It was a Friday evening, a man stopped near a house in a quiet lane. He took out a small piece of paper from his shirt pocket, read an address from it using the light of his mobile phone, verified the name and address written on the door, it appeared to him that there was nobody living in the house, he could not find any sign of light inside the big house of Mr. S. Gupta, Chartered Accountant, written on the name plate; he was surprised, thinking, where the entire family had disappeared; he looked again but this time even more carefully through a heavy window curtain; it appeared to him that there could be a small light in the middle of the house but still everything was so quiet which made him believe that probably when the family had left the house they forgot to power off the light. There was no sign of any living being in the entire house, but still he was bit surprised about why they forgot to switch off the light in the middle of the house, it could have been the light of the living room or any other room whose light could be seen from outside through a window, he pressed the doorbell button but could not hear any bell ringing inside; he was about to go back but suddenly some strange thought occurred into his mind. He knocked the door few times and pressed his ears tightly against the door with a faint hope if he could hear any movement inside the house; he heard none; he repeated; but this time he could feel some movement inside; very faint though; he could feel that there was somebody behind the window; it was only a shadow, not very clear though, the best that could be seen through the heavy curtain of the window of the living room; it appeared to him that somebody tiptoed to the window and standing behind the curtain and was watching him.
This is a quiet lane where there are houses of few families who have been living here for a very long time, probably few generations. He could not see any young people loitering around anywhere in the lane. There were lampposts at regular intervals and that was the primary source of light in the area at night. The man looked intensely through the window and was convinced that a shadow was watching him from inside. He probably could be seen as a figure standing at the door by somebody inside the house because of the street lights which were falling on him from his behind.
The man was now convinced without any doubt that he was being watched from inside by the person standing behind the curtain; since the street lights were behind him, his face would not be visible from inside, he moved very close to the door, closest possible and started talking in a farm but not too loud voice, so that the person inside could hear him but anybody from the neighborhood could not.
“I am professor Banerjee from the University where your daughter is studying M. A. Can you please open the door? I know it is extremely difficult time for you and your family, but I need to talk and it is urgent.”
Mr. Banerjee could hear somebody talking but could not hear anything clearly; it appeared as if some sound is coming from a great distance.
“Can you please come closer to the door and speak, I could not hear you”, he suggested.
“Professor Banerjee, I sincerely apologize for being rude, we are not meeting anybody now. I am sorry but you have to go back. I shall try to meet you on Monday at your office in the University”, the man replied.
“Mr. Gupta, please let me in, I will not take more than few minutes of your time, it is very important, it cannot wait”, Mr. Banerjee was happy to see that someone was finally talking to him.
“Please wait”, professor could hear the words from inside and saw a shadow was receding behind the window.
In the neighborhood every single house had its windows open and there were signs of people living in every house. This house was the only exception, as if it had just descended from some scary Hitchcock movie. He started waiting, the wait appeared like forever to him. Then with a very faint sound the door opened, Mr. Gupta took him in, immediately closed the door behind him; requested him to leave his shoes on the shoe rack in the living room. Even though the professor got somewhat accustomed to the dim light while waiting very long outside in almost dark but it was still difficult for him to find the shoe rack in the living room, which was still dark and the host exhibited no willingness to switch the light on. The only light he could see was the one in the middle of the house, away from the door of the living room; he could see a dinner table and few chairs placed there.
The host tiptoed towards the dinner table and the guest followed him exactly in the same way without even realizing why he was tiptoeing.
“I am Mr. Gupta, your student Nidhi’s father” and he requested Mr. Banerjee to take a sit.
“I am Mr. Banerjee, your daughter’s teacher from the University” while saying he realized that it was not actually necessary because he introduced himself while standing outside but this time he could see the face of the person he was talking to.
“I think your door bell is not working, Mr. Gupta”.
“We disconnected it, Professor Banerjee”.
Suddenly both fell silent. Mr. Banerjee realized that it was his turn to talk, after all it was he who came to discuss some ‘urgent mater’ but he did not know how to broach the subject. Silence, sometimes could be so disturbing, he realized once again.
They sat like that for a while, but it appeared endless; Mr. Banerjee was relieved when Mrs. Gupta entered with tea for them.
“This is my wife, Mrs. Gupta.”
Mr. Banerjee greeted her. She greeted her back after keeping the tray on the table.
She sat on a chair and served tea to both.
“I apologize to you Mr. Banerjee for being so rude”, finally Mr. Gupta spoke which gave his guest some relief.
“I understand Mr. Gupta, you do not need to apologize. “
“Since that evening when Nidhi’s life was ruined we do not have any place to stand. We ran out of all the options. We do not even know if we are still alive and if we are why we are still alive. Even in our home we are not able to talk to each other anymore. We never realized that living could be so painful.” Mr. Gupta said in one stretch and then paused for a while.
Mr. Banerjee started recalling everything he had heard about that fateful night. Nidhi is a very bright student in his department, a very rare talent; Mr. Banerjee could not recollect seeing such a bright student in a very long time.
On that fateful evening, she was returning home from the library, it was already late, but it was not unusual for her. It was her habit to go to the library after the university classes and study for few hours. To save some walking time she used to take a small lane which generally remained empty most of the time after dark. Suddenly four boys, who were walking towards her like any normal people, overpowered her and pushed her inside a van, which was parked at the side and drove her to a secluded place. Then they started raping her, one at a time. Nidhi, being mentally very strong, started screaming but being nobody around, no help came. She tried to bite one of them but he slapped her so hard that she started bleeding from her mouth. After finishing their jobs they took her picture, threatened to publish her photo if she ever tried to lodge any complaint to the police and also to kill her. They dumped her on the roadside and drove away. She could not find any strength for a while. She was surprised to see no human being around. She collected her clothes which were scattered here and there, put on the clothes, wiped out the blood stains from her face as much as possible; collected all her books and notes which they threw away from their car while driving away. Then she looked around again and realized that it was a cemetery. She started dragging her feet.
Mr. Banerjee came to know about all these primarily from two sources – first from the over enthusiastic news media and second from the police. But what he did not realize was why the investigation started three days after the incident took place.
Mr. Banerjee and few other faculty members and all the students in her class realized that Nidhi was absent for three consecutive days, which was very unusual for her, knowing how sincere she was. Some of her friends tried to reach her by phone and by email but got no response. On the third day every possible news media was seen in the university campus, trying to talk to every student to collect as much information as possible. “Actually police came first and their arrival in the campus drew the media attention, and soon the news broke like a forest fire”, Mr. Banerjee recalled.
The investigating police officer’s visit into the University campus surprised Mr. Banerjee. “Why they could not come in plain clothes. And why so many policemen were needed to verify the attendance register and ask few questions to the head of the department “, he thought. “Probably they were trying to verify the statement given be her while registering an FIR, which could be their standard method of investigation, but one officer in plain cloth would have been sufficient”, he reasoned.
“Even though the name of the victim should never be disclosed to the public, but everybody who knew Nidhi personally came to know who the victim was and it happened only because of the news media and the police” Mr. Banerjee was convinced.
“Why the investigation started three days after the incident”, Mr. Banerjee suddenly asked, realizing though that that was not what he really wanted to know and that was not the purpose of his visit either.
“That night Nidhi came home so late that we were all very worried. She could not find her mobile phone; probably it was destroyed by those miscreants or it was lost. So we were not able to reach her. Her mother knew that she goes to the library after the class so she did not call any of her friends as well. We were all walking up and down this lane. When it was about 11 and I was about to call the police, an auto rickshaw stopped near our gate and we saw a girl got down. It took us few seconds to realize that she was badly hurt. Stain of blood was all over her face and clothes. Her mother ran and hold her and took her inside, I paid the driver and let him go.” Mr. Gupta continued, “I called the police that night but they told me to come to the police station the next morning as there was nobody to record an FIR at this late hour.”
“I never realized that a night could be as long as an epoch” Mr. Gupta continued. “Next day morning we went to the police station to lodge an FIR. We waited very long; finally we were told that the person who handles this kind of complaints will not be available that day. Since we were determined not to leave the police station without lodging a complaint we were told to take Nidhi for a preliminary medical examination and to come back the following day with the report. ”
“Next day”, Mr. Gupta continued, “When we went to the police station we found that again they were paying no attention to us. I realized that they were using ‘delaying tactics’, probably they did not want us to lodge an FIR. When I told them if they did not record our statement I would directly go to the media, they started moving.”
“A male officer, in his late 40s started asking her questions.” Mr. Gupta continued, “The languages of those questions were so disturbing that I had to protest. He threatened me, even told me that he would not allow us to lodge an FIR if I dared to question his authority. He even threatened to put me under lock-up. But I was relentless and finally he caved in. They called a female officer to record her statements. By the time all these were completed it was late. Probably they visited the University the next day to verify her statements.”
Mrs. Gupta collected the empty cups and the tray and went inside the kitchen. Mr. Banerjee could hear she was talking inside, as if trying to convince someone.
In the absence of Mrs. Gupta these two men suddenly found they are out of words again. Both were relieved when she walked in and sat on the same chair where she was sitting before.
“What harm have we done to others that we have to suffer like this?” Mrs. Gupta broke the silence. “Her education has come to an abrupt halt. I do not think she would ever be able to go back to the University, how she could show her face again. We are thinking of moving to some other city where nobody would be able to recognize us. I do not know if she would ever be able to live a normal life again”, she could not control her emotions any more. She paused for a while and then continued, “we wanted her to study as long as she wanted, and then to get her married. We always have dreamt a bright future for her. Now it is all ruined.”
Mr. Banerjee realized that even though the Gupta family has a modern outlook regarding the education of a girl child, but at its core they maintain a very conservative value. When Mrs. Gupta told about “getting her daughter married”, he suddenly remembered an incidence which he had witnessed when he was a boy of 10.
He had a cousin sister, a distant relative. She lost her father when she was small; could not complete her college education. One day afternoon he went to his aunt’s house when two gentlemen came to visit them. It was a planned visit. They came to ‘see’ his cousin for a marriage proposal. One of the visitors was the proposed groom and the other one was his friend.
They were asked to sit in the living room. His cousin immediately went inside and he was sitting with these two visitors along with his aunt. The proposed groom was not talking at all, he observed, his friend was talking all the time. Almost after half an hour his cousin entered into the living room; he could not remember if he saw her so beautiful ever before. She sat in front of the guy and he could still remember it vividly, he started staring at her, starting from her face and gradually all the way down to her toes. He had never seen any person staring at anyone like that before.
Many years later, when he went to a photocopier to make few photocopies of some important documents, he observed that inside the machine there was a bright light which got illuminated at one end, as soon as a green button was pressed; the light started moving along the length of the paper; illuminating the paper across its entire length, at a fixed speed. At that moment a bell rang inside him; he could see the resemblance about how that guy, who came to see his cousin, was staring at her. But he could not remember if he saw any light in his eyes.
“Even a five year old girl child is not safe anymore now”, Mr. Banerjee suddenly came out of his thought hearing Mrs. Gupta talking “Finally they arrested all the four culprits.”
“But I want all of them to be hanged without any delay. We do not want to see any court drama lasting for the next 10 to 20 years. Justice delayed is justice denied”, Mr. Gupta said these words suddenly, as if snatching the words from his wife’s mouth.
Mr. Banerjee saw Mr. Gupta’s jaw muscles had become stiff while he was talking about capital punishment for the criminals.
Mr. Banerjee, being well aware and appreciative of the tenets of the constitution was puzzled in the beginning. But soon he could see the merit behind Mr. Gupta’s thought.
“Probably we need to make a change in our law for once and for a very limited period of time and make it so barbaric that we would never need to have any barbaric law in any foreseeable future”, he thought.
“We need to chain these four criminals and anyone who had given any kind of material or moral support to them from the time they committed this crime till the time they were arrested and bring them in an open area”, Mr. Banerjee started talking in a way as if he was thinking loud, “and hang all of them in public. “ Mr. Banerjee realized that he did not say these words to console a grieving father but he told because he believed using all his reasoning power that if it has to be stopped, it has to be this way, terrifying fear of death need to be created in the minds of potential criminals.
He recollected the statement by an elected member of the parliament during the peaceful protest against the gang rape of a medical student in the national capital, which eventually caused her death. Instead of criticizing the act of crime and the criminals he was critical about the protesters. “Beautiful girls with make up trying to create show in front of TV cameras”, Mr. Banerjee recalled. He recalled the speech of another lawmaker, threatening women of molestation by his party workers and still no action was taken against any one of them. He also recalled that one of them, which one he could not remember, was trying to protect the other by requesting people not to take every word ‘too literally’.
Mr. Banerjee always supports peaceful protests. On many occasions he joined peaceful demonstrations. He believes in Hunger Strike but does not believe in any kind of violence. “Violence always leads to anarchy and girls’ education gets affected due to this. Any country, where its citizens have the habit of taking law into their own hands has the lowest girl child literacy. Unless it is absolutely safe a mother would never send her girl to school”, he always explains when people try to talk in favor of violent demonstrations. He also believes that in a family, girl’s education should get the highest priority. A man can join a night school even after entering into family life but this is not possible for a woman. The only small window of time when a girl can have formal education is when she is under the care of her own parents.
Mr. Banerjee’s thought was interrupted when Nidhi entered into the living room. She entered with her brother, who could be about 10 or 11. She came and stood there till her professor asked her to sit. She sat next to her mother. Her brother was still standing probably he always likes to stand. Mr. Banerjee stared at her student, the light from her eyes have disappeared completely, she looked like a girl who has stopped thinking, her eyes appeared so dry probably blinking would be difficult, probably no tears are left any more. He was completely out of wit about what to say next.
Suddenly Mr. Gupta spoke, “We had to disconnect the door bell, telephones, switch off all the mobile phones because we were getting calls from the news media, from NGOs, from activists etc. They even came here and started knocking the door, even during late evening hours. But all that we needed is the action from the authority. Media has been covering this kind of news every day, newspapers are printing news about crime against women every day, activists are showing their activities every day, but crime against women are only increasing. I did not and do not want to talk to any one of them. I want to see the criminals are punished in the harshest possible way. That’s all. The way we were treated in the police station, it appeared as if we were the criminals. In front of my daughter the police officer was insulting me. Don’t they know that the salary they get every month come from us because we pay tax?” Mr. Gupta paused for a while.
“People do not pay tax, dad, tax is being collected”, everybody in the room looked at Nidhi when she spoke.
Mr. Banerjee, who knew that slightest intellectual stimulation could bring a completely new person out of her student, was also surprised. He looked into her eyes and saw a spark, still very faint but it was not there when she entered into the room few moments ago, he was absolutely sure about that.
“We call a plumber and pay him, happily; pay a janitor for his or her service; call a carpenter at home and pay for the work done because we see tangible benefits from the services they render”, Mr. Banerjee could see the spark becoming more and more prominent in Nidhi’s eyes as she started putting her reasons in her very usual manner.
“This tax collection is so expensive that for every rupee tax that is collected, 80 paisa goes as expense to run their department” Nidhi continued.
Mr. Gupta was surprised; he being a chartered accountant, knowing tax laws by heart, never thought about such things at such a fundamental level.
“I must admit Mr. Gupta”, Mr. Banerjee started realizing that the conversation has to continue or her student will again plunge into melancholy, “that I agree with your thoughts, we need harshest kind of punishment for any crime against woman. We do not need to cut off the hands of a petty thief; we do not need capital punishment for a drug addict or whip someone in public for consuming alcohol. These need to be handled in a different way probably on a case by case basis.”
“Harshest punishment has one advantage; its usage is very rare. The judgment should be completely free from any prejudice of course”, Nidhi started from the point where her professor had left. “I have experienced the worst humiliation any woman can ever experience. But if those four beasts are brought to a public ground and their limbs are cut slowly, salt spread over their wounds, then slowly their limbs are burnt and while still alive they are hanged and the whole episode is shown live through every possible news channel and displayed using every possible means no man would be prosecuted for crime against women probably for a very-very long time.”
“But Nidhi how this is going to stop the crime”, Mr. Gupta asked. He was bit surprised though. He knew that he wanted those four criminals to be hanged in public but he wanted it for revenge and nothing else but how that will help to stop the crime was not fully clear to him.
“Look dad”, Nidhi continued, “when everybody would realize what the quantum of punishment would be for this kind of crime, they would leave no stone unturned to teach their boys such a lesson so that they would never dare to tease a girl ever in their life time. It is not because they would suddenly start caring for a helpless girl, but it is for the sake of their boys’ dear lives that they would impart this life saving lesson to them so that they could see their boys alive for ever. They would never dare to say any more ‘boys will be boys’ because they would know that there boys would be no more if they ever dare to be ‘boys’ again. Candle light procession, hunger strike would not help. ‘They’ are not moved by the suffering of people undergoing hunger strike, they might pretend as if they care but they would not care. When a 70+ year old man was on hunger strike we saw that ‘they’ were busy in ‘Iftar Party’ in the national capital. This is going to be a long battle and every single person counts” Nidhi paused for a while.
“Dad”, she continued, “you are not selling this house. Ma I am not going to aunt’s house to live with them either, I will be right here. From Monday I am going to college and then to library and back home for every single day.” Mr. Banerjee was charmed to see that his student ‘is back’, her eyes filled with light again and there is a clear sign of total determination.
“Sir, I can see you are carrying lots of papers in your bag. Are these for me” she asked.
“Yes, these are the lecture notes of all the classes which you have missed”, Mr. Banerjee replied.
“Sir, who took all the trouble to make all the photocopies”, she asked.
“The same boy who never came first in exam because of you”, he replied.
Mr. Banerjee could see a faint smile in Nidhi’s face.
“It is not a battle of females against males”, Nidhi thought, “It is a battle of subjugated against the subjugator who invented numerous techniques of subjugation through ages.”
It is almost 11 at night. The family was sitting on the sofa after having dinner, probably a proper meal after a very long time. Everybody was talking in their usual normal manner. It seems life is coming back to normal again in the Gupta family.
All the lights are on, all the telephones are operational once again, cool bridge is coming through the windows, a printed poster was pasted on the door – “DO NOT DISTURB US OR WE WILL CALL THE POLICE”; all these works were done by Nidhi with the help of her “always ready to help” brother.
“Ma, I am going to study. Probably today and tomorrow I will read whole night. I have to catch-up on many things”, Nidhi stood up from the sofa.
“If you need coffee do not take any trouble to make, just call me, I will make it for you”, her mother said.
“Didi, I also want to read whole night with you, I have two pages of home work to be finished”, everybody laughed at her brother’s words.
Nidhi lifted her brother’s face with her palms, kissed the forehead. “You go to bed Bhai. I will need you later”.
Author: Mintu Ghoshal.
Follow him on facebook: mintu.ghoshal.9