I remember feeling numb, like many of my colleagues, writing and reporting about the news that shook India to its patriarchal core when it broke on a cold December day in 2012. It took time for reporters to piece together the horrific story that was to challenge the nonchalance of India's urban middle class, courts, and lawmaking agencies in the months to come.
The gang rape of a young woman out to watch a movie with her friend would have been ignored as just another mark on the stained walls of a city notorious for violent crimes, but for her injuries. Injuries that prompted a change in India's rape laws, and which led three separate courts to uphold the death penalty for her tormentors.
The Supreme Court's detailed verdict today on the Delhi gang rape has opened up an old wound for many, including friends and family of the victim, who thought they had put the nightmare behind them with the conviction of the culprits. The apex court, in confirming the death penalty for all four convicted in the horrific crime, also recapped the night the young paramedic from Delhi, returning from a movie at a South Delhi PVR, ran into what could easily be termed as every woman's nightmare on a green and yellow striped bus with the word 'Yadav' printed on its side.
The voluminous judgment bore graphic testimony to the intense trauma the woman — named 'Nirbhaya' by mainstream media to give her an identity to rally around (naming of rape victims is a crime under Indian laws) — must have undergone on the night of December 12 when she and her male friend boarded the bus to head home.
Apart from confirming the exact sequence of events, and noting that the 23-year-old paramedic student was treated like a "playful thing to be tossed around at their wild whim", the court said the case sent a "tsunami of shock" across the country. It did. Men and women, regardless of their politics, hit the roads, placard in hand, demanding justice for 'Nirbhaya', and urging the government to make the streets safer for women. They pushed against police barricades, raised slogans, cried in anguish, sat on panels on TV channels and lit candles. A tsunami of anger had hit Delhi's roads and spilled over to those in other cities.
Sense of Danger
The Supreme Court reiterated how after both the victims had entered the bus, they noticed that there were only six people inside, four in the driver's cabin and two behind. Pieced together from the dying declaration of the woman, and the eye-witness account of her friend, the judgement draws a hair-raising picture of the immediate danger they felt, when the bus did not stop to pick up any other passengers and the lights were switched off. Their fears were not unsubstantiated. Within minutes, one of the six convicted men used an abuse to provoke the male companion.
"The young companion of the deceased raised opposition to the abuse that led to an altercation which invited the other two who were sitting outside the driver's cabin to join. The spirit to oppose and the duty to save the prosecutrix had to die down and perilously succumb to the assault by the accused persons with the iron rods that caused injuries to his head, both the legs and other parts of the body and the consequence was that he fell on the floor of the bus....."
He Heard Her Cries
This is what the court noted.
"The overpowering was not meant to satisfy the avarice. As the accusations proceed, after the informant was overpowered, as it could only have a singular result, the accused persons, namely, Ram Singh, Akshay and the Juvenile in Conflict with Law (JCL) took the prosecutrix to the rear side of the bus and she was raped by them, one after the other.
After committing rape, the accused Ram Singh (since deceased), accused Akshay and the JCL came towards the informant, PW-1, and nailed him down; then the accused Vinay and accused Pawan went to the rear side of the bus and committed rape on the prosecutrix, one by one.
PW-1 noticed that earlier the bus was moving at fast speed but after sometime, he felt that the speed of the bus was reduced and he saw that the accused Mukesh, who was driving the bus, came near him and hit him with the rod and he also went to the rear side of the bus and raped the prosecutrix. The prosecutrix was brutally gang raped by the accused one after the other and she was also subjected to unnatural sex.
Her private parts and her internal organs were seriously injured by inserting iron rod and hand in the rectal and vaginal region. As per PW-1, he had heard the cries of the prosecutrix like "chod do, bachao". PW-1 could hear the prosecutrix shouting in a loud oscillating voice. The prosecutrix was carrying a grey colour purse having an Axis Bank ATM card and other belongings.
The accused persons robbed her of her belongings and stripped her. They also took away the clothes of the informant while beating 10 him with iron rods. The accused were exhorting that both the victims be not left alive. The accused then tried to throw both the informant and the prosecutrix out of the moving bus from its rear door but could not open it and so, they brought them to the front door and threw them out of the moving bus at National Highway No. 8, Hotel Delhi 37, Mahipalpur flyover by the side of the road."
'Nirbhaya' later told an attending doctor, Rashmi Ahuja, that she was "slapped on her face, kicked on her abdomen and bitten over lips, cheek, breast and vulval region."
She remembered "rectal penetration" and that she was forced to have oral sex, which she refused. This continued for half an hour, as her friend watched helplessly. They were thrown off the moving bus — naked, helpless and bleeding — and left to die.
Her external injuries, the court noted, included abrasions in eyes, bruises on her breasts, nostrils, lips, bite marks on her cheek and breasts, a posterior vaginal wall tear of about 7 to 8 cm, and a rectal tear of about 4 to 5 cm. There was a detailed and deeply disturbing medical testimony on the possibility of an iron rod being inserted in her anus.
"The anus is directly connected to the intestines via the rectum and, thus, deep penetration by use of a rod or other long object could have caused injuries to the bowels/intestines," the judges noted.
Here's why it is important we read the full judgment, and relive the trauma that she must have suffered before succumbing to her grievous injuries. It is important we attempt to comprehend the pain she must have felt. Collective public memory is notoriously short-lived. Soon this verdict will come up only is occasional discourses and media references of similar cases.
We need to remind ourselves that she's one of millions of women brutalized every day in India because of a culture based on misogyny and lax law enforcement. It was not easy reading the judgment. But we need to, to remind ourselves that there's a long fight ahead of us so that no other parents loseThe a daughter to sexual violence.