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Though a circle of viewers had formed around the scene, nobody stepped forward to help. One of the assaulters lifted his leg to kick the woman.
The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.
Gitanjali Maria is one of the winners for the February 2021 Muse of the Month. About this story, our author juror for this month, Damyanti Biswas says, “The protagonist of this story is brave, and the narrative covers a lot of ground that’s very relevant to our current times.”
It was originally titled the same: ‘Rima – The Cloud That Became The Thunderstorm And Brought Change’.
Rima folded the newspaper and placed it back on the table with a thump louder than she had intended it to be. A few people sitting around her on the plush green sofas looked up from their newspapers and laptops at this expression of frustration. Some scowled, others frowned. But everybody soon went back to their own activities.
“Reading newspapers today is a headache. The kind of things happening everywhere makes one feel sick. How many rapes will it take before they all get punished for it?” she muttered to herself. This time nobody around her looked up though some heads seemed to nod while still engrossed in their work.
Rima was waiting in the lobby of one of the buildings in DLF Cyber Hub. She had an interview scheduled with one of the companies in the building for 11 am. Miscalculating the expected traffic on the route, she had ended up reaching almost an hour early. Now that she had finished glancing through the newspapers and whiled away a quarter of her wait time, the confusion in her mind re-surfaced.
She’d always wanted to be like those activists, working for the poor and the marginalized and fighting for justice rather than be an IT engineer – the position for she was about to give an interview. At the same time, she also wanted financial independence and enough money to take care of her and her family’s wants. It was the financial security that an IT job offered her, and the feeling that you could be an activist at any age, that led to her to jump into the corporate world.
She tapped her fingers on the arms of the sofa and looked around at the people walking in and out of the large, well-lit circular lobby. Even as she counted the number of bulbs in the large chandelier hanging at the center of the building, her mind was planning the future — a successful career, weekends spend volunteering at an orphanage or poor kids school, joining some environmental groups, and some travel and adventure.
She smiled to herself as she thought how well the plan was, balancing her career and passions. It was then her eyes fell on two young men, arguing with the receptionist. With each passing moment, their voices grew louder and the expletives from their mouths more distasteful.
It seemed that the girl had turned down a romance proposal from one of the two young men. And they were now threatening her with acid attacks and sexual harassment if she didn’t come their way.
A few of the building’s admin staff came to see what the issue was. But by then the situation had taken a worse turn. The two young men dragged the receptionist from behind her desk and brought her to the center of the lobby.
“Let everybody see what you’re worth it. This is what happens if you don’t bend to Rahul’s wishes.”
They pulled her hair and smacked her head. Her saree was torn and coming off in several places. Though a circle of viewers had formed around the scene, nobody stepped forward to help. One of the assaulters lifted his leg to kick the woman.
And that’s when Rima found herself between the bullying man and the frightened lady, who had already fallen down. She didn’t know what force brought her to this confrontation. But just the feeling that a fellow young woman needed to be helped and saved from these savages made her jump in without any second thought. Her karate skills ensured that she had just in the nick of time caught hold of the man’s raised leg and brought him down.
Enraged at somebody coming to the defense of their target object and seething at seeing his friend fall, the other man pulled out a pistol from his pants’ rear pocket and shot at Rima. One shot. Two shots. Three shots.
Rima fell on the ground, clutching her stomach, her body curling up to minimize pain.
Darkness slow and deep, quiet, still, unmoving, unbreathing in a dark, sugary sleep: no pain, no joy, no sight, no sound, no taste; she remained floating, distant. She wouldn’t wake up, she’d stay in this cotton-wool world, its soft, sleepy music lifting her up through the roof, the banisters, the rooms up above, through the entire weight of the building, its steeple. She rose like a wisp of cloud.
The cloud was soon to turn into a thunderstorm as news spread about a brave 23-year-old who stood between powerful assaulters and a young woman, trying to save her life and modesty. The fact that it happened in a swanky corporate surrounding only added to the furor around it.
“How dare they?”
“How safe are our offices? And our daughters?”
“What is the use of police and security?”
“The people who’re watching are cowards. We need to do more to protect ourselves from such bullies. Characterless young boys!”
“The boys should be punished by law. Parents should bring up boys better, not with the kind of arrogant power and superiority feeling that goes into their heads from childhood.”
Everywhere the chorus of #JusticeForRima began to trend. There were sit-in protests, signed petitions, social media campaigns and hashtags, and a flood of PILs. The cloud that rose above the building that sunny morning was now spreading to other cities as well.
Large numbers of groups and thousands of active citizens came together to demand that women be treated better. News channels on TVs debated whether the girl was right to spurn the rich boy’s love, whether Rima was right to come in between, and who deserved to be punished.
More people now stood up against violence against women. Everywhere the masses turned to punish boys and men whom they saw ‘eve-teasing’ girls, molesting them, or threatening them with abuses. In debates, the voices of those who looked upon women as mere objects were drowned by the cries for equity, self-respect, and punishment.
The cloud passed from city to city and town to town to ensure that Rima got justice, inspiring people to stand up for justice and fair treatment to women. Many people said they saw Rima everywhere they went and were certain that if the girl didn’t get justice and if girls everywhere weren’t safe even in this 21st century, the country would be doomed.
Finally, after eighty-six days of hearings and sessions, protests and petitions, the courts ruled in favour of Rima, punishing the boys for attempt to murder and four other charges. It also directed the government to pass a law strictly punishing offenders of sexual crimes and to ensure the safety of women and girls.
As the cloud burst and the first of the rains fell on the country, Rima stirred slowly in the hospital bed, and twitched her toe. Her first movement in eighty-six days. The cloud of uncertainty has passed over and she will live now, the doctors said.
Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Damyanti Biswas, author of the multi-faceted and fast paced crime fiction book, You Beneath Your Skin, reviewed here.
Damyanti Biswas currently calls Singapore her home. Her short fiction has been published, or is forthcoming, at Smokelong, Ambit, Litro, Puerto del Sol, Pembroke, Griffith Review Australia, as well as other journals in the USA and UK. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions and is available in various anthologies in Asia. She serves as one of the editors of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her debut literary crime novel, You Beneath Your Skin, was published by Simon & Schuster, and optioned for screens by Endemol Shine. She’s a mentor at Pitch Wars, a program for aspiring authors, a blogger for the past thirteen years, and sends out a curated monthly gazette for writers and readers.
The cue is from her book You Beneath Your Skin, which you have to incorporate into your entry – whether at the beginning, end or somewhere in between.
“Darkness slow and deep, quiet, still, unmoving, unbreathing in a dark, sugary sleep: no pain, no joy, no sight, no sound, no taste; she remained floating, distant. She wouldn’t wake up, she’d stay in this cotton-wool world, its soft, sleepy music lifting her up through the roof, the banisters, the rooms up above, through the entire weight of the building, its steeple. She rose like a wisp of cloud. “
Gitanjali Maria wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations!
Image source: a still from the the film Cocktail
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