A sea of humanity was assembled at the India Gate. Youngsters from every corner of the national capital had gathered for a peaceful protest. Candles and placards with messages such as, “We want Justice for Nirbhaya”, were held up. She too was standing with a candle in her hand, with the sheer determination to shake the Indian Government into action. At a short distance from her, a couple of guys engaged in a scuffle with the police. Suddenly she was punched hard on the chest; she literally flew from the impact and fell on a yellow police barricade, behind her. She felt like her lungs were being squeezed, she screwed her eyes in pain. She was hit with a pressurised jet of water. The police had fired the water cannon on the protestors to dissipate the crowd which was refusing to thin, even after three days of demonstrations. People ran for cover, while some brave souls continued sloganeering. Lying helplessly on the ground, she couldn’t understand the chaos, eventually she fainted.
She woke up in a hospital. “Hello dear. Thank heavens you have regained consciousness. Don’t worry, you will be alright,” the nurse said soothingly. “What happened?” was the weak and confused reply. “Three of your ribs are broken,” the nurse informed her. These words sucked the wind out of her lungs. Tears started streaming from her eyes. Her life had turned upside down in a day.
Trrrriiiinggggg Trrrriiiinggggg Trrrriiiinggggg
Smita woke up with a start. The doorbell rang continuously. Smita turned around and checked the clock. It was 7:50 am, she had overslept. She jumped from her bed and ran towards the door. She opened the door, to usher in Ira, the housemaid. After hurried exchanges of pleasantries, Ira immediately got busy with sweeping the 2 BHK flat clean and then cleaning the utensils. Smita made her way to the washroom and stood in front of the mirror, remembering her dream. She could see beads of sweat on her forehead, as she struggled to forget the aftermath of her rib fracture, which had happened four years ago. Since the incident, she was haunted by nightmares which always replayed the terrible turn of events in her head. “Get a grip on yourself,” she admonished her reflection. She splashed water on her face and then completed her usual morning routine, as she prepared to leave for office. As she was about to egress the house, she hugged Ira and said, “Goodbye.” Smita was very fond of Ira; she was not a housemaid to her, but a friend. Ira idolised Smita. The short young woman from the North East, with jet black hair who was making a mark in the man’s world against all odds was adored by Ira. She was staring dreamily at her, when Smita clapped her hands waking her up from her reverie. “Have a nice day,” she said, blushing a little. Upon hearing this, Smita beamed at her and stepped outside to leave for work.
There was a nip in the Delhi air. Smita shivered a little. As she walked towards the Hauz Khas metro station, she coughed incessantly; Diwali and crop burnings in nearby villages had made the air almost un-breathable. At the station, she boarded the metro to Sikanderpur, Gurugram. She entered the metro, the doors closed and the locomotive started moving. It was brimming with people, anywhere she looked, Smita could see people either sitting precariously on the seats or standing wherever they could get a foot on, every inch of space had been occupied. Suddenly, she felt a sharp pinch on her derriere. Bewildered, she looked around. Everyone was busy reading newspapers or scrolling their mobiles. After a minute of confusion, she returned to her own mobile. Slap. Somebody had slapped her arse this time. She knew it was intentional; she turned back, her face stern. A few men standing behind her were smirking, “Get a life,” she retorted angrily. As she got out at the Sikanderpur station, three of them followed her. “How much for one night?” “Your rate must be cheap.” “Bet you will do it for free, chinki.” Saying so, they zoomed past her and out of sight, leaving her in a state of anger, frustration and shock. She was trembling, head to toe and felt like running away. She felt vulnerable and dirty. Reluctantly, she took a cab to her office. “Please take me to Cognizant office,” she said to the cab driver. As the cab sped away, she looked out of the window, her expression blank.
Flashing her ID card to the security, she entered the office building. She took the lift to the third floor, where she had her work-space. As she entered her floor, people all around were murmuring and gossiping, but she was detached from all the mundane chatter. She was least bothered if Arav was getting married next month or if Hillary would be winning the US Presidential election the next day. She tried to shake off the visceral disgust that had now filled her, but it was all in vain, she knew the feeling would stay with her for quite some time. She reached her 10 feet by 10 feet cubicle, dumped her bag and fidgeted on her chair, not getting any work done. At 10:30 am, she gave a presentation at the Annual Review meeting. After she had finished, her boss Mandarkar said, “Smita, you should try to be witty during your presentations, they sometimes bore us to death!” “Bet you would find me wittier if I slept with you,” Smita thought angrily, she hated him. Four years ago, Mandarkar had offered her a promotion. There was only one catch; she had to sleep with him whenever he willed it. She had refused, to which he had bluntly replied, “Do you know how many girls have satisfied me on that couch?” pointing his finger towards the black couch in his office. He continued, “If you wish to get promoted by me, I need something in return as well, or you can spend the rest of your life as a Software Specialist!” She had stormed out of his room. A few days later, a young Delhi girl had been brutally raped on a moving bus, which shook the entire nation. Smita herself took to the streets along with thousands of protestors. On the third day of protest, she broke three of her ribs and had to leave her job for a year to recuperate. After having recovered, she resumed work and has since been stuck at the same position for the last three years. She loved her work, but hated everyone around her. She felt like she was rotting away, stuck at the same place with no career growth. That day was like every other day of the past three years, she was revolted by her surroundings and wanted to get out of the hellhole. Later in the day, she had lunch at the cafeteria. When she had finished, she called up her mother. “Hello, how are you Beta?” said the coarse voice from the other end. Smita replied, “I am fine Ma, How is everything at home? How is Papa?” Her mother said, “Everything is not okay. And your father’s health is failing every day. We need 12 Lakhs for his operation. But why do you care? Why should you be bothered about your parents, when you get to enjoy your life in Delhi. Going to pubs and posting on Facebook, you seem to be having a good time!” Smita was taken aback by her sudden acerbity. Lately, they were fighting a lot; her mother was disappointed with her. She expected her to come visit them at Agartala. “Ma, how many times do I have to tell you that my busy schedule doesn’t allow me the luxury of holidays? I am saving everything I can for Papa’s operation, but you don’t want my money, just because I am a girl! And for God’s sake that office party was three months ago, I haven’t visited a pub since then!” she said, exasperated. Without another word, her mother hung up. Smita was close to tears now. It was turning out to be a horrible day.
It was 8 pm. Smita walked past the exit door of her office. She pulled the jacket close to her body, rubbing her arms in order to get some respite from the biting cold. She checked for any cabs nearby, there weren’t any. So she started walking towards the Metro station, immersed in her own thoughts, trying to cheer herself up. Darkness covered the area like a velvet blanket and smog was the perpetual friend of anyone residing in the NCR. She walked through a dark alley, her mind oblivious to the fact that the rush of the city traffic had muffled, the car noises had become distant. She made a turn and suddenly there was a hand around her mouth and another grabbed her waist. She couldn’t shout and could barely move. She squirmed, scratching her attacker’s hands, but his grip was firm. She heard an engine rev up nearby and her pupils dilated in fear. Soon enough, she was put into an SUV, with five men inside. A cloth was stuffed into her mouth, while the car sped away. And then it started. Three pairs of hands attacked her body, touching her, feeling her; she tried to thrash her hands helplessly, but she had been overpowered. She tried to shout, but the cloth ensured no voice came out of her. Tears were gushing from her eyes, as she saw the hunger, the lust in the eyes of the attackers. There was a bearded person beside the driver who lunged at her breast a couple of times. He guffawed when she recoiled in horror. After sometime, when she thought she couldn’t endure anymore violation, the car came to a grinding halt. She was forced outside. She saw an empty thatched house to her right and a crop field nearby, it was a village on the outskirts of the city. The stinging smell from the burnt crops hit her nose and choked her. Two of them held her down, while the others turned on two floodlights and the bright light pierced her eyes. She saw one of them come forward, scratching his crotch and saliva dripping from his mouth. She was then pushed to the ground by the bearded man, who thrusted into her violently while she groaned in pain. Her body wanted to give up, but she had a heart of steel. With all her might, she broke her right arm free from her assaulter’s grip. She grabbed a fistful of dust and threw it in his eyes. In an instant she was free while the man writhed in pain, rolling on the ground, covering his eyes. She lifted a big stone and waved it in front of her, creating an invisible barrier that her assaulters couldn’t penetrate. She removed the cloth from her mouth and shrieked at the top of her voice, her hair dishevelled. “Stop or I will crack your skull!” A look of fear passed their faces, they looked ready to flee. Smack! She received a huge blow on the back of her head. As she floundered to the ground, she saw the bearded man advance towards her angrily. One of his minions ran to the car and brought an HD cam to film the entire abhorrent scene. While the other three pinned her down, a woman half their size and it took all their might to do so, such was the force with which she resisted them. Their boss rubbed his tumescence until it was erect and then shoved it inside her. He slapped her face, biting it; squeezed her breasts and beat her belly violently. But she wasn’t ready to give her attackers any inch; she wriggled tirelessly even though all her efforts were in vain. One after another, each of them came and left new red bruise marks on her body along with deep scars on her soul. Finally, the man with the camera; passed it to his friend and opened his pants and blitzed hard into her and as she let out a cry of pain, he slapped her. “Yeah, you bitch, you like that? I will size you up to your true worth.” His boss said, “She works in some IT company, says so on her ID card.” “Oh, so you are an IT slut?” her attacker bellowed. Hearing this, she went berserk and tried to shake the men off her. In retaliation, the man inside her, slapped her again and again and then banged her head to the ground, again and again, all the while continuing his sexual onslaught. She lost consciousness; blood was oozing out of her head. When he was finished, the five attackers left her there and ran away in glee, congratulating each other.
It was 9 pm. Ira was returning to her village. She came to a bright empty passage with a thatched cottage near the fields. Suddenly, she stopped dead; she saw a small river of blood on the ground. Her eyes slowly moved towards the source; realising what it was, she ran forward to help. As she dashed towards it, she saw a face which was unmistakably familiar. All colour drained from her countenance, her brain froze and she became immobilised. She heard a distant scream, somebody was shouting for help. The scream grew louder, it was a blood curdling scream and it gave her goose bumps. On the horizon, she could see lights turning on and distant shouts. People were yelling and running towards her. “It’s working! People are coming to help” she thought to herself. Two people were running towards her at a furious pace. One of them abruptly stopped near the body, while the other person came and shook Ira. “Please stop shouting!” he said. She then realised that she was the one who was screaming at the top of her voice, her brain was in shock. Soon, a small crowd had gathered. The two men rushed to pick up the body, while an old man put his shawl on the torso. “Everything will be alright” Ira cried, holding Smita’s hand who could barely hear her, she had a very weak pulse. The two men and the woman scurried in the direction of the highway, carrying the victim, who needed immediate medical attention. As they reached the highway, they stopped a taxi. The taxi driver saw Smita’s condition and without any reaction he turned to Ira and said, “I will charge 400 bucks to take her to the nearest hospital, do you have the change?” Ira made a sudden movement, wanting to slap him on his face, only to be restrained by one of the men, Bhaswar. He kept his calm and replied, “I have 500 bucks.” “Tch Tch, that won’t do, all 500 and 1000 rupee notes have been demonetised by the Government, effective from midnight, they are just pieces of paper now.” Saying so, he drove away. Every other taxi or autorikshaw gave the same excuse. Ira and the two men waved helplessly at the passing cars. Finally after what felt like an hour, Ira jumped in front of a car to stop it. They pled with the driver who turned out to be a good Samaritan and took them to the nearest hospital. As they reached the hospital, Smita was rushed to Emergency Care. Within a few moments, she was declared brought dead. Ira was devastated beyond measure.
The next day…
Smita’s body was cremated at the Subhash Nagar Cremation Ground. As Neha, her mother, was returning to Agartala, she received an SMS from the bank. 11 Lakh rupees had been deposited into her bank account that Smita had registered her as a nominee to. Neha remembered her last words to her daughter and tears welled up in her eyes. She had not only lost her child, but also realised that she had made her child’s life hell, while she was alive.
Ira was beyond grief. Life had been sucked out of her. She cursed the taxi and auto drivers and cursed this new rule. She cursed herself. She couldn’t bring her life back to normalcy. Memories of Smita haunted her during the day, while they accompanied her in dreams at night. How could she forget her? How could one forget such a beautiful person? How could one learn to live without such a strong and inspiring girl? How could one forget the only person one had ever loved, desired and adored?
A few months later, Ira and her friend were sauntering through the Huda Market. They walked past a shop named Biloo’s, which had very dim lighting. As her curious eyes turned towards it, she realised what the shop was and was about to divert her eyes and walk on, when something caught her attention. She moved closer and scrutinised it closely. A dingy poster hung in front of her with a picture, most of which was blurred. The poster was headlined, “LOCAL FILM: IT slut- rape and rough sex.” Below it, in a smaller font, “Watch it and feel relaxed, most popular film, 50,000 copies sold already.” Only one face was visible, a face which was contorted with horror, the person seemed to be shrieking, it was Smita. An indignant Ira stormed into the shop and created a ruckus. It was just one shop, that local film was popular throughout Haryana and U.P.