You have sparked a fire
Protest against sexual violence in India
They came from near and far – from London, Surrey, Shropshire, Wales and Yorkshire. Some had travelled 200 miles to be there, emotions high, outside the Indian High Commission in London, on the eve of 7th January, in response to the horrific gang rape and murder of a young woman, 23 year old physiotherapy student Jyoti Singh Pandey, on a bus in New Delhi.
Nearly 1000 demonstrators arrived, swelling onto the busy Aldwych street, bearing placards, shouting slogans to collectively pool their grief and anger that such a heinous crime against a woman should take place in this day and age. “Never Again” said one placard and another “You have sparked a fire”. “Our tradition” the crowd of mostly Asian women chanted, “struggle, not submission”.
The gang rape took place on 16th December on a travelling bus in south Delhi where it is alleged the driver also took part. It’s not that rape does not happen, sadly statistics point to one rape every 20 minutes in India, but reading the details of this case, where a metal rod was used and which left the woman with her entrails out, sent seismic shock waves throughout the world. Jyoti and her male companion’s body was thrown out of the moving bus and as Jyoti struggled for her life, she was first admitted into a hospital in New Delhi, then flown to a Singapore hospital where she died two weeks later.
In London, the demonstration was led by Southall Black Sisters, a leading feminist organisation supporting black, Asian and minority ethnic women victims of domestic violence. SBS said
“The world’s largest democracy was named the worst country in the G20 countries for violence against women (after Saudi Arabia) in the recent Trust Law/Reuters Survey. This is the heart of darkness in ‘India shining’. By drawing worldwide attention to this horror and solidarity for Indian women, we hope to shame the Indian government into acting now by making public spaces safe for women, starting with implementing the laws and bringing the perpetrators to justice.”
“Hum phool nahi , chingari hai, hum nari hai, hum nari hai!!” (We are not flowers, we are sparks of fire, we are women, we are women!!) Whilst the voices of the demonstrators rose raucously above the evening rush-hour traffic urging justice for Jyoti, SBS was keen to defend the rule of law and not lend support to the death penalty or chemical castration for the six men who carried out the rape, five of whom were coincidentally appearing before the magistrates in India on the same day. The sixth member was a teenager.
In being confronted by a teeming crowd of loud protesters, workers at the Indian High Commission were taken by surprise. They scurried around or came out to take photographs, unable to respond with dignity to the situation. Meanwhile, the Indian authorities have promised a fast-track reporting system which will bring perpetrators to justice to avoid rape cases being dismissed by the police or for them to languish interminably in the courts. Today’s protest was to ensure that the pressure was on to make that change and many more, for the sake of women’s safety everywhere.
Image credit and copyright: Shakila Taranum Maan