As protests across the country seek immediate action and justice for rape and murder of 8-year-old Kathua and the Unnao rape survivor, Arpita Das of Yoda Press shares her experience from the protests at Jantar Mantar yesterday. “Every part of the protest yesterday was rousing and gave me goosebumps, but something I saw as I prepared to leave made me choke back tears”, says Arpita. 

When I was asked to write this piece, I readily agreed, didn’t take a second to say ‘yes’. But when I sat down to write it, I found the page before me blank even an hour later. So much has been said about the rape of that hapless 8-year-old child over the last three days since it became front page and primetime news—about her religion and which community she belonged to, the motivation of the perpetrators, the culpability of the local lawyers and the hooligans of the Hindu Ekta Manch defending the perps, the silence of our PM on the matter for an inordinately long time, only to be ended with a few lines where he could not even utter the word ‘rape’, Rahul Gandhi’s candlelight vigil, and how brave the Crime Branch has been in conducting due process in the case. I wondered what more I could add amid the noise.

Something I saw as I prepared to leave made me choke back tears: it was a small group of women sitting quietly in a circle with candles burning in front of them and posters with Orijit Sen’s unforgettable sketch of the little girl holding flowers in her hands.

Then last evening I went to participate in the protests at Jantar Mantar where thousands congregated to listen to activists taking the stage and exhorting civil society to raise their voices together against such a heinous act of ‘political’ hatred. Every part of the protest yesterday was rousing and gave me goosebumps, but something I saw as I prepared to leave made me choke back tears: it was a small group of women sitting quietly in a circle with candles burning in front of them and posters with Orijit Sen’s unforgettable sketch of the little girl holding flowers in her hands. I squatted beside those young women for a while with my head in my hands, trying to yank out some coherence from the swirling pool of despair that was my inner world at that moment. I then decided to make this piece a recollection of everything we know about that little girl.

Picture Credit: Orijit Sen

She was mischievous, said her mother. So mischievous that they thought they would wait awhile before putting her in school. She had two families. Her biological mother gave her over to her brother and his wife because they had lost a daughter in an accident before. She liked to take the horses that belonged to the family to graze in the meadows. Left or right, Hindu or Muslim meant nothing to her. I read a post saying her death has a larger purpose which we must not forget, and that we should not let her death go in vain. My insides roiled violently when I read this. There was NO purpose to her death, none. She died abruptly, wastefully, not to wash off our sins, not to make us more aware. We should have been aware to begin with. If we had, perhaps she would not have died.

She died abruptly, wastefully, not to wash off our sins, not to make us more aware. We should have been aware to begin with. If we had, perhaps she would not have died.

Her father said they looked everywhere for her but didn’t check in the local temple because that is a ‘pavitr’ place. I wondered what he meant by that. That he was already expecting something dire to have happened to his daughter and it would not have happened to her inside a temple, or that as Muslim Bakkarwals they were not allowed into a Hindu ‘pavitr’ place. Both possibilities make the horror of what was done to that little child inside the temple precinct even more stark.

Her mother wept that she lies now in a lonely grave. As if it wasn’t enough that their little daughter had been brutalized in this manner, the local Hindus refused to let them bury her battered little body in their local graveyard. She now lies seven miles away from her home, and her mother worries that her grave might be desecrated.

What did this child’s body represent for her brutalisers, two of whom were juveniles, one of whom was the father of one of the juveniles. In those hours and days of brutalisation, when she must have called out for help and wept for her mother, these men celebrated Lohri outside and then returned to violate her body again and again. This poisonous masculinity which surrounds us like the seas on either side of the Indian subcontinent, if we don’t wake up to it now, and storm its think tanks that don’t allow it to see an 8-year-old girl child as anything but a body to imprint with its perverse, fascist mark, we are lost, utterly lost.

Say a prayer for that nature’s child lying in a quiet grave today, that the trees above may crowd a little closer and shower their bounty on her so that she sleeps in dignity. And keep her in your hearts as you bring up your boys.

Arpita Das runs the award-winning independent Delhi-based publishing house Yoda Press. She curates the Book Award for Excellence in Writing on Cinema and the Word to Screen Market for the Mumbai Film Festival every year. She also blogs and writes on books, publishing, gender and popular culture for various periodicals and platforms. Recently, she became Course Leader and Partner at the newly founded Tejeshwar Singh College for Publishing started by Sage India. The views represented are author’s own.

Also Read: Nationwide Protests Seeking Immediate Justice for Kathua & Unnao

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