Written by Shishir Ramavat
“I lived in the red-light area of Mumbai….”
Soon after uttering these words, a teenage girl – must be hardly 16 or 17 – abruptly stops. In front of her is the audience of 70-80 people, listening to her attentively, looking at her chiseled face. She is slim, dark and dressed in decent clothes. Even though she appears just like any other school-college going regular teen, her story is far too horrific setting her apart from the rest. She clinches the microphone even more tightly. Perhaps she is arranging the words in her head, as her narrative is going to be explosive. Taking a deep breath, she finally speaks further:
“When I was twelve, my sir raped me…”
She stops yet again, but by then, the compassionate audience is stunned by her admission.
“It happened repeatedly. He raped me so many times. I just did not understand what was happening to me. I was confused, I was traumatized. Why was I subjected to this torture? I was living in this huge red-light area of Mumbai, that’s why. Sorry to use this word, but my sir had assumed that a Kamathipura girl necessarily has to be a randi ki aulad. Aur randi ki beti ke sath kuch bhi kiya ja sakta hai. My mother is not a sex worker. My poor parents sent me to school even though they could afford to do so, but here was my sir, who…”
Her voice is brittle and little shaky - one can immediately sense the pain and anguish in it.
“For a long time there was this sense of shame and guilt within me. I could not share anything with my parents, because my father is almost bed-ridden since years and my mother too is not keeping well either. I was dying inside every day, whereas my sir was roaming around shamelessly. Finally I decided: enough is enough. What was my fault after all? It is him who should live with the burden of guilt, not me. Today it is first time that I am sharing my story with so many people. No, I don’t want to live in suffering. It is my life, my body, my mind and I am proud of it….”
After finishing her speech, she sits down. Yet another girl comes forward. She is even younger than the earlier one. She looks nervous. However, slowly but surely she does speak up in front of the audience:
“I am a daughter of a sex-worker. When I was young, I was sexually abused. But I have decided to get out of my pain and suffering…”
It is not easy to bare one’s soul. One has to be courageous enough to share the soul-crushing experiences of life with someone even in private. Whereas here, the girls were opening up, narrating the horrendous and most intimate incidents of their lives to the packed audience. It certainly needs tremendous amount of guts and incredible inner strength to do so! But then, these are very moments which set oneself free… Free from the deathly burden; free from the possible psychological complexities. Such moments of coming out in open, or let’s say, the moments of being transparent publicly are very, very powerful. Such an act can sometimes prove to be very decisive – it might even change the flow of one’s life.
On April 13, 2015, a small yet intimate meeting was held at The Hive in Khar, Mumbai. The occasion was to remember Suzette Jordan, ‘the Park Street rape survivor’ as media often referrers to her, who passed away due to multiple organ failure a month ago. Apart from the people who knew her personally, there were many who never met her or interacted with her, but they were still inspired by her steely personality or touched by her joie de vivre. This was the very gathering where those teenage girls shared their stories. Today both of them are moving ahead beautifully in their respective lives within protected environment, thanks to an NGO.
The story of Suzette Jordan is well-documented. “I am tired of hiding my real identiy,” she had once told the BBC. “I am tired of this society’s rules and regulations. I am tired to being made to feel ashamed. I am tired of feeling scared because I have been raped. Enough is enough!”
She therefore, decided to openly tell the world her story.
“Please stop addressing me as ‘Park Street rape victim’,” she insisted. “I am not a victim. I am Suzette Jordan. I am a mother, a daughter, a sister. Please address me with my own name. And please stop blurring my face on TV screen.”
Suzette counseled many women. Her unpretentious and vibrant personality inspired not just victims but even those ‘regular’ people who were drowned by their own psychological complexes. Her vivacious and charming avatar invariably – and intuitively, without even uttering a word - conveyed this message to people: So what if you are badly scared? So what if your injuries are very deep? There is no need to keep on pampering your scars – it just does not make any sense. Life should not be stuck at any point. Yes, it is possible to be happy without the burden of guilt or shame or remorse. Oh yes, it is possible to live fully and whole-heartedly, no matter what. All you need is courage and stubbornness to be happy!
Harish Iyer, an activist and a victim of sexual abuse in his childhood, said, “Suzette and I could very well understand each other’s pain. Up to quite an extent, it was similar in nature. In fact, this very pain was the foundation of our friendship. However, we were so hell bent about not to be overwhelmed by the torture that we went through, we even joked about our sufferings!”
Joke they did too. Here ‘they’ implies to those three youngsters who allegedly gang-raped Suzette in a moving car along with two other men. The trio is still in jail where one cannot keep a mobile phone as per rulebook. Even then, till sometime back, they somehow managed to operate their Facebook accounts. They would change profile pictures periodically and even gloat looking at the number of ‘likes’ they received!
However, all this is hugely insignificant in front of Suzette’s irrepressible spirit. It is this very spirit which has motivated countless people. Just like that girl from the red-light area of Mumbai.
(The article appeared in Take-off column of Sandesh – a hugely circulated Gujarati newspaper – on April 21, 2015.)