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As he drove away ashamed and insulted, Jyoti was scared seeing that look in his eye, that of an injured wild animal as he shouted “If I can’t have you, no-one else will!”
Here is the fifth winner of our November 2017 Muse of the Month contest, Pooja Sharma Rao.
The cue for this month was from the movie Dum Laga Ke Haisha. The woman who stands up to fat shaming. The protagonist is humiliated by her husband in front of his friends. She slaps him, packs her bag, leaves him, and goes to her parents’ home. They try to convince her to go back, saying that he must not have meant it, and should have kept quiet – to which she counters, “He insulted me and you want me to be quiet?”
Jyoti was the first girl from her entire village to complete a school education, but still her parents and brothers did not want her to join college in Merrut, about 50 kms from her village. According to them she was already too old for a suitable “match” and people from their community did not prefer ‘educated’ girls as it was believed that it would make girls less obedient and rebellious.
So a deal was struck between her and the family- she could go to college as long as a suitable marriage proposal was finalised and after that it would be her future in-laws’ decision to allow her to continue studies or not.
Jyoti heaved a sigh of relief and as a barter for her true solace books and college she readily paraded almost every other week all dolled up, with the clichéd chai-tray in front of prospective grooms and their families.
Though her relief was short lived, commuting to college was increasingly becoming a nightmare. A man from her neighbourhood who was the local goon, along with his younger brother had started stalking her every morning and afternoon on her way to and fro. They would follow her on their bike, or sometimes even be audacious enough to board the bus with her and stand too close for comfort. Brush past her deliberately on the road, say obscene things, make vulgar gestures at her and sing cheap Bollywood songs. Vinay the younger of the two claimed that he loved her and she must love him too.
Jyoti didn’t tell anyone at home because she was sure the kneejerk reaction would be to stop her college education, she didn’t want to complain to the boys’ families because she knew in our culture the blame is always pushed to the girl – you must have enticed them, provoked them etc.
In a few weeks she was betrothed to a boy for marriage in a few months by her family, she heaved a sigh of relief that this might discourage the stalkers. But to her surprise he became even more aggressive and started pressurising her to elope with her.
One morning as she stood at the bus stop, he held her by her arm and tried to force her into his car, in the tussle that ensued Jyoti slapped him hard as several onlookers silently watched.
As he drove away ashamed and insulted, Jyoti was scared seeing that look in his eye, that of an injured wild animal as he shouted “If I can’t have you, no-one else will”.
She avoided going out for a few days after that.
A week later for her term exam her brother was sent to drop her to college, as soon as he halted his bike and Jyoti was alighting, came two men with masks on a bike and suddenly spilled a liquid on her, the air got filled with burnt smell of skin and smoke.
Her brother was shouting too, the liquid had entered his eyes. Jyoti fainted, and gained consciousness many days later in a hospital room. Her morose mother was sitting next to her bed. Jyoti could barely speak but in sign language asked about her brother. Her mother started crying, “Why couldn’t you remain silent? Your brother has lost sight in one eye; you will not be able to recognise yourself. They threw acid on you!”
Jyoti’s head was whirling; only two words kept ringing in her ears- Silent! Acid!
After a few days as Jyoti had gotten used to seeing her burnt face, with a stoic, numb silence, she insisted that the police investigation mustn’t stop and the case must be pursued.
The words of her mother were repeated to her over and over again by her family, friends, and society-
“Why couldn’t you remain silent?”
Jyoti was blamed for her brother’s plight, her marriage was called off, and she was hidden when curious guests/neighbours visited to assess the damage to her beauty.
But something in her refused to remain silent, she followed up her case alone, with help from some NGOs, never covered her face because she began to believe – the abuser must be ashamed not the survivor!
Today she was a speaker at a function where they were celebrating the modification of The Indian Penal Code for the first time to add regulations tailored to acid attacks.
Almost a decade later, her voice and her face had delivered a message. The survivor was not ashamed but proud and an inspiration for many girls as she always wanted to be.
Pooja Sharma Rao wins a Rs 250 Amazon voucher, as well as a chance to be picked one among the top winners at the end of 2017. Congratulations!
Image source: pixabay