The Shredded Heart

On December 16th 2012, in Delhi, India, a 23 year old woman was viciously raped by six people while riding on a bus. She died of her injuries thirteen days later. The brutality of the attack traumatized the entire nation and thousands took to the streets in protest.

Story, Photos and Video by Icarus Blake - icarus@citizenbrooklyn.com

Photo ©Icarus Blake

The Premise:

A few years back, the city of Turin, Italy, was getting ready to organize a series of city wide events to celebrate November 25th, the day dedicated to the elimination of violence against women. I was asked to participate by donating pictures related to the topic. The pictures were supposed to be shown as billboards in the streets of Turin. I began to research the matter, and, although I could find plenty of articles on rape and other forms of violence against women, I realized there were very few images available to the general public depicting these kind of incidents. Between video games and movies, we are exposed to innumerable graphic images related to ‘fake’ violence. But when it comes to real violence, our society and mainstream media are sanitized.

For this reason, I decided to create a series of photographs using Barbie dolls as the victims of violence, domestic violence in particular. I was hoping the result would be powerful enough to unsettle the public and make them acknowledge the problem in a more emotional way. After submitting the pictures, I was met with a bunch of excuses and apologies… Truth was, the organizers thought the images were too disturbing, and I, myself, was sanitized. I decided to use them for this article, although the real violence inflicted upon the young rape victim in Delhi is a million times more gruesome than any picture can depict.

The Facts:

We arrived in Mumbai shortly before midnight on December 29th, 2012. We proceeded to sleep a few hours in a hotel near the airport before continuing our journey. The following morning at breakfast, I noticed, amongst other papers, a copy of the Hindustan Times; it had just one story on the cover. The title read: “She Lit A Flame”. At the bottom of the article a simple epitaph: “Rest in Peace, India’s Girl (1989-2012)”. That’s when I learned Nirbhaya’s story.

Photo ©Icarus Blake

Nirbhaya and a male friend came out of the movies the night of December 16th. At around 9:30pm, they boarded what they thought was a public bus, to go home. Six males including the driver were already on the bus. Soon enough the bus turned away from its regular route and when Nirbhaya’s companion questioned the driver, he was beaten unconscious with a tire iron. Five of the men took the young woman to the back of the bus, hit her numerous times with the tool, and all proceeded to rape her multiple times. The young woman fought back and bit her assailants leaving clear bite marks on their skin. The youngest of the assailants, a minor, allegedly penetrated the woman with the weapon with such violence that her intestines spilled out. A spokesman for the police told the International Business Times that the young assailant further ripped out her intestines with his bare hands. After the rape ended, both Nirbhaya and her friend were thrown out of the bus. The driver tried to run over the girl to finish her off, but her friend saved her, pulling her away.

In a video interview a few days after the death of the young girl, her male companion said that, although they were semi clothed and begging passersby for help, many walked by without intervening. Allegedly, it took almost an hour before the police came to the scene. When Nirbhaya was checked into the hospital, at around 11:30pm, doctors said only five percent of her intestines were left inside her. She was put on a ventilator and received multiple surgeries in the days following the incident. While fighting for her life, she had the strength to write her assailants’ names and gave a description of the events, answering the questioning police with gestures.

On December 26th, Nirbhaya was flown to a specialized hospital in Singapore, a controversial decision described more as political rather than beneficial to her recovery. The doctors at Safdarjang Hospital in Delhi had advised against the move. During flight, her condition worsened. Her blood pressure dropped and she collapsed. The doctors on the flight had to create an arterial line to stabilize her. She never regained consciousness in Singapore where she died in the wee hours of December 29th because of a cerebral edema.

Photo ©Icarus Blake

The Aftermath:

In the days following the incident, Delhi’s people took to the streets to protest the Indian judicial system’s mismanagement of rape cases, and the poor defense and protection granted to India’s women in all cases involving violence and mistreatment. Delhi’s authorities reacted very aggressively, using tear gas and locking the city center down. The incident had obviously traumatized the nation, but the Indian government failed to realize how deeply emotional the reaction was, and has been heavily criticized for its overly violent reaction to the protests.

All six alleged perpetrators have been arrested, charged, and the death penalty has been requested. Numerous policemen have been suspended for mishandling the incident. Most Indian municipalities and states had prompt and apt reactions to the events by increasing security for women and proposing changes to the law, but there were also some unorthodox responses.

One of the suspect’s lawyers has declared that his client would plead not guilty to all charges. He claims the victims provoked the crime committed, as they were not supposed to be walking around at night as an unmarried couple. He said that even the worst criminal would have never assaulted a married couple. Now, this seems like a ridiculous claim, but we should be careful judging so quickly. Not far from home, in California, a similar drama is unfolding under similar premises. Julio Morales impersonated a woman’s boyfriend to have sex with her while she was asleep and probably drunk. The woman realized the man was not her boyfriend and pushed him away, but he forced himself on her. A California Rape Law ratified in 1872 states that, unless you impersonate the woman’s husband, meaning the woman must be married, it is not a crime. Mr. Morales was acquitted in appellate court. In a few words: if the woman is not married and you rape her… By law, you’re not a rapist. This is happening in the US right now.

Photo ©Icarus Blake

Asaram Bapu is a very popular Hindu spiritual leader. His tenure at the Asaram Ashram is full of controversy, including land appropriation, complaints of sexual misconduct, and the involvement of some of his acolytes in a double murder. After the Delhi incident, he went on record saying that the victims were as guilty as the perpetrators. He claimed that Nirbhaya should have begged the assailants and called them “brothers” to regain her respect and stop them. He also said harsher rape laws should not be applied against the accused in such a climate of revenge. The public reacted so vehemently against his statements that a few days later he tried to deny the declarations. A local court filed a case against him.

A local politician in Raipur said rape against adult women was justifiable, but not against minors and infants. He clearly said if you rape an infant you should be hanged, but if your victim is an adult, oh well, you may get away with it.

The Puducherry government decided that a good way to prevent rape was for women in schools to wear overcoats, regardless of temperature, and for their cellphones to be taken away.

In Salumbar, Udaipur, girls are now prohibited to dance and sing at weddings. Cellphone usage is prohibited, and couples have been warned against eloping, with penalties including a fine and complete rejection by the community.

A Chattisgarh Minister has blamed “planetary influence” for the sudden increase of sexual crimes.

Photo ©Icarus Blake

Local government in the village of Hisar has declared that poor dressing is the main cause of rape and has prohibited girls from wearing jeans and t-shirts. Parties with DJs have also been banned.

The consumption of chow mein apparently increases hormonal imbalance and favors rape, said a local Indian leader, also burgers and any fast food should be avoided. A natural, light diet is the solution to the problem.

And the list goes on. These may appear as absurd and archaic solutions, most likely dictated by ignorance, but there is an important message to be heard. Rape is rampant where there is excessive poverty and illiteracy, and India has plenty of both. The Indian economic boom has failed to trickle down the wealth it generated to the lower classes. It has deeply and further divided the nation.

Why would a local governor think the solution is to ‘cover the girl’? He is not stupid, he knows the people he is dealing with. They are uneducated, unwilling to listen, constantly in a survival mode, jobless, angry, and hungry. Covering the girl is a Band-Aid, not a solution, but in many areas of India it’s all that can be done quickly. Harsher laws will not deter rape. These men do not know about the law. If they did, if they read the papers, you would think that any would-be rapist would lay low for a while after what happened. In fact, as I was following the news on Indian papers after the Delhi incident, there were more and more new heinous crimes every day. It almost felt like it was getting worst.

Photo ©Icarus Blake

On January 5th, in Rohtak, a 16 year old girl set herself on fire after being raped. On January 12th, in Ghukla, a woman was abducted by a bus driver that took her to a house where she was gang raped by five men. On January 14th, in Baghalpur, a woman was taken down from a train, gang raped, and hung from a tree. In many of these cases, the police are reluctant to register the crime. They wait to see if the victim gets compensated or if there is a marriage proposal by the rapist. In eighty percent of rape, the victim knows the perpetrator. In other instances, the police blame the woman for not dressing properly and enticing the rapists. Reports say that in India a woman is sexually assaulted every twenty minutes. The conviction rate is only twenty seven percent. In the US a woman is sexually assaulted every five minutes. Ninety-seven of rapists in the US, never spend a day in jail.

But rape is not Indian women’s biggest problem. Gardiner Harris reports for the New York Times that almost two million women a year lose their life because of some sort of violence. 100,000 women a year are killed because of dowry disputes. Many deaths of women are reported as accidental, if reported at all. Women disappear from villages and are sold as modern slaves in cities.

Indian women are caught between tradition and modernity. There are two Indian nations. A modern one with emancipated women earning college educations and high salary jobs, and one of despair and poverty where women are handicapped from the onset by being poorly taken care of since childhood. It is now easier to understand why local authorities want to chastise women in small villages and rural areas; it’s a desperate measure that may save their lives.

Photo ©Icarus Blake

The work to be done to fill the social and educational gap is a daunting task. The perpetrators of Nirbhaya’s rape in Delhi, all came from rural areas or slums in the outskirts of big cities. When faced with modern Indian women in the center of cities where they struggle to survive, they brew a sense of resentment that explodes with incidents like that in Delhi. This area of intense social friction is the battlefield that Indian women face each morning when they go to work in cities or to the well to gather water in small villages. The disparity in opportunities has created a deep social resentment in a large Indian male population that, for the most part, has grown up seeing women as lesser citizens, bound to the role of mothers and care takers.

There are lessons to be learnt from India’s situation. As the distribution of wealth in the US grows more uneven and the gap between rich and poor widens, as the middle class disappears under the burden of unsustainable lifestyles, inevitably, access to good education and decent jobs becomes scarcer. We have always been an entrepreneurial society that has privileged the individual achievement of wealth over a sense of evolution of society as a whole. In our obsession with upward mobility, we have dismembered our families, losing the strength of their support system, and we have left the less fortunate behind. We have paid our debts and financed our wars by decreasing social programs and funding for education. We have the worst public transportation in the world and our infrastructure is obsolete and fragile, as Hurricane Sandy has recently shown. We are flirting with social disaster. We have to stop using shear wealth as the metric to judge our lives and our nation. Disparity breeds contempt, frustration, and violence. India’s distribution of wealth is its biggest problem on its way up, and it is our biggest problem on our way down. A careless state can only breed careless people.

Photo ©Icarus Blake

 CBK would like to extend a special thanks to Antara Motiwala for her interview and overall help with this issue, not to mention her graciousness in showing us the ins and outs of the booming metropolis that is Bombay

4 Responses to “The Shredded Heart”

  1. Cri says:

    I love this article. The Delhi events were terrifying, but, as well noted, just one of thousands of rapes happening each minute in the world. Let’s all raise awaraness about this.

  2. Elisabeth Iler says:

    One of the most horrendous aspects of this deeply dark and disturbing event, is that the young couple, nude and disoriented after the attack on them both, asked for help from passersby. NOT ONE CITIZEN CAME TO THEIR AID, NOT ONE. In India, where I have lived for the past four years, there are always tons of people on the streets and particularly in that part of the city, since it is near a big mall, where the couple had gone for a movie. That disturbed me as much as the actual crime. I am still against the death penalty and think the assailants should be in a really bad Indian prison for as long as they might survive…..then they will know by direct experience what it is to be raped, humiliated and maybe even killed…..

  3. Icarus Blake says:

    Elisabeth, we are well aware of the ordeal the young couple had to endure. It was horrifying. We are strongly against the death penalty, but we understand how somebody’s immediate reaction would be to see this people eliminated from the human race. They make us all shameful of being human. Thank you for your powerful comment and thank you for being a reader of CBK. Icarus Blake EiC.