#IStandWithHer : I Won't Die as a Hostage to Fear

Stella Paul
Posted December 1, 2019 from India
Roads of Hyderabad are some of India's best. But they don't guarantee a woman commuter's safety

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. 

This story was submitted in response to #IStandWithHer.

Comments 31

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Urmila Chanam
Dec 01
Dec 01

I can feel your situation, it's very similar to the one I have right now. All Indian girls, women, mothers are going through a fear we have never experienced before. Let us be together while this world is going from bad to worst!

Stella Paul
Dec 01
Dec 01

Thank you sister! This love and shared concern is what we have to keep us going. Let us soon brainstorm on what we can do as a team to make this a safer world. Hugs

Hugs to you, too, my dear sister Urmila. Please keep safe.

Za
Dec 01
Dec 01

I love your broken parts until they are whole again.
Your sister,
Za

Stella Paul
Dec 01
Dec 01

Love you too Za

Hello, my dear sister Stella,

You write so well. I feel your fear, your pain, your frustration, and your anger. I just want to reach out my hand to you and to our World Pulse India sisters to tell you that WE STAND WITH YOU!

We pray for your safety. May justice prevail! May the culture of rape be completely eradicated.

Sending you hugs, my love. It's ok to feel all these emotions rather than numb it. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability with us. We are here for you in these moments when your heart and mind need to heal. Hugs, dear.

Stella Paul
Dec 01
Dec 01

Thank you my dear Karen! India really is struggling to curb violence against women and we are witnessing this every single day. A family like World Pulse is such a blessing at times like this! Love and hugs right back to you!

You're welcome, dear Stella. It's truly disturbing to know that it's a daily battle. World Pulse is here for you! Please update us. Your fight is our fight. Please stay safe, and stay strong.

Stella Paul
Dec 01
Dec 01

Hugs!

Celine
Dec 01
Dec 01

Dear sister Stella,
Hugs to you and our other World Pulse sisters in India. Midway into the #16Daysofactivism our world seems to turn against us. In Kenya it is a case of a pastor sexualy holding girls to slavery. In Nigeria we battle rape of minors every day. In the religious communities, custodians of morality are molesters of the group they swore to protect.

I stand in solidarity with you and WP sisters in India. I stand in solidarity with the youths protesting and demanding for justice and protection for women and girls. It is not our dressing, it is not our look. It is their mindset.
Celine

Stella Paul
Dec 02
Dec 02

Thank you my dear sister for all the support. I am grateful for this platform where we can shed our vulnerability and gather strength. Much love

Dawn Arteaga
Dec 02
Dec 02

Stella this is beautiful and I can feel your pain seeping through the words. I am with you, holding your hand across the distance. A better world is possible because of leaders like you. Stay strong sister.

Stella Paul
Dec 02
Dec 02

Thank you dear Dawn! There is just so much pain and anger all around here, most of it because everyone realized that we are where we were 2012 inspite of tougher laws. There are people calling of Justice by mob, so there is a curb on internet. Amidst all of these, you support provides so much strength! Love

maeann
Dec 02
Dec 02

Hi Stella,

I felt scared too while reading your post. I don't have words to say.
hugs and please be careful.

Stella Paul
Dec 02
Dec 02

Dear Maeann
It is indeed a situation that leaves one speechless. I will be careful, I promise. Love you sis. You stay strong and safe too - I heard there's a big typhoon coming.

maeann
Dec 02
Dec 02

Hi Stella, yes but we are preparing for it

Maya Iwata
Dec 02
Dec 02

Stella, Thank you for sharing your vulnerability of fear as well as passionate advocacy for collective action for change. My heart hurts and empathizes with you about the constant assault and brutality. Take good care. And while pencils may be broken, that can also mean there are two pieces to color with instead of one. Many hugs to you.

Stella Paul
Dec 02
Dec 02

Dear Maya, I am so grateful for this outpour of love here! Means so much! As I write this, the police has recovered another woman's burnt body who they say was probably raped. This is spiraling beyond control. We need all the love to endure this! Hugs for you!

Mahnaz Harrison
Dec 02
Dec 02

Thank you Stella,
I feel your pain and the suffering of thousands of women everywhere going through this undeserving and inhumane behavior, just because!
We should all rise and demand enough!
keep your marvelous spirit up and know you are not alone.
mahnaz

Stella Paul
Dec 02
Dec 02

Thank you so much dear Mahnaz! Yesterday school girls were marching across the city. You could see the fear in their face. Also yesterday a school girl of 6 was raped and murdered. This country is struggling to stay on a safe course. I am grateful for this support from you - it really means so much! Love

Lisbeth
Dec 03
Dec 03

I am with you very firmly my dear sister Stella. Thanks for showing such great courage.
Hugs

Stella Paul
yesterday
yesterday

Thank you dear Lisbeth. Women who stand together win it together. Love!

Lisbeth
yesterday
yesterday

Splendid!
Hugs

Tamarack Verrall
Dec 03
Dec 03

Stella, my dear Sister,
It has taken me 24 hours since reading your story to find words. I am so profoundly sorry that yet another young woman has been tortured and killed. And as always and over so many times, this news is so hard to bear, especially with all of the work we have been doing, raising our voices to end violence against women and girls.
Your message is a call for action in an ever deeper direction. To find the strength to survive, yes, this impossibly heavy burden of tiredness in our bones, "this tiredness of being there, being through this again and again and again".
To address this directly at the source: 4 young men in their twenties have been taught that they have the right to torture and kill a woman. "The enemy of the deer is her own meat". We women have been taught that we are too tempting. Your call for a new direction, that of educating men, and calling on the men who are willing to do this educating, is what has been largely missing and needs to grow. "There is no public discourse to set the real wrong right: make it mandatory to teach boys and men to NOT touch a woman...The true solution lies in curbing the crime".
"I am not healed. I may never be". I stand with you in that same place dear sister. Learning how to heal, and heal again, and to transform that pain into action. Knowing that we have each other continues to kindle strength and hope, and today I send my deep love hoping you will continue to heal and rise in your magnificent strength, wisdom and beauty.
In deep and unwavering sisterhood,
Tam

Stella Paul
yesterday
yesterday

Dear Tam
I knew you would get it! Knew you would feel the pain and understand the depth of it. Thank you for being who you are. I need you and your beautiful heart to stand strong. Love you

Sinyuy Geraldine
Dec 04
Dec 04

Hello Stella, as I read through your story, goose pimples fill my body. It is scary and i know that area of Hyderabad because i was in Bagalore in January this year for an International Conference on Harmony. I met many people from your area and I am still in touch with them. It is a horror to know the violence that is staged against women in India as a whole. Yes, we need to seek solutions in the right place else the efforts will be in vain. Fear has to be dealt with in seeking solutions to the crimes commited against women. Fear is one's greatest enemy. I stand with you, with her. Hugs. Thanks for writing.

Stella Paul
yesterday
yesterday

Dear Sinyuy
There is an old proverb here that says anything that doesn't happen is because of either shame, or hatred or fear. How true it is! Thank you for being there - it will help us all to break out of the circle of fear, hatred and shame. Hugs right back!

Doh yvonne
Dec 04
Dec 04

Sister Steella,
I felt scared too while reading your post. I don't have words to say hugs and plesae be Welcome to world pulse
Habichou, it's the right place to be, this is very lovely dear sister
Thank you for sharing,. Thank for sharing sister

Stella Paul
yesterday
yesterday

Dear Yvonne
Yes, world pulse is our home and shelter. Its been my home for past 10 years. I am grateful for each member, each word! Hugs!

ANJ ANA
Dec 05
Dec 05

Dear Stella,
With very heavy heart, I join you in this sorrow and cry. I don’t know how the male audacity becomes so much insane and cruel that the girls/women are suffering until death time and again. Here in my country also, I have been reading so much of unsolved rape cases (including high profiles and rape-murders) and I am fed up with those kinds of dismays very often. As you correctly said it’s time to curb the crime by letting people know the equal right. Women’s right is a human right and no one can violet anyone’s human right. Enough is enough.
Please count me in your initiatives, if I can contribute to make this earth safer and equal to every women and men.
Sending you love, hugs, and strengths,
Anjana

Stella Paul
yesterday
yesterday

Dear Anjana
When a sister says to another 'I am here for you' - things begin to change you know, because the real change starts at heart, internally. Thank you for being that sister and your words of support. I send you love and gratitude.