The moment we created Nirbhaya, we killed Jyoti, we allowed the fictional to overwhelm the original and a pseudonym to box the real character into the shadows. Jyoti, who? Don’t blame yourself if you cannot locate her in your memory. The state in conspiracy with the media has managed to erase her from the collective consciousness. Who represents her in the real world now is known as Nirbhaya. And Nirbhaya is far bigger a presence than Jyoti today.
Jyoti Singh is the real name of the 23-year-old para-medical student who was gangraped and brutalised by a bunch of drunkards in a moving bus on the night of 16 December 2012. She died in a hospital days later. Her tragedy troubled the conscience of a nation, united it in prayer for her wellbeing when she suffered and for justice after she passed away. She was treated simply as a victim till some point; then the media decided to create Nirbhaya, as if to insult her.
Had she been alive and well today, Jyoti could have explained whether humiliation and agony she suffered at the hands of her tormentors was worse than the indignity of living under the shadow of an imaginary character. Now, her mother wants to do her justice by seeking to extricate her from Nirbhaya.
“My daughter’s name was Jyoti Singh and I am not ashamed to name her. The heads of those who commit heinous crimes like rape should hang in shame, not that of the victims or their families,” she said at a public event recently. This should lead us to the bigger question: why must we try to bury the identity of someone like Jyoti, a victim of sexual atrocity even after her death? In this case, the parents had no hesitation in making the name public.
Raising the topic in Governance Now, Ajay Singh put this question: “Whose interest does it serve to hide her identity even after her death?” is not being asked by any media outlet. The rape victim’s name and identity are known in her home town in Ballia and entire eastern UP. In Delhi, everybody who matters to the family knows the identity and there is no indication that the family is facing any trouble because of that. The family itself has said that they are not scared of revealing their identity or ashamed of living on as the family of a rape victim. It is only the state and a section of the mainstream media which are keen on perpetuating the myths to obliterate the reality.”
Was it a case of being too clever by half? Of course, it was. From the day after the incident television cameras were on the family and friends of the victim, giving ample coverage to all, in the process blowing the cover off someone they wanted to hide from public gaze. The media’s intriguing smartness was obviously guided by the police, who in any case are not exactly famous for being smart even routine matters, leave alone complex situations.
Ajay Singh’s article highlights the point thus: “The Delhi Police, whose dubious conduct in the whole affair is not a secret, went overboard to protect the identity of the rape victim and zealously guarded the truth from coming out on the pretext of a law which prohibits revelation of identity in the larger interest of the victim. There is no doubt that the decree to protect the rape victim’s identity is guided by a pernicious social mind-set which attaches blemish to the victim rather than the perpetrators of the crime.
“This rape-cum-murder case was different in many aspects. The extent of bestiality involved was beyond human imagination. At the same time, it exposed the abysmal failure of a contract of the state with the citizenry at every step of our routine life. For instance, the victim and her friend could not get safe public transport after waiting for hours. Three-wheelers refused to take them to the desired destination despite an undertaking by them that they would not refuse passengers.”
Should we apologise to Jyoti for creating Nirbhaya? We must. We must allow her dignity in death by making her a real character. She deserves a place in the collective memory of the nation, not survive as pseudonym. There’s a lesson for the media here: don’t crawl when you are not required to. The state can afford to look stupid, as the nation’s conscience keeper you cannot. One last question to the state: should we rename the Nirbhaya Fund for safety and security of women as Jyoti Fund now? It will make her happy wherever she is.
… by Akshaya Mishra as published in First Post