Last year, the jurors of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize, the highest award for journalists in the USA picked up a long narrative piece published in a little known magazine called The Stranger. The piece, written by Eli Sanders, an associate editor with the magazine was based on a gruesome attack when two women were brutally assaulted and raped over several hours.
Sanders sat through the court proceedings to minutely record the testimony of the surviving woman as she described in excruciating detail how the man had entered their house and asked them at knife-point to strip and then attacked them. He kept cutting them up until one of them died from the excessive bleeding while the other, although bearing the marks of mutilation, managed to escape.
The jurors at the Pulitzer organisation called his piece, The Bravest Woman in Seattle, a “haunting story of a woman who survived a brutal attack that took the life of her partner, using the woman’s brave courtroom testimony and the details of the crime to construct a moving narrative.”
The 5,246-word piece chronicled the trial until July 1, 2011, when the jury found the accused, Isaiah Kalebu, guilty of aggravated, premeditated murder in the first degree, rape in the first degree, burglary and felony. It sent him to prison till the end of his natural life without the possibility of parole while the defence attorney described the survivor-witness as the best he had seen in 14 years of his legal practice.
Such testimonies, recorded by reporters and other historians become an important milestone in the evolution of a democracy that is ruled by law. The judiciary, like the legislature and the executive, is a key pillar that ensures the good health of a democracy. They must be seen to work and, therefore, must work in a transparent manner. Such transparency ensures faith in the rule of law and also provides important lessons to a society that needs protection from anarchy.
Unfortunately, such nuance is lost on a colonial force like the Delhi police, which, if the lone witness of the gang rape is to be believed, acted in a most unprofessional behaviour.
If the witness is not to be believed, then the ugly scenes that flooded our living rooms when the Delhi police went after unarmed protestors is adequate proof that this police force is caught in a time warp. So, when such a police force seeks a trial of the gang rape to be conducted in secrecy (in-camera), it is a disturbing move to ensure that the citizens cannot see how their justice system functions.
It is not adequate to know the result of the trial. For the health of a democracy, it is important for citizens to know what were the legal arguments which led to the conviction (or acquittal) of those charged with the horrific crime. It is also critical to know how the police presented the results of the investigation in a court of law. But, most importantly, as a people, it is imperative to know the tragedy that occurred that cold night on December 16 last year when the life of a 23-year-old woman was so brutally snuffed out. If these stories are not recorded and told, it will cause an irreparable harm to a democracy that is constantly struggling to ensure the rule of law.
The brutal death of this girl is an epochal moment in the lives of a people who were, for once, shocked out of their apathy. They came out on the streets, braved the water cannons and the tear gas of the police to be heard in the harsh cold of Delhi. Their fellow citizens stepped out in other cities, moved by the courage that this young woman had displayed.
The Indian army decided to cancel all its official functions on New Year’s Eve.
Something about the way she was assaulted and killed found resonance in India and abroad. For weeks, respected international dailies such as UK-based The Guardian recorded this story as one of its top stories on its website as millions of people followed it. That says something. Now that the father has named his daughter to the world, the least what India’s justice system can do is to ensure that the horrors of her testimony are recorded for posterity through a transparent trial. That is the least that a nation can owe to the bravest woman in Delhi and the democratic ideals the city swears by.