Part 1- Just another victim.
Disclaimer: This is a fictional and satirical piece of writing that evokes rape, body-shaming, gender inequality, corruption and victim-blaming in our society- all of which are now being looked upon as normal occurances. Although the setting is in Mauritius, such situations and mentality are not restricted to this country only. These are pertinent issues spread worldwide which have to be delt with. This is my attempt to spread awareness. Shruti and Padma could be anyone of us, boys or girls. I hope to act as an eye opener through this new series. Part 2 will be a continuation.
A cold splash of rainfall washed over the town of Quatre-Bornes, Mauritius during the first week of the year. Puddles of muddy water littered the battered roads (courtesy of the countless potholes), providing a feast for the frogs which croaked all night. But the dirt-filled holes and the heaps of rubbish were not all that was polluting this town, or, more appropriately, this country. No, the country was not rotting away because of its trashed-filled streams, plastic-blocked drains and the staggeringly high number of illegal dumping grounds. Because, for as long as its inhabitants remember, those things had always existed.
For the past years, a different kind of rubbish had wormed its way into the city and gnawed at its peace, leaving the foundations of the so-called paradise island brittle, ready to break. But people did not talk about it, oh no! It was deemed inauspicious and inappropriate- “better ignore it,” said Padma, who worked in the building in which the incident had happened. “There’s no use mopping over it, stuff like this happens all the time. Insurance will cover…”
And so, the eyes were shut close, the ears stuffed with cotton wool and the conscience remained crystal clear.
So yes, it was a rainy day. At 10 p.m, the roads were gushing with water which flowed uninterrupted for there was no one outside. Flickering lampposts cast a faint glow on the water, giving a magical feel to the air. Inside the well-shuttered and closed houses which lined the narrow path leading to the city centre, people watched television while sipping on their hot tea.
Shruti was the only one outside, in the biting cold brought by a brewing cyclone. She was walking home alone, the light splash of her feet in the ankle-deep water being the only noise to be heard. Her teeth were clattering slightly and her hands were frosty. But she was smiling. After months of search, she had landed a job of her choice which promised her a comfortable life- how happy would her mother be! It was a rare occurance to find a job of your choice, nowadays in Mauritius. As the number of university graduates kept rising year by year and people favoured desk-jobs over manual ones, many a lawyer or a doctor found themselves compelled to become vegetable-sellers at the local market or clerks in the nearby hospitals to earn a meagre living- but mostly to pay off the mountain of loans which threatened to ruin them; loans which were taken to earn them a piece of paper which proved that they were professionals, of course! But Shruti did not want to turn out like those people. Of course, she had not been foolish enough to choose the over-saturated fields just because they paid well. She, a smart young lady, chose to study finance which provided her with countless job opportunities. And finally, her hard work had paid off.
Neither the battering rain nor the howling gale could dampen her happiness. Her chest was alight with warmth and pride, and her quick steps carried her urge to share the new with her mama. Finally a block away from her home! She broke into a grin, imagining the stunned faces of her neighbours who had never refrained from affirming that she would never get a proper job in the finance sector with the presence of so many male counterparts, who would surely be favoured over her. And for months, they had been, till today… She laughed.
That smile was never wiped off her face for it remained with her till life itself, left her. That last smile of hers showed no signs of pain or sadness; it carried the innocence of her soul and the happiness of her heart. When her body was found the following morning in the bright sun that pushed people to leave their homes, she was smiling. She was smiling as she would have if she had seen this beautiful morning, with the endless chirping of local birds and the fresh scent of rain and flowers.
You would not know that she had suffered if not for her eyes- oh her eyes! Deep, twinkling pools of hope and light. How they were slightly widened by the shock, seeming to buldge out from the pain, yet carrying nothing. They were dull and devoid of emotion, staring off into the air. She was slightly cockeyed which left to think that maybe she had wanted to take one look at the one who assaulted her, drained her of her light and hope, of her dreams and happiness. Had he seen her life slowly oozing out of her through her eyes? Did he feel happy to see her crumbling, crashing down on the cold concrete. Was he elated witness the passing of a naïve soul, the destruction of happiness which she once held? No, he must not have cared very much, to rape a dying person on the road. In fact, he did not care at all; after all, even if he was caught, he could always blame the limp body underneath him. What did she expect? He snickered, wearing a knee-length dress, tempting him like that- he would not be the first man to have lost control, right? Right. He was right.
But, the police maintained, the killer had left no evidence behind. They would, as always, look into the case and try their best to catch the killer. Well, at least the best they could do with the knowledge that such crimes were common and they could just close the case after a month or two. Or perhaps allow themselves to be silenced in awe of a few thousand dollars, underpaid as they were. Wasn’t it just a week before? When another girl had suffered the same fate? And Padma had said that it happened all the time…
Padma was in shock. She sat rock-faced and tight-lipped while the policemen presented their sympathies at her doorstep- her beloved daughter, Shruti, was killed. Brutally stabbed with what was believed to be a kitchen knife, raped and left to die last night. She had not noticed her daughter’s absence that morning, busy as she was with her prayers. And she refused to believe the fate of her only child.
Or as the sensational article in the local newspapers depicted, Padma was a cruel mother devoid of love and care for her own daughter. Didn’t she once hit her daughter so hard that the latter ended up with six broken bones and a perfect cover-up story of how she fell down the stairs?
Yes, the neighbours agreed, she must have wished for her own daughter’s death. After all, hadn’t she allowed her daughter to dress so provocatively? The only benefit of doubt that prevented them from setting her house on fire was that Padma, like themselves, must have thought nobody would rape her fattie of a daughter– who would want that compared to their own beautiful daughters? And so they resigned to avoid Padma like the plague. Not even the latter’s circle of gossipers talked to her after that incident. In fact, they feasted upon this opportunity to waste more time gossiping rather than working and they all agreed to steer clear of Padma the Witch.
Months telescoped into one another and soon came August, Shruti’s birthday month; one she would celebrate from the grave, but the city of Quatre-Bornes remained the same, save for the rain. People, who had forgotten about the initial cause of their disgust for Padma under the mountain of rumours which followed, still took no notice of the middle-aged woman who grieved her daughter’s death in her lonely house, by herself.
The woman herself had taken on much weight, they noticed. Gone was the woman so skinny and elegant that she looked sick, replaced by a plumper, healthier looking one. It was clear to them, after all, that Padma’s flushed cheeks and weight gain were proof of her evil heart.
But at night, when no prying eyes would peer at her from her windows, Padma cried her heart out in her bed, which took the form of her safe haven. She would cry long and hard, because she felt lonely; not because the whole town shunned her, no. She could no longer care about what they thought of her, anyway, for her opinion of herself was much worst. She would weep and weep till her face was red and raw, thinking about how she could have saved her daughter. If only, she thought.. Before indulging in snacks, sugary and fatty to dull the ache in her heart; a ritual which, she thought bitterly, allowed her to splurge the money she had saved over years and years of hardwork and crazy budgeting to buy Shruti a brand new car. It did not matter, anymore. And so, she ceremoniously stuffed herself silly till the pain of it all was summed into a throbbing stomachache.
Here’s the story of millions of girls and mothers. One which has slowly but surely infiltrated our daily reality. It’s time to rip off the blindfold, people. Rape culture is very much alive, and so is victim-blaming, body-shaming and a thousand of other issues. Poignant as the words may be, they don’t hold the power to change the world; only you do. So let’s condemn the assaulter, not the assaulted; let’s teach people not to rape, instead of not to be raped.
Sending you lots of love and positivity,