International Women’s Day: Honouring Jyoti

WARNING: This post contains references to violence and sexual violence that may be triggering and/or upsetting for some readers. I have tried to leave out graphic details, but please do not read if you feel this may affect you, or if you have a sensitive disposition.

I apologize for any disappointment, but this post will not have cute images or funny gifs. This post will not have jokes, or witty one-liners to make you smile. Because this post is about something serious, and serious topics can’t always be translated into cartoon gifs. It may not make you laugh, it may make you sad, but it’s something that needs to be talked about.By me, by you, by your mother, sister, friends, girlfriend, boyfriend, father- by everyone.

In honour of Internation Women’s Day (8th March,) I have decided to write a special post remembering the young girl known as Jyoti Singh, (‘Jyoti’ meaning ‘flame’ in Arabic.) In some ways, she was a girl much like you (apologies to any male readers out there)- she was a physiotherapy intern, by all accounts hard working and loved by her parents. She lived and worked in the vibrant, busy city of  Delhi.   One night she went to the cinema with a male friend. She was on the bus home, with her friend, when her friend was attacked- suffering broken limbs- and she was brutally gang-raped by multiple men and thrown from the bus. Jyoti died thirteen days later from the horrific injuries she’d sustained (which I will not detail here, for fear of upsetting any sensitive readers.) She was just 23 years old.

As her family grieved, and continue to grieve for their daughter- they even sold their ancestral lands for her, so that she could afford to study- the nation- both men and women took her into their hearts and their prayers. They named her Jagruti (meaning ‘awareness’) Amanat (‘treasure’) and Nirbhaya (‘fearless one’.) Jyoti was, and is, all of these things, and her flame still burns bright today, as women fight for a society free from violence.The tragic and barbaric manner of Jyoti’s death made shock waves around the world, and highlighted the plight of women in India, where sexual violence is the norm for many women. Even now, with Jyoti’s attackers awaiting execution by hanging, one of her attackers blames HER for the attack, saying it was ‘an accident’, caused by her being out at night. (The full interview is part of BBC’s ‘Storyville’, to be aired on International Women’s Day.) Jyoti’s former friend told the BBC that  India’s biggest problem was its ‘mentality’ that put across ‘perceived differences between girls and boys from birth’. Her death has brought about (promised) legal reforms within India, and even the Prime Minister, Narendra Modhi, has spoken out in support of increasing women’s rights. In ‘Storyville’ Jyoti’s own father said that her murder sparked a ‘torch for women’s rights.’

But Jyoti’s death doesn’t just affect India’s community. It affects every community, every society, every place where women are persecuted, threatened, attacked, enslaved, dominated, raped, killed, tortured and beaten. Which of course, sadly, means everywhere. It sends out ripple effects to America, the UK, Asia, Africa and the rest of Europe. Because- tragically- there could be a Jyoti living next to you. She could be your friend, your mother, your sister, your lover, your niece. She could be someone who sits next to you on the bus, or on the train.

Because, until we create a world where men are raised to not rape or murder women, and taught that rape is fundamentally wrong (in hopefully compulsory school sex education classes,) an unccountable number of women just like Jyoti could be killed, raped or hurt. Domestic violence is still prevalent in the UK and US. Women still get raped, and bullied in the workplace. Many countries still do not have equal pay for women. Until this is wiped out, we need feminism, and International Women’s Day. Until then, we will still have examples like Jyoti- poor poor Jyoti- to wake us up out of our comfortable complacency, to shock and anger and upset us into taking action. We, as women, need to be aware, and not forget the suffering of less fortunate women around us. We need to do all we can to stop it, and we need to honour and respect the memory of the women who have died at the hands of evil, evil men. We need International Women’s Day to remind us of all of that, and we need to keep the flame of Jyoti’s legacy burning bright.

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