A group of about 30 young men just passed our apartment, shouting "We want Justice" . On any other Sunday evening, they would have gone completely unnoticed, especially in a neighborhood like ours which is close to two national highways, a metro rail station and a big taxi hub.
But today, everything seemed to fall quiet for a few minutes and the shout of 'we want justice' echoed loud. This is Hyderabad today - a city usually known for its film industry (India's highest-grossing film was produced here) Infotech (this is the city of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella), Biotech (biggest of the pharmaceutical companies have a research facility here) and sports (this is home to tennis star Sania Mirza, Olympians P V Sindhu and Saina Nehwal and many more)- has been in a turmoil for the past couple of days ever since it woke up to the news of a young veterinarian being raped and murdered. Everyday, dozens of protest marches are happening all over the city, each of them crying out the same "we want justice".
I haven't gone out of my apartment in the past two days. I haven't discussed this. I haven't posted on Facebook, haven't sent out a single tweet or called a friend and discussed this. I have just stayed here in my apartment with my thoughts and feelings locked into my heart.
Its hard to explain those feelings: there is fear, frustration, anger. And above all, there is this tiredness of being there, being through this again and again and again.
It was exactly 7 years ago - December of 2012 - when the rape and murder of Nirbhaya (meaning the fearless) had happened in New Delhi. Like Priyanka - the vet here, Nirbhaya was also a young woman from the medical field. She was studying to become a doctor. And she was trapped by her killers promising to help her get home. A million Indians had taken to the streets demanding justice for her. I was one of them.
I attended protest marches, lit candles at night, participated in night-walks to assert my rights to walk on the roads freely and 'take back my city'. I had also written opinion pieces, interviewed gender experts, filed news reports on the state of our road safety and posted on social media with the hashtags like #justicefornirbhaya and #shame .
7 long years later, it seems we have only traveled in a serpentine circle, returning only to swallow our own tail. And so when the media broke and blared the news of the Vet's murder, I felt this heavy burden of tiredness in my bones: 'No, no, not again!' I can't go through this again'!
The news updates that poured in since then - new details of the violence unleashed on the dead - again brought back the 2012 memories again: Nirbhaya's rapists had inserted iron rods into her vagina, pulled out her guts, thrown her out of a running bus on the street like a bag of garbage. Here, Priyanka's killers poured whiskey in her mouth to gag her, raped her until she passed out, strangled her and burnt her. Its like visiting the gut-wrenching, nauseating history of brutality all over again.
What , however, really shocked me is reading that these killers - 4 young men in their twenties - saw the vet on a scooter and decided to rape her. No family feud. No racial/ cultural/political conflict. No class conflict. No caste division. No personal grudge. They just saw a woman and they decided to have sex with her forcefully. They were 4 of them and all 4 felt the same.
In early days of my college, I studied ancient literature. They included a poetry that read "Apna Mans Hareena Bairi" which means The enemy of the deer is her own meat". It was probably written 15 hundred years ago, if not more. 15 centuries later, we women are just deer, and our body is nothing but meat. And so we women are constantly advised to safeguard this meat: learn martial arts, carry a pepper spray, take along a male protector, take a well-lit road, when its not dark etc etc etc. There is no public discourse to set the real wrong right: make it mandatory to teach boys and men to NOT touch a woman.
Priyanka was going home after a normal day at work. Nirbhaya was going home after a normal evening of watching a movie.
I - like millions of women - travel for work, often along the highway, at the dead hours of night, in a cab, unaccompanied and unarmed. In fact, a few times I have passed through the exact spot that Priyanka had been last seen alive. There is absolutely no reason why I could not be the next Priyanka or the next Nirbhaya.
Hyderabad has some of the best roads in India - gorgeous, smooth 6 lane roads. What we don't have is the guarantee of safety while traveling along these roads.
On Whatsapp, we have a group of World Pulse leaders in India. Last night, two of them - my sister and my friend Urmila and Kirthi started to discuss this rape and murder. I confided in them that I was tired and that I was scared. It was the first time I broke my silence. We exchanged virtual hugs and our silence resolve to stay together in this hard time. But I was still not quite clear what I could really do this time around.
And now, as I saw the group of protesters, I felt a tug at my heart. I looked at them again: some were teenagers, others in their early twenties. High school and college students, they stay in private hostels in the neighborhood. I have seen some of them drinking, being silly and dancing like idiots when India won a cricket match. I have seen them riding motorbikes dangerously fast through a crowded neighborhood and screaming, without bothering to think people might feel disturbed or someone might get hurt. I never thought seriously of them. And yet here they were - raising their voices together against a violent crime.
So this is what it is: we may all be a little silly, imperfect, idiotic and even broken. But when it comes to the future of our city and our entire community, we must gather the strength to fight for the greater good. Also, when our back is against the wall, with no more room to move backwards, the only option is to fight to move forward. As women, that is where we exactly are : back against the wall. Consider this: a woman here might get raped - and probably killed too - if she wears a short dress, a tight dress, a smart dress, a 'western' dress, a sexy dress; she will get raped if she travels alone at night or in evening or in morning; travels along dark alleys, well-lit road, highways; get assaulted if she goes to a bar or a pub or a movie or just her daily damn work. If this is not being cornered, what is?
I am not healed. I may never be. I may never be freed of the fear or frustration or anger. But if I choose to stay locked in now, I definitely will die a hostage and I don't want to die a hostage to fear. So here I am - letting it out. Here I am - telling that the world is that we women are not deer or game meat.
I am not a trophy animal for a man to hunt.
I am also here to tell the world to stop looking for solutions at the wrong place. Self-protection is not the solution we need. The true solution lies in curbing the crime. After Nirbhaya murder, one phrase kept making round all through India: "we need to change the mindset" . Well, I am telling to the world that change the mindset of boys and men who haven't learnt to see women as what they are: fellow humans with equal rights and authority. So focus your education and your policy there by changing the mindset of those boy and men.
And yes, I am also here to tell that we - World Pulse India - will will soon plan a collective action together to push forward our thoughts to make this subcontinent a safe place for us all. When we do that, you will know.
Yes, some of us are broken at the moment, but as the saying goes, the last time I checked, broken pencils still colored.