What would Suzette Jordan say to me?

This is a fictional article that I wrote for Women’s Web – Muse of the month contest. The cue was “Normal is something I can never take for granted again“. The article was originally published on the following link:

I wrote from the point of view of the late Suzette Jordan, somebody for whom I have immense respect and admiration. Suzette has touched the lives of so many women, and provided them strength when they have nothing to hope for in life. Thanks Suzette Jordan, I pray that you are at peace..

I have attached links to all the articles which I have used in my research.
Dear whoever cares to read this,

I am writing this letter from a beautiful and peaceful place. At one point, it was difficult to keep faith that this divine place existed…

You all knew me as ‘the Park Street rape victim’ until I came forward with revealing my identity to the world, unashamed and bold. I am Suzette Jordan.

I do not want to discuss my ordeals. Most of you may have read about it. My perpetrators have been vindicated. But this story is not about my pain. It is about my survival.

During the process of my own healing, I came to know of a 20-year-old student who has been raped by a gang of men on her way home from college in Kamdhuni village in Barasat on the outskirts of Kolkata. She did not survive the attack.

I had gone to Kamdhuni village to visit the victim’s family, but I could not bring myself to talk to the mother. My feet just froze. And I thought:

I could no longer sit back and watch what was happening, the monstrosity that had been perpetrated.

Normal is something I could never take for granted again!

What is being normal?

Maybe just having the privilege of breathing. Of living. Of life. Which is what matters. Which we take for granted. Which can never come back.

A few days later there was a protest led by women’s rights groups for the victim. I was asked to join. A women’s activist who was helping and healing me, asked:

Do you want to go out every day as a victim or as Suzette?

Are you still a victim or a survivor?

Criminals should hide their identity. Not you.

On the way to the protest, I realized that I had not brought a scarf to hide my face. She told me,

You have forgotten, perhaps that was God’s instruction.

As I walked into that crowd of 300-400 women, many of whom already knew my story, it was electrifying. When we
turned into Park Street and I shouted halla bol, I knew something had clicked.

I thought, if I stop now, think of all other women/girls I will be harming. They must know the truth. They must be aware of all the dangers. They must come out into the open and FIGHT because we are not just victims, we are human beings like everyone else and we hurt too. Nobody deserves to be raped and have their bodies and souls defiled.

I may have suffered a lot. But I still fought for you. I could have hidden myself from the world. But I did not, for I had committed no crime. I held my head high, with dignity and pride until my last breath. I did this, not just for myself but for you.

Just because I had been raped, people felt I had no right to live and I certainly had no right to be happy. I felt as if I was being blamed for being alive. But why shouldn’t I have enjoyed life?

I see that you carry a sense of guilt and shame on your shoulders forever. You are humiliated for just about everything – from being eve-teased to being abused sexually, physically, emotionally. For putting on makeup to wearing a short skirt. From drinking to being friendly with men. For living life on your own terms. For being yourself. Everybody tells you it is your fault.

Don’t let people decide what’s acceptable and ‘normal’ for you. Live with respect and dignity, with your choices. You may say that it is the society that has shamed you, but not succumbing to society is a choice that you could make. Don’t take your life for granted. Don’t take your dignity and self-respect for granted either.

I did not accept the injustice done to me. I raised my voice against it. I did not let society malign my spirit and my soul. You know why this is the state of the women in this country? Because we took it. We remained quiet. For years, for generations. We taught our friends, sisters, daughters also to silently suffer.

I may not be there in person with you anymore. But I created history by living a courageous and unapologetic life, despite what happened to me. I set an example and inspired many women to muster the courage to fight for their self-respect. You could too.

Much love,

Illusions of love

Abuse – could be in the form of emotional, physical or sexual, which can scar a person for life. It is not just women, but men who go through abuse as well. At times, people are not even aware that they may be being abused.

How would a person going through abuse seek help, if he/she is not even able to acknowledge it, or once acknowledged, it is considered shameful to talk about it? What does a person going through abuse feel, and why does he/she take it?

Shirisha Pothapragada, has captured the emotions of a woman who is in an abusive relationship, in this touching poem:


We are staying together he promised,
Even as your hair turns the shade of grey,
Cause you are my diamond, unpolished,
And I will shape you as I may.

I am his jewel, I beamed,
And he will be by me till eternity.
A better person he would make me,
I couldn’t have asked for a better destiny.

I looked on as he stripped me bare
Of all, that was me,
I put on the clothes he bought and the smile he taught
And this, he said, was why he adored me.

He shared with me his darkest fears,
And the pain inflicted by all.
Believing it to be the truth
I promised to catch him if ever he were to fall.

I walked his walk and talked his talk,
As I wouldn’t dare be a disgrace.
Words of love became far and few
Only scars on my skin I could trace.

I crouched in the darkest corner of the room,
As I got the whiff of cigarette and beer,
I felt a shudder run down my spine,
As I saw him appear.

I stood silently as my clothes he ripped apart
And threw me out the door,
This was my punishment I knew,
For he felt I had acted like a whore.

As the night faded, he would come to me,
Whispering words sweet as honey,
He would then carry me in like a baby
Reminding me never to disagree.

As months turned into years
It suddenly dawned on me,
That my life was no paradise
And that I had fooled not just me but everybody.

My worth I let be defined by him.
I was a nobody, he ingrained from the start,
It was not just my heart he broke,
But my soul he had ripped apart.

Finally, Unshackled and free I search for my dignity,
But as I lay alone at night I fall apart at the seam.
And as I succumb to the darkness inside,
I let out a silent scream.

His memories still haunt me,
His words still echo in my brain,
We are staying together he had promised,
You are not getting away from me, never again

The Antithesis

Sometime in late 1990s

I hold my tiny daughter in my arms as she gently strikes my face with her chubby fingers, enjoying as her aptly baby sized payal (anklet) rubs against my cheek. My daughter — Jiya, who came to my life 2 years after my son Rehan.

About 20 years ago

I grew up in a modest Indian household consisting of 4 siblings, I being the only daughter. A typical story of any other woman in that time and age. My story no different from theirs. I grew up going to a government school while my brothers went to the elite convents. I came home, helped my mother cook and clean while my brothers had the privilege of playing cricket, watching movies, lying around all day doing nothing with similar non-productive peers, all united by the benefits that came from being born with a certain alternative chromosome. “You are a girl, you should know household chores. You have to build a home and nurture it all your life.” Amma (mother) would say.

About 8 years ago

I managed to get into a college through scholarship. My brothers enjoyed their college life. They wore bell-bottoms inspired by Amitabh Bachchan. They drank. They smoked. They stayed up late at night, saw pubs, saw the city. I wore my modest salwar kameez, my dupatta pinned appropriately. I came home as soon as the classes got over. “Girls should not wear short skirts and hang out at night. If something happens you would regret all your life.” Amma would say.

Before I could write my third year exams, Baba (father) announced that I would be getting married. The boy’s name was Anil, a qualified paediatrician. But what about my degree? I wanted to study further and become a professor. “Your true happiness lies in finding a good husband. He will give you a good life.” Amma would say.

Fortunately, Amma was right about Anil. He was a good man. We had a blissful marriage. But part of my dreams, ambitions remained unfulfilled. I would live vicariously through my daughter. I would bring up my daughter the opposite of the way I was brought up. My daughter would be equal to my son.

5 years later

Jiya and Rehan attend the same school. Jiya has always been smarter than Rehan. She is talented too. I let Jiya pursue her hobbies. She is a good student, a good swimmer, a good dancer. Unlike my mother, I never force Jiya to develop her culinary or other domesticated skills. She spends her free time doing things she likes.

15 years later

My Jiya has grown up to be such a beauty! Oh what a life, my precious Jiya. She is a star. She is a straight A student in college! She wears the most fashionable outfits, attends all parties, she hangs out with friends, she even has a few drinks sometimes and has had a couple of serious boyfriends. There are no restrictions on my Jiya. “Girls and boys are equal. You live your life on your terms with your choices. You are a strong, independent woman”, I tell her. My perfect daughter whom I have vouched to give a perfect life.

24 years later

Jiya is a qualified lawyer. She has married a classmate of hers, Kunal. They both are a perfect couple with a son. Jiya never left her job. She has a maid at home who takes care of her son while she is at work. Jiya and her husband share the household responsibilities just like they share the finances. Kunal does the vacuum cleaning, cooks, helps clean the dishes and even takes turns to watch the baby while Jiya takes a break. How times have changed for better! I wish Amma were alive to see how men and women are meant to support each other in an equal relationship. Poor Amma with her limited, regressive thinking! Rehan is also married to lovely girl, Mira who he met at medical school.

Sometime in the present day

I am shopping for my grandson, how I love showering him with gifts! The phone rings -Jiya calling. “Ma” comes her terrified voice even before I could say hello. “Please come home immediately.”

“What happened Jiya”.

“Just come home soon Ma, I will tell you.” She is sobbing.

The three kilometre ride seems like eternity. What could have happened to my Jiya? Did she have a fight with Kunal…No. they are a mature couple. Maybe the baby is unwell.. Is Kunal alright..?

There is a police car outside my house and random neighbours stand outside whispering. A chill runs down my spine. As I enter, Jiya comes running to hug me “Ma, Rehan bhaiya (brother) has beaten up Bhabhi (sister-in law) badly, she called the police. Police has arrested him…Papa has gone there with Gupta uncle…..”

The rest was a blur. What a big mistake! As if my Rehan would ever beat up a woman! He is my son. A respectable, progressive, civilized family like ours! My perfect son. Why is Mira filing a false complaint against my poor baby…?

I reach the police station. I see Mira — her eye is swollen and black. Her lips are bloody red, a visible cut. Her hand is resting on her stomach, an injury possibly from being “kicked”, is what I hear.

Her staged bruises look so real! Where is Rehan? My poor boy is being framed. Have the police hit him the way they show in Bollywood movies? Oh God! I silently pray, wiping my tears “Amma, look what has happened, please protect my son. How our lives have been wrecked! I will get my son out of this mess…My baby..”

Rehan appears with a constable holding him. Anil is there with Mr. Gupta, his lawyer friend, has managed to arrange for a bail it seems. Rehan looks stressed, but thankfully he is not hurt. I go and hug him. We come back home. Jiya and Kunal are also home. I’ll make him a good cup of tea. I want him to relax before I ask him how this happened. He already looks so traumatized…that Mira…How could I be so wrong in judging that girl? No no.. She was always Rehan’s choice but still I had liked her, approved of her. I never imagined she could go to the extent of harassing us like this. What a lying, manipulative woman! What a poor upbringing. Her mother should be blamed for raising such an irresponsible child.

I put some ginger in the tea as I carry the tray to Rehan’s room. The door is slightly open. I can hear his voice. He is talking on the phone, to a friend perhaps. Finally opening up to somebody, my poor distraught boy..

…..“She is just impossible…Doesn’t even give me dinner once I reach home…I have to do my laundry myself.. Tortures me with her feminist equality shit all the time…Doesn’t know how to cook. You should see her chapatis…Bloody arrogant idiot.. And just see the way she drinks at parties, the clothes that she wears. F***** whore. That woman is completely out of line. I have slapped her so many times to control her but the bitch doesn’t understand she has to behave like a woman. Just because she earns a few bucks, she thinks she wears the pants in the relationship. I whacked the crap out of her this time. And look what the snooty slut did, straight to the police….”

Present day…or centuries ago?

I freeze. Struggle to hold the tray with my trembling hands. I run to my bedroom and shut it tight. As if I could shut what I had heard.

I lay in shock in my bedroom amidst the precious moments of my life captured in numerous photo frames hanging on the wall. My whole life came flashing in my mind. Pictures of a 5 year old Jiya and a 7 year old Rehan holding trophies at a storytelling inter-school competition. Me standing with them, a beaming, proud mother… I was so engaged in ensuring that I raised my daughter to be equal to a man, I forgot to raise my son to be a human.

My Jiya was taught to study, to play, to not be in the kitchen — her role reversed. But Rehan was never taught to even fetch a glass of water himself. Yes, I thought I progressed as a mother by paving the way for my daughter, out of the kitchen to the study room. But when it came to raising the sons, I was no different from Amma. Amma’s sons had never seen the kitchen, never did the laundry. Neither had my son.

Amma’s daughter was never allowed to hang out with friends. My daughter went wherever she liked, chose her clothes, her hang out places, her drinks, and tried things that the youth at her age yearn to explore. But while my daughter was taught to respect and value her freedom, my son was never taught to respect women and their choices.

The anxious nights that I spent worrying about Jiya returning home safe from clubbing, Rehan hung out with friends leeching at womens’ legs and cleavage, judging them for their clothes and calling them “sluts”.

While I taught a 9-year-old Jiya to fight for her rights and to voice her opinion and speak up, I forgot to teach an 11-year-old Rehan that he should not scream at a woman, that she is another human, an equal with choices, and not his slave.

While I praised my son-in-law among relatives and friends as “ideal” for helping out my daughter in the kitchen, I failed to notice that my working daughter-in-law struggled to find support as she returned home every night, exhausted mentally and physically, only to hear Rehan scream at her for not heating his food and offering it to him on his couch.

I remembered to instil a feminist streak in my daughter, but I forgot to delete the inherent chauvinistic mentality embedded in the psyche of my son, possibly the curse of the Indian man. I endeavoured to change the society, a better and a more balanced place, enriched by my self-sufficient daughter. But the imbalance that has been created is far more disastrous. I have inflicted another antiquated, chauvinistic, loser with a skewed sense of masculinity in the already wretched society in the form of my son.

Amma’s smile behind that frame garlanded with dry flowers seems to be mocking me.

Also published on Women’sweb