did not deter the lascivious men who started locking the bus doors and drawing the curtains at the windows. Frightened but not deterred, she threatened to complain but as she reached for the phone, it was knocked out of her hand. When the friend tried to protect her from the men, they hit him so hard with a stick that they broke his leg. Then they dragged her to a seat near the driver’s cabin and started raping her. One after another like an assembly line of perverts.

The rape continued for over an hour as the bus was driven throughout the city, the curtained windows and closed doors masking the ferocity of the assault. When she fought back they hit her with an iron rod. The young man, who had called out to her from the bus door, rammed the iron rod inside her so hard that he ripped open her intestines.

Her brother’s calls went unheeded as she was savaged by the men who ignored her desperate friend’s plea to spare her as he lay battered and bruised. When they reached near an overpass, the couple’s clothes were torn off and they were thrown out of the moving bus into the chill of a December night. Naked and covered in blood, they lay on the busy road as three-wheeler taxis, motorcycles and cars slowed down to gape and then move on. When police vehicles showed up, they couldn’t decide among themselves which police precinct had jurisdiction. She lay there bleeding with her intestines exposed as they argued.

When she was finally taken to a hospital, the doctors were horrified at the extent of her injuries. They had never come across such a vicious gang rape. Apart from the trauma and wounds, she only had three inches of a six meter long intestine left inside her body. Her family rushed to her bedside, in intensive care as she battled to stay alive. She managed to smile for her traumatised friend who had helped in identifying the off duty bus as well as the attackers, thanking him for standing by her.

The country came to a standstill as protests were held against the violation of the girl christened India’s Braveheart even as she was airlifted to Singapore for treatment of her horrendous internal injuries. She clung to her mother’s hand, sobbing “I’m sorry, sorry…” as her mother wept. For thirteen days she hovered between life and death, but her body had been ravaged too much for the best of medical care. She slipped away, leaving behind her unrealised dreams and ambitions. She was only 23.

Her mother said,

“My daughter is dead but she fought till the very end. She is an inspiration for millions of other women who are fighting against sex crimes.”

After her death, her results in the final examination were published; she had achieved first-class exam results.

And what of the beasts who had crushed her body and soul underfoot like dry autumn leaves?

All six were arrested and, under pressure from an outraged country, put on trial in fast track courts. The driver committed suicide while in jail while four others still await verdicts. The fifth and most brutal attacker, who was six months shy of his 18th birthday at the time of the rape in December 2012, was found guilty and sentenced. The family of the girl had the support of many people when they demanded that considering the atrocity he committed he should be treated as an adult and should face the death penalty.

Just three years

For a crime which savaged a woman and left her fighting for life for 13 days only to die a lingering and painful death, this man was awarded just three years imprisonment in a juvenile home where he will have access to games and television.

The icing on the cake for this “juvenile” is that the judge knocked off eight months for the time he has already spent in a juvenile centre since being arrested. As per his defence lawyer, his conduct will be observed and the sentence could be reduced for “good behaviour”.

According to the Minister of State for Home Affairs, the juvenile accused in the Delhi gang-rape case was given the maximum punishment under the juvenile law. He added that the government functions in accordance with the law and not out of vengeance.

“I understand that a lot of people are disappointed with the verdict of the Juvenile Justice Board. People are demanding a stringent punishment but that can only happen if the laws are changed. Government cannot function with anger; it can only function according to the law.”

That may be according to the government, but surely this verdict sends a message to juvenile delinquents that they can rape and murder and only get three years in a remand home? As it is, misogyny and a rigid patriarchal mindset is deeply ingrained in Indian society which considers rape in such a lackadaisical manner that Chetan Bhagat, one of India’s best-selling authors, had the gall to tweet on the devaluing of currency,

“The Rupee is asking, is there no punishment for my rapists?”

Experts on Child Rights Act say that changing the law or reducing juvenile age from 18 to 16 on the basis of one incident is not correct. Be that as it may, in three years or less, this juvenile will be a part of Indian society, with no one knowing his identity since his name and face have been hidden from the public eye due to his age.

After the verdict, the family could not contain their grief with the mother saying the court might just as well acquit the rapist. The brother, who had hero-worshipped his beloved sister, tried to attack the rapist and had to be held back by the prosecution.

“He should be hanged for the crime he committed,” he said in tears.

Living in a nation where female foetuses are aborted, newborn girls killed after birth leading to a lopsided sex ratio and rapists can roam freely, the father said simply,

“It is a crime to be born a girl in this country.”

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