What needs to happen in India for a case of rape to get fast-tracked, for a survivor to receive compensation, and for politicians to speak up about the violence the survivor endured?
In the elaborate theatrics that are currently unfolding in Unnao, the answer seems to be very sinister.
On Thursday, a 23-year-old woman who was on her way to Rae Bareli to a court hearing in a rape trial was stabbed and burned in broad daylight by the two men accused of raping her. They were assisted by three more men. Last night, she died of her injuries.
The names of these men are Shivam Trivedi, Shubham Trivedi, Harishankar Trivedi, Ram Kishore Trivedi and Umesh Bajpai. These names are important to publicise for two reasons " no one will be searching for them on Pornhub tonight, and the poisonous Hindutva forces currently in power will not be singling out upper-caste Hindus and branding them all as rapists. (If you are confused about what I'm referring to, please look up what happened in the aftermath of the rape and murder of a young woman in Hyderabad.)
Meanwhile, in Unnao, the Bharatiya Janata Party government led by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has started making noises about what it will do to support the family. Hence the announcement of the Rs 25 lakh compensation, a house for her family, and the fast-tracking of this case.
Conveniently, they are not talking about the fact that these are measures she was entitled to while she was alive " after Shivam and Shubham Trivedi raped her and she filed a complaint against them, what she was instead subjected to was a constant barrage of threats, threats that were acted on and proved fatal. Talking about these posthumous measures also saves them from talking about their MP Kuldeep Sengar, accused of raping, terrorising and attempting to murder another young woman from Unnao.
Other players have descended upon the scene, too, of course. Akhilesh Yadav is sitting in dharna, demanding the resignation of his political adversary, Adityanath. Priyanka Gandhi met the family in Unnao. The media is quoting her family extensively " her uncle, her brother, her father, capitalising on their pain, framing narratives about how the family supports the extrajudicial killings of the four men accused of raping and murdering the young woman in Hyderabad.
Now that she is dead, all the mechanisms that should have supported her are on overdrive. They turned away while she was alive.
This is a simple mechanism called damage control, and it will do little to improve the disastrous levels of gender-based violence in Uttar Pradesh " and in India.
The proof is in the pudding. Even as this utter circus is unfolding in Unnao, another young woman has been doing the rounds of a police station for three months. She wants to file a complaint against a group of five men who attempted to rape her. The police response? "Rape toh hua nahin, jab hoga tab dekhenge." (The rape has not happened yet, we'll see when it happens.) An India Today report quotes the woman saying, "After the incident, I called 1090, they asked me to call 100. I called 100. I reported the matter in Unnao, they [the cops] asked me to report it to the area where the incident happened." The men have been threatening to kill her if she does not desist from trying to complain.
No doubt, if they succeed in doing so, the circus will unfold in Unnao all over again.
Perhaps what is most frightening of all in this spectacle of competing agendas is the utter disrespect to the memory of a young woman who wanted to live " and who wanted to see justice done. Most women in the country do not report rape because of the overwhelmingly hostile system they are faced with. This young woman, too, could have done that and no one with a shred of empathy and kindness would have faulted her for it.
Perhaps the most infuriating thing about this whole situation is that she did do everything that the "model" survivor of sexual violence is asked to do by people who like to put survivors on trial merely for speaking out. She went to the police. She took the rapists to court. If the police and the courts had been doing their job " if she lived in a country where powerful elite men were not allowed to get away with absolutely anything they feel like getting away with " she would have been alive.
She should have been alive, and her death is hideous. This is the darkest dark, underlying all the diabolical politics being carried out in her name, and in her town today. She should have been alive.