The inner battle

Runu Chakraborty
Gender Trainer, Feminist Singer, Activist

This story is part of a series written and curated by Runu Chakraborty, we suggest you also read Mahila Samakhya: some lives, many learnings and O, what kind of a foreign land is this

The inner battle

After the November 1984 anti-Sikh riots, we all felt broken. Through the Nagrik Ekta Manch, we would work at the relief camps, spend time with riot-hit women and children and listen to their accounts. In the evenings, some of us friends would get together, cry, calm our hearts and return home. The next day, yet again, we prepared ourselves to spend some time with those living in terror. It was as if every moment we could smell burning bodies and tyres. The fires that burnt houses and belongings had been doused but the fires that raged within were still ablaze.

There was neither any hope of relief from the government nor was it sought. The citizens of Delhi did whatever and however they could. Although cases against the perpetrators were registered, but when the incumbent Congress party was itself supporting the crime and criminals, how could justice be delivered? Gradually, people’s lives had started to get back on track, but wounds of the mind were still fresh.

We had not recovered from this horror when the Bhopal tragedy struck. Nervously we reached Bhopal to conduct a study. The purpose of this study was to gauge the effects of methane gas on the reproductive system and other organs of women and men.

What we saw there was more frightful than death…Those still alive were somehow struggling to breathe and praying for death. These two consecutive attacks had proven that we were powerless against this big regime. The horrors of death had taken roots in the heart. Our helplessness in the face of violence enacted via systemic assaults was understandable. This was a defeat that we had not accepted, yet a sense of boundless gloom had settled in our hearts.

During that time, news reached us that the sister of a friend’s friend was being sexually exploited by her husband’s friend, a senior army officer. While travelling from Hyderabad to Jammu or between his residence and duty station, he would stay a night in Delhi at his friend’s house, and take advantage of his friend’s absence to sexually abuse his wife. As soon as we heard this, some of us friends got together and planned to punish this criminal.

As per our plan, about seven to eight of us collected at the victim’s house on the evening of the man’s arrival. We had two male friends and the victim’s sister and brother-in-law with us too. We waited for the man in an unlit, dark room of the house. Outside it, the woman of the house, her sister and brother-in-law and two male friends sat chatting to make things seem normal to the perpetrator; that is how it happened. He came and fell into the trap. Without any suspicion, he sat on a chair. As soon as we received the signal, all of us who had been hiding in another room came out and gherao-ed the man. We were red in the face and stiff in our bodies.

He understood that the scene was awry but what could he do! He could neither run nor attack us. He kept sitting quietly.

We placed cigarette ash on his head, blew smoke on his face, called him names. Treated him to hatred-filled sarcasm. After some time, we shaved his head. We also shaved his eyebrows. Our male friends stripped him and used white paint to scribble “I am a rapist pig” on his bald pate and back.

It was one of those chilly nights around the 30thof December. It was past 10 p.m. We threw his suitcase down from the third floor. The clothes lay strewn on the street. We were about to flush his I.D. card when our male friends stopped us with the argument that this will lead to his court martial which will adversely impact his family, especially his wife. We stopped. On that freezing, cold night, when we threw him out of the house around 11 p.m., there was not a thread on his bare body. All this while he could not say a word. This was a victory for us but the anger inside seethed. That time it felt like we had won the match. We had no regrets at our actions.

Then, for several days after this incident, it haunted me. My sleep had been disturbed. We were unable to celebrate this achievement. Within a week of the incident, a friend and I met. When we touched the subject of that event, we evaded eye contact. Something felt like a burden on the heart. Like a rock or a mountain.

During our conversation, we realized how violent we were, how our violence was hidden inside. We had avenged the brutality of the last two tragedies by being violent to a lone man. We regretted our behaviour. Having met the demon hiding with us was scary. Whether our actions were right or wrong continues to be a dilemma till date.

This story is part of a series written and curated by Runu Chakraborty, we suggest you also read Mahila Samakhya: some lives, many learnings and O, what kind of a foreign land is this