There were a couple of firsts in the charge sheet of the Delhi gang rape case of December 16. Stories filed by crime reporters revealed that that policemen had subtly peddled their innovations to their trusted beat reporters. Instead of carrying hundreds of sheets of paper as precious documents that would determine whether the 23-year old gets justice or not, they were riding light with a soft copy — the first electronic chargesheet. Their second feat was a bit tricky. While they just about manage to file chargesheets in most crucial cases like the Nithari case in three months, they were claiming to have sealed the Delhi gang rape and murder case in just 18 days. But before anyone had time to wonder whether the police’s superpower-like speed in building a watertight case was to be trusted or not, and before the e-chargesheet had even transferred successfully into the Metropolitan Magistrate’s sarkari-owned-secretary-operated computer, a different kind of electronic wave was unsettling their plans.
A calm, young man who looked very much like a guy who lives in everyone’s colony, appeared on our screens and turned out to be one of the main protagonists of the nightmare we’d all been reliving ever since the night of December 16. Suddenly, the nightmare which for many of us was about violence against women, about attitudes towards rape and of masculinity, became a testament of everything that’s wrong in our system. I don’t know the legal implications of disclosing the identity of a victim, but by giving us his account of what happened that night when he went to watch an early evening show of Life of Pi, he’s taught us that the clichés and the stereotypes of our system still ring true. Before I heard his story, I would laugh at these stereotypes. I had embraced them as Indian traits, but I know I won’t be laughing any time soon.
Like how we love to stop and stare. As the boy describes how he and his friend were lying by the side of the road, waving their hands for somebody or something to stop, I remembered the number of times I witnessed crowds on the road trying to peek at someone’s misery. It could be just two motorists fighting, or it could be the sight of a vehicle that’d been mauled beyond recognition — But how strange do you have to be to take the effort to park just so you can be part of the staring crowds?
Of course, they wouldn’t have been lying there in the first place if the other villain in all our lives — the auto driver — hadn’t decided to make a starring cameo appearance. How familiar it sounded when he said that all auto drivers refused to take the two of them to their destination. The one that agreed to take them part of the way was an metre-less auto, the flagrantly illegal reality of our public transport system. As a city reporter, how many stories had we all done about these violations, how many generations of reporters had done the same, and it all came to nothing? Like the police we may have patted ourselves in the back, when these city page, non-prime time stories, elicited a “We will enquire into it” kind of response from the chief minister, but the truth is, we were all failures. We failed to create enough pressure, and the authorities, of course, didn’t do their jobs. But no one expects them to, obviously, which is why something as big as a bus with a history of violations, as black as its tinted windows, wasn’t afraid to be moving around in the police’s backyard. The traffic police is very proud to be on Twitter, very proud to be catching people through photos on Facebook, but they couldn’t have impounded something as obvious as a huge bus which had six violations in two years?
And now the traffic police and the auto drivers outside the shiny multiplex have blood on their hands. They, as well as the police force and their masters who had such a complicated jurisdiction system, argued about which police station was responsible, and weren’t distracted by the cries and the bloodied, naked bodies of two young people. The police wants to do training in gender sensitisation courses, but that seems to be getting way ahead of their time. They still need to learn how to drive the injured and dying to the hospital quickly, they still need to learn how to get a patrol van or an ambulance before an hour has passed, learn how to respond to trauma with basic sensitivity which tells them to cover a naked body instead of ignoring their pleas, and they need to work out why they can only take medico-legal cases like the gang rape victim and her friend, to government hospitals like Safdarjung. I don’t have the faith to hope that their masters, the political bosses, will ever figure out how to fix government hospitals so that the dying don’t have to wait for hours to see a doctor.
Yes, the gang rape and murder of the 23-year-old girl had scared me about how my friends, the other women in my city and I will survive its beastly men. But thanks to this young man’s account, it’s not just our worst nightmare, it’s everyman’s.
Sunetra Choudhury is an anchor/reporter for NDTV and is the author of the election travelogue Braking News. On Twitter: @sunetrac