Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Staying Alive and Hopeful

By Chintan Girish Modi

Image from here
It's heartbreaking to feel the pain I hear in the voice of Jyoti Singh's mother as she talks about wanting justice for the daughter she lost to a brutal rape. While I wish NDTV journalist Barkha Dutt wouldn't intrude on the mother's private moments, it is these moments on television that suddenly compel me to think about all mothers grieving for daughters who have been sexually assaulted. 

While there are numerous people fighting for Jyoti, I think of the many women in my country who silently suffer marital rape and haven't yet been able to seek the support of their loved ones or even speak of their suffering. This is perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing India even as we celebrate economic growth, and a larger say in global affairs.

I choose to refer to her as Jyoti, the name given by her family, and not 'Nirbhaya', the name circulated on social media hashtags. This is a way to offer some dignity to the memory of an individual whose body and its violation has become a talking point not only in India but several places around the world.

I am not sure though what dignity and justice might mean to someone who has passed on. Perhaps we invest in these ideals only because they somehow help us stay alive and hopeful. And justice, particularly, is a contentious term at least in India where most public conversation around it is located in the punitive or retributive paradigm. 

Are our legal systems equipped to administer justice that can also bring long-term healing to Jyoti's mother, and to her family and friends who lost her? I doubt. I think they are largely about punishing those who have been proven guilty of committing crimes. Healing is something that people are expected to do on their own, with little institutional support, after the television crews have disappeared in search of another story.

Chintan Girish Modi lives in Mumbai, and writes on art, culture, gender, education and media. He tweets at @chintan_connect.