India on Trial
Reporter: Zoe Daniel
She was a diligent student with hopes of a career in physiotherapy. She had a boyfriend and a loving family. And unlike many fathers from India’s lower strata, Jyoti’s dad was very proud of his beautiful girl. Now he’s devastated.
“Although I am able to breathe I feel like a dead person. I miss her a lot.”BADRINATH SINGH, Father of Jyoti
Jyoti was with her boyfriend commuting home by bus to see her family when a gang of six men attacked them both. They gang-raped the 23 year old, brutalised her with an iron bar and left her and her partner in a bloody pulp by the side of the road. By the time they were taken to hospital there was little hope for Jyoti.
“The doctor said, I am sorry. I don’t think that your child will survive and if she survives, I don’t think she will live a normal life.” BADRINATH SINGH, Father of Jyoti
When news broke of the attack, something strange happened. Instead of shrugging it off as just another assault on a young woman, India paid attention. Then thousands upon thousands of people got angry. Protests massed around the country, decrying the appalling treatment of Jyoti. Calls were issued for justice to be swift, instead of the normal meandering, inconclusive indifference that marks the way police and courts deal with rape cases. The trial of the six was expedited.
In the space of days, India had demonstrated a willingness to deal with a rampant problem. Sex crime and violence against women. But will it bring sustainable change?
“Even in the last year there have been cases of extremely brutal, awful incidents of rape that didn’t create the sort of revolution this one did. So now with this one case – how many leaves can fall on a roof before it caves in? In this case maybe was the last straw.” LEEZA MANGALDAS – ACTRESS
In this revealing and disturbing story, reporter Zoe Daniel meets many of the people who hope it will and who are doing their own bit to elevate the plight of women in India. From the father and family of Jyoti hoping for justice, to brave young women stepping forward to tell their stories of abuse and to expose their attackers and on to groups like the Red Brigade – a growing team of young women training in self defence to take on their would-be attackers.
News from the Red Brigade
DANIEL: It’s a place filled with colour and spectacle and overflowing with a vibrant, surging humanity. It can also be a place of unspeakable brutality, a place where just being a woman is a danger in itself.
VICTIM #1: “A car stopped behind me. Two men got out, their faces covered and they forced me into the car”.
VICTIM #2: “That day, these people had guns and were willing to hurt me. The condition I was in, I don’t know how I survived”.
DANIEL: It’s a place where a woman is raped every twenty minutes, a place where the simple routine of catching a bus home can quickly become a ride into an abyss of unimaginable violence, pain and death. Welcome to India.
BADRINATH SINGH: [Jyoti’s father] “In the hospital I held her hand and she looked at me and started crying. I told her, don’t cry, everything will be all right”.
DANIEL: There are countless stories of brutality and abuse in India, but it was one story of one woman on a bus ride home with her male friend, her gang rape and mutilation, that exposed India’s darkest shames beyond its borders.
[News clip regarding rape attack]
DANIEL: The world learned that sex crime is rampant, that authorities are ambivalent about it and that an entrenched disregard for women is at the heart of it.
[News clip regarding rape attack]
This is where 23 year old Jyoti was heading that fateful night. To a suburban corner of Delhi that’s home to workers striving to make their way in the new India.
BADRINATH SINGH: “I worked double duty to earn money and my children were also working hard. Jyoti would study in the daytime and work in the call centre at night”.
DANIEL: On her way home to her family, Jyoti was raped by six men and gored with an iron bar. She suffered a slow and agonising death.
BADRINATH SINGH: “The doctor said there is nothing inside her. Your daughter may survive for two days – but in fact she should not be alive at all. And I understood. How can she survive if there is nothing inside?”
DANIEL: “Are these her books?”
BADRINATH SINGH: “Yes, all these books are hers. When she was doing her exams in the 10th and 12th grades there would be stickers of her notes all around the wall. The house used to look like the home of the Goddess of Learning”.
DANIEL: No pictures are available of the daughter Badrinath Singh was so proud of, a bright applied student aiming for a career in physiotherapy. But despite Indian laws suppressing the identity of rape victims, he thinks it’s important the world knows his daughter’s name.
BADRINATH SINGH: “It is not our fault, it’s not the girl’s fault – but because of shame they are lost in the darkness. My daughter did nothing wrong. Other girls who also suffered such atrocities did nothing wrong – but our society says they have to hide. To us that would be cowardice.
I feel like a dead person. Sure I’m walking around but I’m not really here”. [puts his head into his hands]
LEEZA MANGALDAS: “I’m not sure what it is about a specific incident that captures the public’s imagination like that. In a way this one case I don’t know what it is about you know how many leaves can fall on a roof before it caves in and this case was maybe the last… was the last straw”.
BADRINATH SINGH: “I was very happy that the whole world stood up for my child. I’m just an ordinary man and I didn’t expect such support. I think it was her willpower that got everybody to stand up for her”.
DANIEL: It was clear Jyoti wasn’t going to be just another statistic. The outrage was, for once, everywhere. Protests were big and the message was loud – enough is enough!
[News clip regarding rape attack]
Among the many consequences, an expedited trial of the six accused and its emboldened victims to come out of hiding and tell their stories.
RESHMA: “The difference between me and Jyoti is that she was an adult and I’m not. I’m 16 years old”.
DANIEL: Young women like Reshma, gang raped at sixteen.
RESHMA: “They took turns – one by one they raped me. And one of them phoned their friends to come and join them. In all, I think there were 12 or more. Some men even did it twice”.
DANIEL: “Did you think you were going to die?”
RESHMA: “Yes. I don’t know how I survived”.
DANIEL: Reshma’s case illustrates why so few women report their attacks. A caste system, corruption and indifference are arrayed against her.
The police aren’t here at her house to check on her wellbeing. They’re concerned we’re covering her case.
RESHMA: “In Haryana this happens to lower caste communities. You can clearly see that in most rape cases the girls are lower caste.
My father said we would complain and he took me to the police station. On the way there, the boys threatened him. They said they would kill us both if we complained. So we came back home. From then on Papa was very disturbed”.
[News clip regarding rape attack]
DANIEL: Seven of Reshma’s accused rapists are from powerful, upper caste families. She’s been bullied and intimidated to withdraw her complaint.
“She told me that she fears being killed”.
RAJAT KALSAN: (LAWYER) “Yes, she’s truly speaking…. she’s truly speaking because from the caste that the accused belong… they are both from the dominant caste. The chief minister of Haryana is from the dominant caste, the police chief of Haryana is from the dominant class and most of the ministers, high police officers, administrative officers are from the same caste. That is why our girl is saying that she may be killed, yes”.
DANIEL: She’s poor but she’s rejected payments from the wealthy families of her attackers in her dogged pursuit of justice and in honour of her father who couldn’t see a way out of the shame and pressure and killed himself.
“Why, why not take the money?”
RESHMA: “Because your most valuable thing is your reputation. It takes years to build that, but in one minute my life was destroyed. I will not take the offer”.
DANIEL: As the police peer into their courtyard, Reshma her family and lawyer discuss their next moves.
RESHMA: “My father wanted to speak against them and I will stick to his decision. I will make sure that what he did was not a waste. It might not help me, but my father’s soul will rest in peace. And I will be happy if they are punished and it saves other women from going through what I went through”.
CLIP FILM “W”: “This is not rape! This is a social service”.
LEEZA MANGALDAS: “What makes rape such a prevalent crime is that most men don’t think that they will ever have to face consequences. They just do not anticipate a fight”.
CLIP FILM “W”: “You messed around with the wrong girls mate!”
DANIEL: The local movie industry is better known for Bollywood frivolity than gritty revenge drama, but this film speaks directly to the powerless plight of Indian women.
CLIP FILM “W”: “Why did you say you stole my honour?”
DANIEL: In “W” Leeza Mangaldas plays a woman who can fight back and make her attackers pay.
CLIP FILM “W”: “My honour is here”. [pointing to her head]
LEEZA MANGALDAS: “This film takes on this revenge fantasy and the only way I could bring out this sort of like rage, this female fury was to imagine what I would do if this happened to me. You know initially I was apprehensive because it’s a very, very strong and sort of bold and progressive standpoint to take so publicly”.
CLIP FILM “W”: “What did you think? That you can stop me? That you can rape me and I will go home and cry?”
LEEZA MANGALDAS: While the film takes on this revenge fantasy that’s quite extreme, it’s making the point that women do have a voice and women ought to stand up against such an incident were it to happen to them and that they’re a force to reckon with you know”.
DANIEL: Out in the real world, women and girls are learning to stand up for themselves but it’s not about payback, it’s all about prevention. The scale of sexual violence, the daily taunts and threats have some sent into combat training.
Meet the formidable females of the Red Brigade.
USHA VISHWAKAMA [RED BRIGADE]: “If boys make dirty comments, we’ll warn them once… twice… if they continue we’ll start hitting them”.
DANIEL: School teacher Usha Vishwakarma started the Red Brigade after a male colleague attempted to rape her. Very quickly others who’d been attacked or lived in fear of it, joined the ranks.
USHA VISHWAKAMA: “When I started it was only me – now it’s ‘us’. Now we are a group. In the beginning, I was alone. I was scared to go out – ‘will I be able do to it?’ But now, when we go out together we know we can beat them if they attack us”.
DANIEL: “Afreen was molested by a relative when she was just nine years old. Her mother blamed her. Now Afreen feels empowered.
AFREEN: “At home we do not feel so much power but once we put on this uniform and meet together as a group we feel strong. Wearing this uniform we don’t tolerate anybody passing comments or touching us. We give it back to them right away. We feel very powerful in our uniform”.
USHA VISHWAKAMA: “When the Red Brigade is coming, step aside people! Everybody feels scared of us. They don’t come near us. Now we know we have the power. Together, we can fight anyone”.
DANIEL: It’s not just dealing with threat of a lone attacker or a gang of assailants that challenges Indian women. It’s dealing with deeply entrenched, cultural and traditional treatment, most evident outside the cities in India’s disparate rural areas.
“If a girl or a woman is raped, what is her fate?”
ASHOK MALIK: “Well, her future…look, you are intelligent, so you’d know that her future gets a bit impacted. There is a question mark over her future, yes”.
DANIEL: Ashok Malik heads a male dominated traditional council called a Khap. Khaps dictate the rules of village life.
ASHOK MALIK: “Girls who go to study in college should just go to college and then return straight home. Not roam here and there. Not say out late at night, or go to hotels or eat out and I think, incidents like these would just stop and not take place at all”.
DANIEL: Khap leaders say they’re often inaccurately portrayed as misogynists, but in old world villages like this, the lines between the genders are strongly drawn.
ASHOK MALIK: “Our country we call ‘mother’. A cow we call ‘mother’. Women have high status here because they look after the home. All the jobs outside, the dangerous work, will be done by us. They look after the house. That is how it is”.
DANIEL: “I’ve heard of cases of girls who’ve been raped being forced to marry their rapist”.
ASHOK MALIK: “If both are in agreement, then that is fine”.
DANIEL: In the cities the biggest challenge for girls and women seeking justice for sexual assault is the justice system itself, from the courts to the cops. Police can be recklessly indifferent to reports of rape. You get a sense of how indifferent in this undercover report put together by a local news magazine.
ARJUN SINGH: [Clip, SHO Surajpur Police Station, Greater Nolda] “If girls don’t stay within their boundaries, if they don’t wear appropriate clothes, naturally there is attraction”.
DANIEL: Officers in the Delhi region are recorded discussing how the way women dress provokes attack.
ARJUN SINGH: [Clip, SHO Surajpur Police Station, Greater Nolda] “This attraction makes men aggressive, prompting them to just go for it. Such provocative clothes are an invitation in itself”.
DANIEL: And one officer claims most reports brought to this station are contrived.
ROOP LAL: [Clip, Sub-Inspector, Gurgaon Police] “Only 10% of rape cases actually involve force. Only 10% are genuine. The rest is…”.
DANIEL: But even when rape reports are taken seriously and they do make it to court, the process can be painfully, ridiculously slow.
ZAHIRA: “The faces of the criminals need to be exposed for their filthy acts. So the world can see that they may look good, but in reality they do ugly things”.
DANIEL: Zahira was 13 when she was gang raped and tortured. That was almost 8 years ago. Her case is still being prosecuted as one of six accused. The nephew of a powerful politician, remains free.
ZAHIRA: “He needs to get his punishment. He is free because some people are trying to save him because he has a lot of money. But I will not give up. We are not the ones who are wrong. We can’t bring back what we have lost, but we can fight at least. We tolerate everybody’s words, we get taunts and nasty comments when we venture out so that’s why I want to be strong, come forward and show that I can fight for myself”.
DANIEL: In Zahira’s case police are protecting her against constant threats. Her family’s been offered money beyond their wildest dreams to let it go, drop the case, but Zahira and her father have stayed resolute.
ZAHIRA’S FATHER: “This fight that we are fighting, if it results in a good law, or those guys get severe punishment, then at least there’ll be fear in everyone, so such crimes will not be repeated. That’s why we fight – not just for us, it is for everybody, for other women, for the country”.
DANIEL: “What have you lost since you were raped?”
ZAHIRA: “I have lost all my friends… and I have lost my childhood… I don’t have any friends anymore”.
DANIEL: Zahira does have the love and support of a tight knit family and she’s still young enough to hope that real change to the way women are treated and valued just might occur in her lifetime. Change for the better that one day will be traced back to something so bad – the terrible ordeal of one girl among so many, a girl named Jyoti.
BADRINATH SINGH: “I have always felt she is around me. I feel her around this place all the time”.
DANIEL: “If it does bring change, will that bring any…. any comfort to you?”
BADRINATH SINGH: “Yes I think if there is a change in the law at least some women will be saved from what happens. If there are no changes then I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know”.
USHA VISHWAKAMA: “After the Delhi rape case, people have come out to speak against these atrocities. Women who never use to come out are speaking up. This is a first for India. I feel like it’s not going to stop now – and I’m very glad about that”.
LEEZA MANGALDAS: “I hope that it’s occupying people’s attention for more than just five minutes of publicity that it’s going to get because I think that the sort of legal and educational reform required to bring down the rape statistics in this country will take decades to implement. You don’t change mindsets over night, I think that this is just the beginning.