Dear Jisha, I never knew you, nor did you know me.
You were probably a “usual” student, pursuing your studies, dreaming of a better future for yourself and your country. You were probably someone like Rohith Vemula, who dreamed of stars and skies. I learnt that you were a Law student, but I regret to tell you that the Law of this country fails us miserably.
It is because a Bhanwari Devi does not get justice that Bhagana happens. It’s because no one in Bhagana gets justice that a Delta Meghwal happens. It is because a Delta Meghwal does not get justice that a Jisha happens. And most painfully, I can predict that you may not get justice either.
This is because the Law that you studied is not the law that actually runs this country- this country runs according to a parallel law which is called Manusmriti. It is routinely quoted by judges in their judgments, but perhaps you wouldn’t have studied that in Law school. It is the law of Manusmriti that prescribes limits for women and limits for Dalits.
That women should not go out after a certain time, that women should not study and become independent, that Dalits should not study or acquire skills, is embedded in the law that actually runs this country.
You probably loved this country, but I regret to tell you that this is no country for women. On the contrary, if you had ever questioned patriarchy or caste or class, they would have shoved a slogan or two down your throat. “Bolo Bharat Mata ki Jai”, “Bolo Vande Mataram” are the two favorite responses of our government to anyone who complains of injustice.
I am guessing you were a patriot and loved your country, but alas, declaration of Bharat Mata ki Jai wouldn’t come to your help when you were being murdered and raped. I shudder to think about the brutal details of your rape that have emerged. They make me wonder if all the people who kill their daughters in infancy do the correct thing. Such a desperate thought to occur to someone like me, who is supposed to be strong and calm! But it could have been me, it could have been anyone. I didn’t know you, but I can think about the terror that you must have felt.
Whatever has been done with you has been said to me in threats by BJP supporters on Twitter. Where does this thinking come from? How is there such a tremendous uniformity in the actions of your rapists and the words of the Sanghi trolls? It is the ideology of Manu, the ideology of hatred and caste patriarchy that drives both sets of criminals to do and say such things.
You will not get justice because we are quick to blame the rape on everything, but its real cause. We are ready to blame the rape on the dress and choices of women, on poverty, on alcohol, on chowmein, on mobile phone and other absurd things, but not on patriarchy, feudalism, commodification of women by capitalism, on caste, on our society.
We are told not to do politics and focus on studies, when we raise issues of justice for women like you, women like survivors of Bhagana mass rapes, the women getting raped at gun point in Kashmir and Northeast and for women like Soni Sori, whose rapist is given the gallantry award because she is labelled as a Maoist for opposing corporate onslaught on the tribals of this country.
You were probably one such student, among millions of others, who was studying and not doing politics. But the brutality of this society did not spare you. The brutality that you’ve faced did not result from a personal hatred against you, I believe, but from deep-seated biases against women, from rampant misogyny, from the treatment of women as commodities, as things to be used and discarded.
The violence that you’ve faced is only a manifestation of the hatred that prevails against all women, against me, against my friends, against all thinking, speaking, working, studying, questioning, politically active women, especially since we are not the traditional social elites. How dare they trespass their gender? How dare they trespass their second class minority status? How dare they trespass their lower caste status?
We are told not to “divide” people when we raise issues of caste, class, gender, race, disability and so on. We are told that, since it has been written down in Law, equality has been achieved!
But the ugly realities of caste will dawn upon us pretty soon, when we demand justice for you, when despite your case being as brutal as that of the young woman everyone called Nirbhaya, it will not shake the national conscience, when, perhaps, no one in your case will be punished hard enough, except if they are poor.
How I wish, as a fellow woman, I could say to you, Rest in Peace, sister. But the times we are living in, do not allow me to say that.
I am forced to say, DO NOT REST IN PEACE, JISHA. And don’t let anyone in this country rest in peace.
Enrage this country, this world. Awaken it from complacency.
Shehla Rashid is a student at the Centre for Studies in Law & Governance, JNU and Vice President of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union.