On 5 December, a 24-year-old woman was found dead in her own home in Mumbai after being raped, strangled, and set on fire.
As a lawyer and social activist for women’s rights and safety, I was aware of the case and enraged.
On the panel with me was Asha Devi, Jyoti Singh’s mother. Nirbhaya’s mother.
Four years ago, her tragedy became a tipping point for us all.
After Jyoti Singh’s gruesome gang rape, men and women around the country took to the streets, protesting and demanding better laws, for justice.
Those protests ultimately pressured parliament into passing the Criminal Law Amendment Act 2013, which broadened the definition of rape and widened the ambit of acts recognised as crimes under the Indian Penal Code.
The nationwide rage stemmed from a sense that it wasn’t just laws or the government that had failed women but that, in our silent acceptance of the misogyny around us, we’d all failed each other.
On the news debate, Asha Devi offered support for the family of the Mumbai rape victim. Her message was: I have been fighting for the last four years to get justice for my daughter in the hope that at least other women will be safe.
But nothing has changed.
After the 5 December rape and murder, media publications shared the victim’s identity, violating the privacy that is guaranteed to her by law.
In the two weeks since, neither the National Commission for Women nor state officials have taken action.
I visited the family of the deceased rape victim, and they told me about the line of questioning they were put through by police. They were asked about the victim’s lifestyle. Whether she drank, smoked, or partied.
I myself visited the police station handling her case. The police officer told me it wasn’t his priority to deal with the victim’s identity being revealed – that he would rather focus on investigating who her rapist was.
Legally, I’m not allowed to disclose details or lapses of the investigation, especially as an arrest still hasn’t been made in this case, and I’m not legal counsel on it.
But I can say this: I am disgusted.
Police are still peddling the misguided narrative that a woman can avoid getting raped if she makes better decisions. They’re still refusing to handle information and families with the sensitivity essential to making sure rapes are reported.
And it isn’t just police. The lazy, callous insensitivity towards rape cases and survivors extends to other government officials, too.
I remember the case of a 3-year-old, raped and bleeding from her genitals, who was denied admission at Sion Hospital after waiting for over three hours. Their reason? The family hadn’t filed an FIR at the police station.
I remember spending a morning running from ward to ward of a government hospital with a 4-and-a-half-year-old rape survivor and her family. The attending doctor who treated the child sent her home with an inconclusive medical report and a tube of ointment.
A fucking tube of ointment.
You’d think that seeing a child rape survivor would evoke visceral empathy.
But it doesn’t.
As a lawyer and social activist, I view sexual violence as a public health issue. My work focuses on advocating for gender equality and women's rights in India.
It isn’t an easy job, and, more and more for the last four years, it has made me angry.
I don't care that police and officials and government hospital staffers have been desensitised. I don’t care that the nature of their work hardens them over time.
I have to keep reminding myself that they have a duty to safeguard our rights, and that they aren't doing any of us any favours by handling a rape case with sensitivity.
Where notions like duty and empathy don’t cut it, I resort to rage.
It was my rage that forced the hospital staff to examine the child and administer tests free of cost.
It was my anger and refusal to be intimidated into silence that finally got that child the care she needed.
The hospital admin called me arrogant. I don’t care.
It’s been four years since we took to the streets; four years since we raged and fought for Nirbhaya.
Since then, we’ve let our rage go. We’ve accepted attacks on women as a part of our national fabric. And nothing has actually changed.
We still live in a country where safety, equality, and dignity for women is a privilege, not a right.
A country where women are not safe in their own homes.
A country where a child who is raped is not provided with the required urgent healthcare.
A country that refuses to criminalise marital rape.
A country where the parents of a murdered rape victim are asked if she drank or smoked or partied.
A country where the only way to appeal to authorities and make them empathise with sexual abuse victims is by linking the victim to their masculine duties: But sir, what if it was your wife? Mother? Sister?
Fighting for women’s safety in a country like ours is exhausting. My job breaks me on a daily basis, and the only thing that keeps me going now is anger.
Anger and impatience.
I no longer want to come to terms with the system.
I am done entertaining my silencers.
Our society is obsessed with issuing behavioural diktats to women – it tells us how to dress and speak. It tells us how to offend less and adjust more. It tells us where we can go and what we can do. Or else.
Every time I speak up, I am asked to fight in a subdued fashion, to simmer down.
I no longer have any interest in simmering down.
People threaten to gang-rape me. They stalk me online. They post comments like “woh curly hair ladki apne kutte se chudati hogi”. That curly haired girl must be getting herself fucked by her dog.
I am angry that as women we are forced to deal with sexism day in and day out.
I am angry with the youth of India, who have accepted gender-based violence as a part and parcel of life.
I am angry with the government and the police and our elected representatives who, once a woman has been assaulted, assault her again with insensitivity.
Every time we are polite and complacent when we should rage, we fail.
By reserving our anger till we hear of yet another gruesome incident of rape in India, we fail.
Cases of brutality against women don't happen in silos. Every casual sexist remark catalyses them.
Gender-based violence is bred in a society that chooses to stand by the 50 fucked-up shades of patriarchy.
So this is not a fight to fight in bursts and spurts. This is a battle that will need to be fuelled by constant rage, by impatience, by a promise of a safe city and home for women to live in today.
The time to ask nicely is gone.
Scream, shout, take to the streets.
Fuck politeness, fuck restraint.
And be angry. Every day.
Contact Trisha Shetty at Arundhati.Dahiyafirstname.lastname@example.org.
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