Asha was her name. The very meaning of her name was hope. But that was what she precisely lacked at this point of time.A ray of hope.
What odds did she have to endure the agony called life? Burn the bridges to the past and rise from the ashes as an entirely new person? A new name, a new identity, a new life? But she was no phoenix, she was just an ordinary person who was denied the luxury of living an ordinary life.
Past, it would keep haunting her all her life.It would keep reminding her of the fights she had lost, about the wounds that she had been inflicted with.No they won’t cause her any pain, not anymore.She was past that stage, she had lost the ability to feel anything.All she was left with was a vacuum, with no feelings- no happiness,no sorrow,no pain-just the numbness that follows a massive blow, shutting out all the senses!
Optimistic she was once in her life, once she had reassured herself and her family, once she had trusted in the greater power .But now she had lost the ability to trust in anything, the ability to feel hopeful.
She hid her face behind the bounds of her shawl and proceeded to the courtroom. Why did she have to hide her face? What hideous crime did she do to deserve this humiliation? The questions she had were beyond answers.
A thousand cameras blinked before her eyes.The sea of faces around her were shamelessly intruding into her personal space, disrobing her dignity with a mere look.Her eyes lowered,she knew she couldn’t keep up with their unfair judgement.She could fathom their thoughts, she could hear them mentally calling her a slut, a characterless bitch, a person with loose upbringing.She did not want to shout back or counter their accusations. So she just walked on,ignoring them as she had been ignoring every other realm of her life.Gone were the days when she broke down, now it was just a familiar ritual.She was used to it.
It has been 10 long years.She was only 16 then. She had for years tried to convince herself that if was not her fault. But then, they had their own arguments.Why was she wearing a skirt knee long? Why was she travelling alone at twilight? Why was she with a boy? Who said it was a rape, did she not secretly seduce those men? The years of brainwashing has made her stop and re think about the roots of her torments.May be it was her fault.May be she should have wore a full length skirt, may be she should not have signed up for the interstate science symposium, may be she should not have agreed to have a boy as her project partner, may be she should not have stayed back at his place to make the presentation since she did not have a computer at home, may be she should not have gone back home alone when it was 6 in the evening. There were so many things she had done the wrong way, and biggest mistake of her’s would definitely be her decision to approach the authorities for justice.
Justice, the word brought an involuntary smile to her lips.She should have known that one of the accused was a budding political aspirant, she should have known what justice actually meant! Her education was disrupted, not to mention the threats and blackmails her family received. She would have endured all of it, only if that one unfortunate incident had not isolated her and her family from the society.Her family was banished from the town.They had to hide their face behind the masks of anonymity. Her elder sister was still unmarried at 32. Her father no longer stepped outside of their home. Her mother had stopped talking altogether.The very fire and anger that had once prompted them to fight for justice was extinguished long back. Now it was just a ritual, something she did because she did not have anything else to look forward to.
Yes, there were women activists who once in a while visited to assure that they were with her. After the initial hype, their interests waned. And later on some of them even went ahead to comment that the girl had it coming as she had not kept herself within the boundaries of the usual social norms.What was her offense, which norms did she not adhere to?
She sat silently in the courtroom. She had not appeared for the last three hearings, the court had issued a warning against her which was only reason she came in today.She, for the first time, knew how this hearing was going to proceed.She had made the decision.Her eyes flickered towards the accused and one of them grinned at her without a tinge of guilt.She did not care any more, in fact she had stopped caring a long time ago.A justice delayed is a justice denied, isn’t that what they say?
“I am not sure they are the ones”, she looked at the faces that had once haunted her in her nightmares and declared in her dead emotionless voice.”I can’t recollect their faces”, she continued.The smiles of victory that were displayed on those wicked faces ceased to invoke any emotion in her. The witness was declared hostile, the court was adjourned and she walked outside the court house covering her face yet again.
As she tried to slip away from the chaos the crowd had created, she was abruptly stopped by a reporter. A mike was thrust before her and the reporter asked-“Why did you change your statement after all these years? Don’t you want to see those guys who inflicted you with this grave injustice behind the bars?”
The question slowed her pace, she had to answer this one. She slowly turned back, took her veil off, looked into the camera and said-“Those guys raped me and I would have gotten out of the trauma.I would have recovered, I would have lived the life the way I wanted to. It would not have been the end of the world, only if….. ,only if the people around me had not started treating me as dirt.If the so called society had not started accusing me,if they had not isolated me and my family for a fault not of our own.If they had understood that I was wronged and I was not the one who was wrong. If only they had empathized with me instead of pelting unkind words on me….If all those people who caused me pain were to end up behind the bars, there would be not many roaming free outside!” With this she turned and walked. Her family was waiting,their bags were packed,tickets were booked. With the money that was stained by her dead dignity, she was going to move on.With a heart that had forgotten to love and a mind that had lost it’s spirit, she was going to live.