On the evening of December 16th, 2012, 23 year old Jyoti Singh, a young medical intern, went out with a male friend to celebrate the completion of her final exams. The two went out into Delhi and watched the film Life of Pi. On the way home they made the fateful mistake of boarding an off-duty charter bus, one that happened to have six young male friends — including the driver.
The ensuing horror defies one’s darkest imagination. As the driver roamed the streets, Jyoti was repeatedly raped by the five young men (including one minor). But raping her wasn’t enough. As the driver recalls, they soon decided to employ the services of a metal rod, “mainly to teach them a lesson”. The driver adds: “Someone put his hand inside her and pulled out something long. It was her intestines.” And just to be clear, the driver makes sure we know that it’s Jyoti’s fault: “She should just be silent and allow the rape.”
When they were finished 1 1/2 hours later, the rapists threw Jyoti and her friend from the moving bus like pieces of trash. Jyoti later succumbed to the catastrophic trauma.
The driver recounts these unimaginably evil crimes with an infuriatingly flat emotional affect — the kind that makes you want to bash his head in … if only to see some sign of emotion. (Of course, that’s only one of the many reasons you want to bash his head in.) But there is some emotion if you look closely. It’s moral indignation and irritation. The message is undeniable: Jyoti and her consort got what was coming to them. And the driver and his friends have been unfairly singled out in an arbitrary witch hunt.
Is the driver a psychopath? I wish it were that simple. The far more disturbing prospect is that the driver is simply the product of a horrifyingly misogynistic culture, one which believes that the woman’s place is in the home, and that the “weaker sex” is consigned to endure a liminal existence in a dangerous, male-dominated world.
Incredibly, in his interview the defense attorney arguably exceeds even the driver in his offense. He boldly blames Jyoti for the crime. What is a young lady doing travelling out after 6:30 pm with a man who is not her family member? he asks with a nauseating moral superiority. He adds that a woman is like a diamond: if you leave a diamond in the street then the dogs will get it. To cap it off, he adds with a condescending smirk: “We have the best culture. In our culture there is no place for a woman.”
Jyoti Singh is a moral hero like Malala Yousafzai. She worked tirelessly to realize her dream of becoming a doctor. And she was compassionate. When a young boy stole from her, she pleaded with the police to give him mercy. And then in a scene reminiscent of the moment in Les Misérables where Bienvenu wins Jean Valjean’s honesty with the gift of silver, Jyoti offers to buy her young thief what he wanted if he would promise to do right.
Jyoti’s parents proudly recall how, to the puzzlement of their neighbors and family members, they had celebrated Jyoti’s birth as if she were a boy. Now that she is gone her father recounts his pain in one of the film’s many moving scenes:
“For a father who once upon a time who let his baby girl sleep over him, who held her in his arms and played with her, who held her finger and taught her to walk, to have set fire to that daughter during creation by his very hands. This is very difficult. The most difficult. When I remember this moment, I’m unable to speak. Words just don’t come out.”
The filmmakers titled their powerful documentary India’s Daughter. The title is somewhat ironic given that the Indian government banned the film given its “negative” portrayal of Indian society. But Jyoti isn’t simply India’s daughter, she’s everyone’s daughter. And the challenge to combat misogyny and patriarchy belongs not merely to India but to us all.