AGE CANNOT WEATHER HER
CALAMITY CANNOT WITHER HER
INDOMITABLE IS HER SPIRIT
SHE ALONE IS PAREIL TO HER
She tried hard again and again but could not open her eyes. Something gummy covered her eyes. She lifted her right hand to clear the sticky substance from her eyes. That was a mistake and she regretted it. Both her forearms were crooked, as if they were broken cleanly. They ached abominably.
'Let the eyes be…let the eyes be…' she told herself.
Slowly, with Herculean efforts, she could open her eyes into millimetric slits. She could not see anything, initially; it was all dark before her eyes.
'Oh, God! Have I gone blind?' She panicked.
Then she realised that it was dark actually. She could see stars twinkle on the sky and wisps of thin stratified clouds floating indolently. The crescent moon was partly obscured by a small patch of cloud. Under more-pleasurable circumstances, she might have enjoyed it.
She exercised her brain and tried to assess the what, where, why and how of the situation.
It was painful, not figuratively but physically.
She made another attempt.
She was lying on her back on the ground. Surrounding her were bushes, small and large. She could feel the touch of sand, rough-edged gravel and dew-dampened grass on her arms and palms. She could not see anything else. 'What! Where are my clothes?' she was mortified and horrified.
She turned her attention to her physical condition. To put it simply and succinctly, every square millimetre of her body was aching; aching unbearably. She had already realised that both her arms were fractured; the ulna and radius in both arms broke cleanly. Her face was puffed-up, lips were swollen and split and blood-caked. Her cheeks and neck were swollen and bore welts of fingers and scratches from fingernails and bite marks. Her throat and tongue were parched dry. Her chest - she realized that her clothes were in tatters and her chest, midriff and lower torso were entirely exposed - bore purple marks of blood clots and scratches and bite marks. Her entire back was badly bruised by the gravel and turf and she felt that it was on fire.
She tried to move her legs. A moment later, she regretted and gave up the idea as a mistake. Her thighs, pelvis, waist and back ached and burned as though they were on fire. Tears rolled down her eyes onto the ground. She started to hiccup. She lay quietly for long minutes. The hiccups died down slowly. She tried to scream. Only a low gurgling sound emanated from her mouth along with a few bubbles of blood.
Her inner thighs were blue and purple with clotted blood; numerous cruel scratches bore testimony to an attack, a merciless attack, at that. The lower abdomen, the thighs, the crotch, the insides of her private parts were very badly bruised and bled profusely. The pain was intolerable.
The real pain was in her midriff, her stomach. She was still bleeding from the wounds - two wounds, actually - in her stomach and the ribcage. The pain was ineffable. She knew what caused the wounds. They were caused by a short, extremely sharp and pointed switchblade.
She pondered over it, which of the two pains was greater, the pain from the wounds to her body, inside and outside, or the pain from the wound to her mind, her psyche, her honour, her self, her existence. She knew that the physical wounds would heal and the pain would abate, if she survived them. She was not sure about her mental wounds, for she knew that it was no mere accident that caused the physical wounds.
She knew that she was brutally raped - gang raped - and bludgeoned and stabbed and left to die.
Sarita also knew that she was still alive, just…
A silent, heart-rending scream emanated from her soul, 'Amma…'
"Look, how bad the bruise is. I told you not to play football with those boys." Ramani was in tears while she cleaned the wound and applied anti-septic solution to the knee of her daughter, Sarita, who, in spite of the pain, was enjoying all the attention that she was getting from her mother. Sarita smiled.
"You idiot; here I am, crying and wondering how to protect you and you are smiling!" Ramani gave a sharp rap on Sarita's crown.
"Aaahhh!" A fake exclamation came out of Sarita's smiling lips.
"Aaahhh," cried Sarita.
There was nothing fake about the "aaahhh" or the pain - the excruciating pain - or the murderous attack or the bleeding injuries or, above everything else, the bestial rape that was perpetrated on her.
Sarita knew that, if she did not get medical help immediately, it would be the end of her.
'You are on your own, dear. You have to get to the highway and get help. No one is coming to your help or rescue, for no one knows that you are lying here. Move, Sarita, move. Come on…' she goaded, cajoled, coaxed and willed herself in desperation to move, to fight for her dear life.
'Maybe I have only a few more mortal breaths left in me. I cannot and will not spend them lying here, waiting to die.'
With Herculean efforts, she forced her eyes open.
'Well, that's a beginning. Now, I have to roll over and crawl.' She shuddered at the thought. 'Oh, my God! Help me.'
She screamed as she tried to shift her shattered arms.
After half an hour, some more bleeding, and a lot more pain, Sarita was lying prone, with her arms stretched in front of her. She lost consciousness for several minutes.
'Wake up, you fool. Wake up. You can't die lying here in this wilderness. If you die, die trying. Move your fucking arse. Move…' she said to herself.
'I would have been a very popular Nazi officer in Auschwitz or Dachau.' Even in the pain, she smiled at the thought.
She dug her toes into the dew-softened turf and tried to dig her fingers into the turf. She almost died with pain. Tears rolled down her eyes endlessly.
'I don't have time for this. I have to move.'
She concentrated all the energy that was available in her and all the will power that she could summon from the innermost recesses of her mind and pushed forward by means of her toes and fingers. She crawled a few centimetres and fainted.
'You've been at it since evening, dear. Why don't you take rest; sleep for a few hours and restart early in the morning?' Ramani showed her concern.
'Mom, I have a lot to cover; can't afford to relax.'
'I know, dear, but you need to rest a while. Don't you?'
'No, mom, not now. A little while later, surely.'
'You are an adamant devil. Do whatever you want. Better, don't sleep till your work is finished.' Ramani left her daughter's study in a huff.
Sarita grinned and said loudly, 'I love you too, mom,' and continued to prepare for her ensuing Board examinations.
She was lost in the abyss of darkness, with nary a ray of light at the end of the tunnel. Her pain became her propeller. She ignored it. It did not exist for her. It cannot exist for her. Her aim, no, her mission was to crawl; crawl to safety; crawl to human habitation; crawl to the nearest path, road, highway, whatever. She pushed aside, nay, buried all negative thoughts of injuries, pain and death. She knew that she had to reach some kind - any kind - of help and thence, a hospital. The thought - the near certainty of her death during the attempt - did not even cross her fixated mind. The task on hand, that was the most important thing to her.
'Dad always told me. Concentrate on the job on hand and how to achieve it. Never let negative thoughts creep into your mind. They will cloud your judgement and, eventually, overwhelm you. You'll end up nowhere, beaten and defeated.'
'The task on hand; that's most important to me. I have to keep crawling till I reach some safe place. Go on, Sarita. Move your arse. Go, go, go…'
Sarita crawled; millimetre by merciless millimetre, second after interminable second, ignoring all her pain, ignoring all the privation, ignoring the ignominy of the rape, ignoring the thoughts of death. She crawled and crawled. She did not know that she had such untapped reserves and reservoirs of energy, will power and single-minded dedication to the task on hand. She did not know how and wherefrom she summoned the energy, will power and dedication, but summon them, she did, and with telling effect. She crawled for an eternity seemingly directionlessly. It was neither an eternity nor directionless. It was only for over two hours that she crawled, and she crawled towards what looked like a footpath.
A hand, covered by dirt, grass and blood, dropped onto a narrow footpath - a dirt track, actually - devoid of grass and gravel. Sarita rested her blood-soaked and mud-shrouded face on the dirt track, her heavy breathing raising miniature clouds of dust. She lay there for quarter of an hour, catching her breath and giving a much-needed rest to her incapacitated limbs. Her fingernails and toenails were chafed and broken. Her fingertips were bleeding ceaselessly, but Sarita smiled, that she had accomplished her preliminary, short-term goal.
Slowly, ever so slowly, she turned her head to her left and then to her right and examined the footpath. The path to her right seemed to go endlessly and disappear into the darkness but not so with the left-side segment. After a short distance, Sarita could not assess how much - maybe a hundred or a hundred and fifty feet - the footpath rose sharply. Sarita could not see beyond that. She could not lift or move her head any more owing to the agonising pain in her neck and eyes. A smile broke out on her blood-covered face.
'The next round of the battle starts, Sarita. Get ready. Change the direction and crawl along the footpath and up the rise. Don't waste your time and breaths. These may be your last seconds. These may be your last breaths. Crawl, crawl, crawl…' Sarita hyped herself into action once again.
Half an hour later, Sarita was lying along the footpath. Even the millimetric lifting of the head caused her intolerable pain, but she saw her next destination - the top of the climb. She dropped her head on the dirt track and resumed crawling.
'You are completely drenched in sweat, covered by dirt, sweetie!'
'Yeah, mom. Field exercises in NCC (National Cadet Corps).' She came home straight from the NCC session in her college.
'What all they make you children do!'
'You know what, mom! I crawled in a trench, holding a 303 rifle in my hand, wriggling under a barbed wire net,' she continued sheepishly, 'got scratched slightly.'
'Oh my God! Go and have bath, dear. I'll apply anti-septic. Go, go, go…Meanwhile, I'll get you coffee and some snacks.'
'I'll bathe later; will have coffee now. I'm dead tired, mom.'
'My poor child. Wait, I'll get you coffee.'
The aroma of strong, hot filter coffee made out of pure pea-berry was divine. The very first sip refreshed Sarita.
The thought of strong, hot filter coffee made out of pure pea-berry was divine. It refreshed Sarita.
'How I wish I had a cup of steaming coffee in my hand!'
She crawled a few more inches and lay breathless on the top of the rise. Several minutes elapsed. She inspected her surroundings. She was elated beyond description, even in that excruciating pain.
About forty feet away lay a road, a concrete road, a concrete highway, to be precise. Sarita screamed - tried to, anyway - in ecstasy but only brought out bubbles of blood from her mouth. She did not mind. She crawled on and on…
The maroon coloured Maruti Swift was zipping through the darkness, its headlamps throwing bright pools of light in front of it. It was as though a race was on between the car and the pool of illumination - the car trying to catch up with the elusive illumination, in vain.
David, about sixty years in age, was driving the Swift at a safe speed. His wife, Nancy, aged about fifty-eight, sat beside him with her head on the headrest. She was listening to and singing along with the old Hollywood classics of Elvis Presley playing on the car's music system.
David and Nancy were returning from Puducherry after a visit to their son, John's place.
"That's a classic, darling." David increased the volume of the music system. 'Love me tender' Elvis was rendering a soft, soulful romantic song.
"Yeah, Dave; truly a classic." Both of them began singing along with their idol Elvis.
"Dave, Dave. Stop the car," Nancy said suddenly and loudly.
"Why, dear? What happened?" David slowed down and pulled over to the left-hand side of the highway.
"I think I saw someone lying alongside the road, back there."
"Come on sweetheart. It's one o'clock. Let's move on."
"It could be a hit-and-run, Dave. The person may be alive and may need help."
"It could also land us in trouble with the police, darling."
"Let's just go back and see and then decide what to do. OK?"
"Oh, Nancy, Nancy…" Dave was exasperated but he could not say 'no' to her. He reversed the Swift fifteen or twenty feet and stopped the engine but left the headlights and taillights on.
They got down from the car. Dave held the flashlight, which he always carried in his car, and, along with Nancy, started walking towards the spot mentioned by Nancy.
'There. See Dave? Someone is lying there."
Dave stopped her some ten feet from what seemed to be a heap of tattered clothes. Dave moved closer and closer to the heap cautiously, flashing his torch on and around the heap.
A couple of minutes later he bent over the heap and shone his flash on it.
"You're right, darling. It's a girl; badly injured; looks dead."
Nancy came close to David and knelt down beside the figure lying on the ground.
"Oh, my God! The poor girl!" She was shocked to see the near-naked girl lying in a heap.
"Darling, don't you see? This could be a case of rape and murder. We're going to be in deep trouble with the police. Come let's go, before anyone sees us," David urged.
"Wait, Dave. Let me see. We just can't run away from human responsibility. Can we?"
She observed the girl closely and carefully for any telltale movements of the chest. She found none. She was afraid to place her palm on the girl's chest to feel the heartbeat. Instead, with her right hand index finger, she looked for the pulse on her wrist and then just below the ear.
"Holy Jesus! Dave, she is alive!" Nancy exclaimed.
Dave brought his Swift to a screeching halt in the portico of the hospital, jumped out and rushed into the lobby shouting for help.
"Somebody, help me, please. There's an injured girl…"
The ever-alert casualty ward doctors and nursing staff rolled out a collapsible gurney. They transferred the injured girl form the car onto the gurney and rolled it into the Operating Room of the casualty ward, all in two minutes. Nancy parked the car and rushed to her husband who was following the girl.
The duty doctor politely placed a hand on David's shoulder and stopped him.
"Sir, please wait in the lobby and complete the formalities in the reception."
"But, doctor, the girl…"
"Sir, please. We'll take care of her." The doctor shut the frosted glass doors of the operating room.
The courtroom fell silent after the closing remarks of the two counsels. The Honourable Judge Zaheer Hussein was scribbling something on a writing pad.
"Your Honour, may I say something?"
"Oh! Ms. Sarita! What is it?" Judge Zaheer Hussein asked.
"With your permission, I would like to place before you some of my thoughts about the case, Your Honour."
He thought for a few minutes. "This is irregular. Counsels?"
"Your Honour, I object. How can you allow her to…" objected Mr. Wadhwani, the defence attorney from Mumbai.
"On what grounds, counsellor?" Judge Hussein asked.
"Undue advantage being given to her. She has already been examined by the Prosecutor and cross-examined by the defence. She has already said all she wanted to say. It'll be unfair and prejudicial to my clients, Your Honour."
"Correction, Mr. Wadhwani. She hasn't said all she wanted to say. She has only answered your questions and said what you wanted to bring out. After all, she is the victim who was brutally violated. She is the reason why we are all here."
Judge Hussein looked at the Public Prosecutor, Mr. Rangachari, and asked, "What say you, Mr. Prosecutor?"
"Your Honour, I represent the State and, in turn, Ms. Sarita. I'm trying my best to bring to book the culprits and get them punished in accordance with the law of the land. I've prepared and presented the case in consultation with Ms. Sarita and on the basis of all the information given by her and evidence collected by the Police Department. I've examined and cross-examined witnesses and have even summed up my case in my closing arguments. The case rests with the honourable court for judgement. Now, at this juncture, she may say something that may prove to be prejudicial to the case and vitiate my efforts, Your Honour."
"Mr. Prosecutor, are you objecting to the victim - your 'client' - saying something?" Judge Hussein was amused.
"No Your Honour, I am not objecting. I was just submitting that Prosecution has said all that had to be said; placed all evidence, witnesses before the honourable court. What else could she say? Moreover, it is procedurally incorrect."
"Not only must justice be done; it must also be seen to be done. Don't you agree, counsellors?" Judge Hussein said sharply.
"Of course, Your Honour," Rangachari and Wadhwani said in unison.
Judge Hussein was lost in thought for a couple of minutes.
"As I see it, she is the victim and has every right to say what she wants to say and be heard by this court, which is trying the case and is endeavouring to get to the truth. Let me be the judge of its relevance to the case," Judge Hussein said with finality, "I'll allow it."
"Your Honour…" Wadhwani said.
"Your objection is duly noted, Mr. Wadhwani."
"Thank you, Your Honour."
"Go ahead Ms. Sarita," Judge Hussein said to Sarita.
The attending nurse pushed Sarita's wheel chair slowly and gently into the centre of the court hall and positioned it opposite the judge and withdrew herself discreetly.
Sarita cleared her throat and started speaking.
"Your Honour, the prosecution and the defence have rested their cases and you will pronounce judgement soon."
Judge Zaheer Hussein nodded.
"Your Honour, my case is - in fact, all such cases are - dealt with in the legal background, in legal jargon, in the court of law; everything according to law."
"What are you driving at, Ms. Sarita?" A mild undercurrent of irritation could be sensed in Judge Hussein's voice.
"Your Honour, please bear with me and indulge me, the victim of a brutal rape." She paused. "As I was saying, my case was only dealt with from a legal perspective, dispassionately. I want to bring to light and emphasise the emotional aspects, from my perspective."
The judge nodded sympathetically.
"Your Honour, whatever be the final judgement or the final outcome, the defendants' guilt has been proved beyond doubt."
"Young lady, despite all my sympathy for you, I must remind you that I am the judge and I haven't pronounced judgement, yet."
"No doubt, Your Honour. I am not questioning that at all. Let me elaborate and explain in detail what's on my mind, if I am permitted."
"Go ahead, young lady."
"I speak for thousands of victims like me, who suffer in silence, accepting it as their fate, most of the time hiding the crime so that their lives could go on 'smoothly' without anyone else knowing what happened to them. I speak for those thousands of fathers and mothers and siblings who suffer silently, along with their daughters and sisters, unable to do anything to alleviate the pain, the ignominy, the shame, the dishonour, the brutalisation of their beloved. They become impotent, Your Honour."
She wiped the tears that rolled out of her eyes and continued in her soft but passionate voice.
"Your Honour, is the murder of a person's body crueller than the murder of his soul? That's the crux of what I am going to say.
"A man who commits murder kills a body; takes a life. It is, of course, inhuman. The victim is no longer aware of anything else in this world. He is emancipated, his soul is liberated from all further worldly sufferings, although cruelly and before his time. No doubt, it devastates his kith and kin. They suffer, maybe for a long time. Eventually, they overcome it and move on.
"But the murder of a soul is much more devastating than the murder of a body. The victim lives on and can never be the same again. The punishment of the murder of his soul is much more devastating than the murder of the body, to his kith and kin and especially to him.
"Rape is one such punishment. It is inhuman. It is dehumanising. It is devastating. It states that a woman is a lesser being than a man is. If a man desires a woman who doesn't reciprocate or if he disagrees with her, he punishes her by raping her.
"What does the law say? 'Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer'. Based on that principle, the onus probandi is on the victim, not on the suspect, the criminal, the perpetrator.
"In Indian Penal Code, rape is defined in terms of 'penetration'. Can anything be more ludicrous? Does rape only mean physical penetration, physical violation; what about the mental, psychological, and emotional violation and penetration? Does the law take into account the violation, the penetration, the brutalisation, the rape of the soul?
"In the present case - my case - with all respect to you, Your Honour, the judgement can go in my favour or even against me. What if it goes against me; what if these persons are found 'not guilty', on some technical or other grounds? I know that they are guilty as hell, but how can I prove it? Wouldn't I have been let down by the system, which nitpicks on technicalities?
"And, if they are found guilty, what then? They may be sentenced to say, seven years' rigorous imprisonment for rape; a few more years for abduction, attempted murder, infliction of grievous injuries, etc. All the sentences can even run concurrently, which is the case usually. It means that they could be out after only seven years! Maybe even earlier for good behaviour inside the prison! In developed and mature societies of the West, the sentences could even run consecutively, into several decades, without parole. Are a woman's life and her honour any the less valuable in our country?
"I've suffered at the hands of these three animals for no fault of mine. I've been brutalised, violated, traumatised, bludgeoned, stabbed, and left to die. I survived by the proverbial skin of the teeth. I've suffered multiple fractures in my arms, legs and ribs. I've a dislocated and fractured jaw. My nose is broken. There are numerous lacerations on my face and body. As if these were not enough, I was stabbed. As you can see, I still cannot speak clearly. With great difficulty, I open my mouth a crack for food. I cannot walk or use my hands. I still depend on my mother for everything - bathing, dressing, combing hair, and even washing after using the toilet - I mean everything. I still have difficulty in urinating. What was my fault?
"These three animals abducted me while I was returning home from my office late in the night; drove to a lonely spot far away on the outskirts of the city; and then raped me. They violated me, I don't know how many times, taking turns; abusing me; talking in a language so filthy that it would make even a whore blush. When I resisted I was bludgeoned to within an inch of my life. Finally, when they satiated their lust, they stabbed me and left me for dead in the bushes far from the road. What was my fault?
"My body aches with multiple wounds, which can be and are being treated by kindly doctors. My soul aches deeply with sadness, self-pity, humiliation, dehumanisation, and emptiness. Tell me, Your Honour, which kindly doctor can treat me for this wound to my soul?
"Today, so many months after that crime against me, I'm just alive but not living. I am dead from within. My soul is dead. I've become a machine. The 'unkindest cut' was not to my body, but to my soul, to my trust, to my self-confidence, and to my self-esteem. I can no longer trust anyone. I've lost confidence in myself and others around. I dread striking relations. I don't go out. I don't meet or mingle with people. I don't even open the curtains of my bedroom window. The worst wound is to my soul, my psyche, my inner self.
"I cannot allow any male to touch me. I cringe when my father hugs me. I flinch when my brother kisses me on my cheek. I cannot shake hands with my male friends. I cannot look any man in the eye, as though it is I who has committed a crime, a rape. Marriage? An impossibility for me, for I avoid the touch of a male. I don't know when I'll go back to work, if at all. If I go back, then what? How will I face my colleagues, especially male colleagues? What will I say to them when they inquire about my welfare? With every look of theirs, I'll feel that I'm being violated once again. How can I jest with them or laugh with them? Can I ever go to the movies or the beach with them? If someone says hello I am immediately suspicious. If someone offers a handshake, I am instantly defensive. Is this life? That's me, now, or what I have become now.
"Tell me Your Honour, can my life come back to me even if you find them guilty and punish them? What happens after seven years? I shall still be a walking dead, a zombie but they, they will still be young and alive; especially after proving their manhood by raping me and turning me into a soulless being, a zombie. They may even continue with this adventure of theirs on some more unsuspecting, innocent women. That's what I meant when I said that the murder of a soul is much more devastating than the murder of a body; its effects are much more deep-rooted. The only solution available for me is to die, to commit suicide. Should I take that option, Your Honour?
"If and when you understand the void inside me, you will treat this crime called 'rape' equal to, if not more than, a 'murder'. For the murder of a body, the highest punishment is the capital punishment, death by hanging. Then why not award it for the murder of a soul? I am not saying this with vindictiveness in my heart. I am not even debating the continued existence of the death sentence in a civilised society, but after what I have gone through can I deem this as a civilised society? I agree that an exception does not make the rule, but the exception - an aberration - must be dealt with in the most appropriate manner, according to the existing laws of the land, and death sentence does exist today. Our constitution and the savants in the Parliament have not yet found it fit to abolish it. Then, why not award it in the present case? If not the death sentence, then life imprisonment without parole is the fittest punishment for their crime.
"Your Honour, I consider the sexual act the highest form of expression of one's love for one's partner - a husband, a wife, a lover, whoever, but this sublime act has been reduced to a means, a ruthless means, of punishing a woman. To what purpose, Your Honour? Just to assert male 'supremacy'? This must end here and now, Your Honour.
"That's all I have to say, Your Honour. I am grateful to you for giving me this opportunity to speak my mind and listening to me patiently." Sarita asked for, drank some water, and looked expectantly towards Judge Hussein, who seemed to be lost in deep thought.
There was an instantaneous burst of cheers and clapping from the audience in the courtroom.
Judge Hussein forcefully pounded his gavel on the table several times and thundered, "If this doesn't stop immediately I'll have the marshals clear the court hall."
His eyes roved around the hall for a few moments and then he started writing on a pad. There was an expectant, pin-drop silence in the court hall. After several minutes, he looked up and cleared his throat. He spoke in a measured tone, weighing his words carefully. His voice was bereft of any emotion.
"The court has listened to the narration of Ms. Sarita, the unfortunate victim of a brutal crime. If I say anything in reaction to Ms. Sarita's account it would be a judicial impropriety and prejudicial to the judgement that must be delivered in the case. The judgement will be based strictly on the merits of the evidences and witnesses produced before the court; nothing else. I shall leave it at that. Suffice it to say that the court has made note of various points raised by her." He paused for several moments.
"The court is adjourned till the thirteenth of next month when the judgement will be delivered."
Judge Zaheer Hussein rose, gathered his robe and imperially walked out of the court hall into his chamber.
...Shyam Sundar Bulusu
All the characters and situations portrayed in this story are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
This story was written by me in the wake of the recent gruesome rape-murder cases in the country and before the Government of India brought into force stricter and more stringent laws against this heinous crime.
I have taken some liberty with the judicial and courtroom procedures only with an intention of enhancing the dramatic effect and highlighting the feelings of the victim in her own words. The speech of the victim, albeit with the 'permission' of the judge, is inadmissible. Her case can only be presented by the Prosecutor through her answers to his questions.
Finally, to be born as a woman, to be dominated by man in every aspect of her life, and to bear all this with a smile, requires boundless courage. The protagonist of this story displays a bottomless mine of courage and willpower to survive against the life-and-death odds cruelly stacked against her.
It is my humble tribute to 'she'!