Out there in the world, bad things happen. People tell lies, pick pockets. There are genocides. There are expectations of reconciliation without truth.
Sometimes, I lie awake at night wondering what I might do if I was just walking along somewhere —maybe on a deserted road running parallel to a railway track, and I stumbled and fell and when I picked myself up, I saw that I had nearly rolled into an old mass grave.
It could happen. All sorts of things happen. For instance, I once heard of a salesman in the UK who put himself up for sale on ebay. I also read of a Bengali village where people sell kidneys — their own, and their wives’ kidneys too, as if it was a joint bank account.
A lot of bad things happen. I read something about a mother giving birth outside a public hospital in Madhya Pradesh, with a pig trying to drag off the newborn. And about a Dalit groom who needed police protection before he could ride a mare to his wedding. A Moroccan teenager killed herself after being forced to marry her rapist. Such terrible things happen and most happen ‘din dahaade’. In broad daylight.
I lie awake at night, sometimes, wondering if the protagonists of these true stories lie awake at night worrying about what they might do to prevent bad things from happening.
What could the villagers sell when there’s nothing left to sell? What do the young people think, knowing that a market that doesn’t want anything from them — not even the strength of healthy bodies. Just their vital organs, so that the lives of others might be prolonged? Do they think that if they just stay home all day, or at least, don’t venture out after dark, their kidneys will be safe?
Did the mother worry about dogs and cats in addition to marauding pigs in case she happened to deliver the baby at night on a public footpath? What could she do to prevent giving birth at night on a public footpath?
And the girl who had acid tossed at her, ‘din dahade’ in a public place — does she lie awake wondering if things might have been better if she had picked a different time of day to venture out? And that young woman who was sexually assaulted by a gang of men in Gurgaon? Would 8 pm have been safer? What about 7 pm? What about never?
Ah, but then what are we going to do about the fact that most rapes occur in or around people’s homes? At least, that’s what reports from the USA suggest. I don’t have access to detailed surveys about facts relevant to India, but it would be interesting to see how many din dahaade sexual assaults the Gurgaon police has been able to prevent, and where the crimes were committed exactly.
Given that most rapists are known to victims, it is easy to believe that there’s enough risk of rape at home. But that’s rather inconvenient, eh? Because that would mean the Gurgaon police telling women to stay outdoors as long as mortally possible, and to stop treating strangers with suspicion. Which, of course, is the logical thing to do. But still, for the sake of greater security, perhaps the police could make sure that men stay indoors after 8pm. Just in case the dark does have something to do with bringing out a violent kind of sexual hatred.
After all, the idea is that culprits get locked up and citizens who do no harm roam free and fearless as they try to make an honest living. Right?
Annie Zaidi writes poetry, stories, essays, scripts (and in a dark, distant past, recipes she never actually tried)