(I wanted to put this out just as the day ended. Read, please.)
December 16th is a date seared in many a memories, and it’s a date most Delhiites, especially, will remember as the day that tragedy wasn’t just a paradigm kept far away from cozy homes. Tragedy wasn’t just a news piece to tut and tch at anymore. There was, for the first time in a long time, no buffer zone between ragedy, horror, pain and us.
Every year, invariably, think pieces about #nirbhaya come out. Poems are written about her courage, and she’s valourised, mythicalised into a creature of divine attributes- fearless, brave, angry. the word ‘nirbhaya’, which literally means ‘fearless’, becomes a rallying cry for a few days every December, and we all pause to step back and contemplate of what a sad death a young woman died.
That’s all we do. We call her Nirbhaya, strip her of her identity, and reduce her personhood to a concept. We use that concept to project an ideal martyr. And then, we go home to tut and tch again. Her name was Jyoti Singh Pandey. She was a young woman on the cusp of become a part of a burgeoning, aspirational middle class. She was a student, walking the roads most of us frequented, watching a movie most of us saw that week too. That’s why we outraged, because these little details made her a real person to us, because suddenly it wasn’t a binary between ‘us’ and ‘the poor girl’. It took for that to happen for us to care, but we did.
If we use December 16th as a gauge, we need to use it as one for how we’ve progressed and changed the society that killed Jyoti, not as a chronological distancing from the gruesome events itself. Ask yourself today, as you sleep, about how the country has changed since that fateful day. Pause and reflect on how fast the platitudes gushed in, and how they evaporated just as quickly. Wonder why you call her Nirbhaya, and not Jyoti, and realise that in our search for the ideal victim, we absolved so much responsibility.
Nirbhayas are created every day. It’s just that one day of caring, of empathy and solidarity, doesn’t erase them, or complicity to their creation, or the collective guilt we must cut through the brambles of placating posts to reach. In trying to comfort ourselves, swaddled by privilege as we are, forget that not much has changed on, well, any front.
While that’s despicable, the first step towards righting a wrong done, or pain caused, is to acknowledge that it does exist. And that’s what I hope you do tonight as you drift off.
Think of Jyoti, not #nirbhaya.
Think of the thousands of names we’ll probably ever know.