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Dear Jyoti

from Uttama 





Dear Jyoti Singh Pandey*,

I thought you were going to live. I was optimistic. Maybe I was just scared. Either way, for you, I chose life over death.

Not everyone did, though. Some said you’d be better off not surviving. That maybe you’d be spared a lifetime with the memory of such a devil act.

I wanted to hate those people, but some of them were my friends. I was shocked. Is this the world I live in—where death is a safer haven? Is justice in the afterlife more likely than in the courtrooms of a democracy?

I’ve never met you, but I think you were better off because you’d never met me.

I’m guilty; guilty of a crime I believe to be unforgivable.

I couldn’t finish reading the article when it first came on screen. Right now, I’ve paused the interview on television, the one your friend and only witness was brave enough to give. I wanted to scream loud enough the whole of India could hear me, but I haven’t said a word. I wanted to find someone who would do something to help, but I could only think of you.

I confess my crime: I forget.

I read, I share information, I run awareness campaigns. But I forget.

I sign petitions, join protests, make posters. But I forget.

Because it’s a crime I commit so often, I’m afraid.

I’m afraid I’m going to forget you. And I’m more afraid everybody is going to forget you.

You are respected and admired by people who don’t even know you. You will be seen a martyr—not just for women, but for human strength. You will go down in history, be kept in records, and there will be some people who will never allow the tragedy of what you endured to get diluted by time and trivial progress.

But most people, the ones who didn’t know you, those who get enraged as easily as they get distracted—will be guilty of my crime. As their news feeds update, memories thin, and inner voices get drowned out by louder broadcasts—they might only do so much as say one day, ‘Remember years ago when that girl got gang raped in Delhi? That was awful.’

I understand where they’re coming from, though. I’ve stood there. I’ve thought, ‘What’s the point?’ The task ahead—of changing a mindset, of reforming a law, of disbanding a ring of corruption—seems so daunting that a small step like writing an article feels like a speck of dust on an over polluted metropolis.

But then I remember you again, and force myself to find out horrific details. I reread your father’s words: “I am proud of her.”

You told your friend you wouldn’t have reported this to the police. Why? Would you have been one more amongst millions of women sentenced to a lifetime of deafening silence?

But I understand some of the reasons. And that’s precisely why my crime is so grave.

Some progress, like anti-rape laws, fast-track courts, and increased public safety for women, will carry on with or without my inaction.

But the real problem—the one that disables women from reporting heinous crimes, the one that allows the president’s son to get away with idiotic remarks, the one that makes police officers force rape victims to marry their attackers—that problem continues to exist because of me, because of ordinary, well-intentioned people like me.

In our day-to-day lives, we do very little to change this outdated idea that for one reason or another, women hold value in relation to men.

They can be disposed of, quite literally, as you were—under a flyover of a capital city or in the missing pages of a father’s will.

They can be used, abused, and blamed for bringing it on by baring their legs. They can be treated as second-class citizens in any country. They can be taunted on the street, groped in a nightclub, or smacked at home.

It’s small details that feed demons. However slight or subtle, it is the accumulation of every single act of inequality that builds up and eventually infiltrates a society to internalize that women can be treated, and can expect to be treated, unfairly.

Your father said he hopes parents will teach their sons to respect women. I’m skeptical. Most will think this doesn’t affect them; that the monotony of their routines has no connection to this outlier of an incident.

But everyone’s actions have impact. They reverberate from the inside out.

I’m sorry to tell you that as parents, we are also guilty of my crime.

The next time we tell our daughter to pull up her sari blouse lest cleavage be misinterpreted as a tarnished reputation, we’ll forget you. When we watch TV serials that dramatize patriarchal attitudes and pressure our daughters to fulfill all the requirements of her husband’s family, we’ll forget you. When we let our son get up off the dining table without clearing his plate, we’ll forget you. When we know our brother is hitting his wife, but don’t say a word, we’ll forget you. And the next time we look at a woman from head to toe and judge her dignity by her clothes, we’ll forget you, and have disrespected you.

I suppose we can’t always remember everything. But right now, while this is in front of our eyes, we owe you more. If we can’t protest, the least we can do is reflect on what happens in our homes that perpetrate this unjust mentality.

It’s possible our inaction to address gendered attitudes in our families and in our culture leads to exactly the kind of arrogance that presumes a woman can be treated the way you were. I shiver when I imagine those men laughing to themselves, thinking they would get away with it. Because other men have.

Jyoti, I’m so sorry.

I know that if it had been me on that bus instead of you, I could never forget. That if this happened to any other parent’s child, they would never forget, either.

But I’m most sorry that it takes so much in order for us to remember.

Your father said you wanted to live. I find comfort in knowing that.

When I have my own children one day, I won’t forget that my words at home get sewn into conversations my son will have at school. I won’t forget that despite concern for her safety, I will not blame my daughter for wanting the same freedom as her brother. I will pay attention. I will stand up for myself; I will speak out. I won’t change the channel, turn the page, or look the other way. Even if there isn’t anything I can do to help you, or someone like you, I won’t presume I can’t do anything.

I will remember.

And I will remember you.

May you rest in peace.


*In tribute to the incredible strength of Jyoti Singh Pandey, victim of a gang-rape in Delhi. May we never be indifferent to the horror she endured, and always find a way to change.

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12 Responses to Dear Jyoti

  1. Suparna January 10, 2013 at 4:21 pm #

    A poignant letter that holds us all accountable. Uttama drives a message home as always, and hopefully literally.

    My favorite part:
    “It’s small details that feed demons. However slight or subtle, it is the accumulation of every single act of inequality that builds up and eventually infiltrates a society to internalize that women can be treated, and can expect to be treated, unfairly.”

    Let’s do better, try harder, remember more. That’s true justice for Jyoti…

  2. Vishnu January 11, 2013 at 12:08 am #

    Uttama fine tunes the realities of life and emphasizes the points very eloquently that women should not be afraid and also they have equal rights in society too. The fight is not over yet and we need to clearly understand that women are gaining a lot of ground and that one has to be courageous and fight for what is right. Kudos to Uttama for this fight on behalf of all women and I salute her for this beautiful piece for deserving women all over the world and not just India. Cheers Uttu. Merci beaucoup.

  3. bahareh January 11, 2013 at 6:58 am #

    I pause, I sit, I remember and I will try not to forget.
    I breathe in, I breathe out, I remember, I want not to forget.
    How can I forget, I am a woman who grew up in a traditional home from the Middle East with different rules for girls than boys.
    How can I forget, I have been entrusted with two daughters 16 and 14.
    How beautiful, how kind, how gentle and how honest.
    Uttama, I promise to try to remember.
    Dear Jyoti, I will try not to forget.

  4. Akshara January 17, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    I love what you have written and I do agree with it. Except one part. I was one of those who wished that she does not live. Not because I think her virtue was hurt or her honour was destroyed. I wished that she should not survive so she does not have to live the life of a vegetable nor be ostracized by what norms people of the society believe must be followed. Not getting a match for marriage or not getting a chance to study.
    I firmly believe that everyone has a destiny to fulfill. No one comes on this planet to just survive. Everyone comes with a purpose. It is a horrifying tragedy that this young girl had this written out for her. To be so heinously exploited so that a country could come together and wake up.
    I understand that if I don’t have the power to give someone life, I don’t have the right to wish death upon them but what worth is a life that is at the mercy of someone’s lust, someone’s pity, someone’s judgement and especially someone’s whims and fancies.
    For a little while I actually thought she is going to be one of the people who beats everyone and everything and decide the path her life will take because that is exactly what it is. HER LIFE. Unfortunately that was not to be and it was with deep regret and pain that I read the headlines proclaiming her death.
    I hope that one day the sex ratio is well balanced. That female babies are welcomed with pride and celebration. That one day no injustice will be tolerated and the defenceless will always have help. No matter what cost it comes as.

  5. Safa January 25, 2013 at 1:14 am #

    In her beautifully written letter, Uttama Patel illustrates the repercussions of perpetuating patriarchal norms and double standards, holding us all accountable, and rightfully so, for the rape, and death, of Jyoti.

  6. Neil February 11, 2013 at 6:45 am #

    Ultimate truth. But sadly till date I could not think of a single way, simple but effective, that could prevent these heinous crimes. Good parenting of the males and strong unity between the common mass maybe. After all a gazelle is groped by every predator in the forest as well as wildlife photographers too. But if you had noticed you will realize they target mainly the individual a bit distant from the herd or the newborns. And if you have seen the battle of kruger you will know how unity can make a difference.

  7. Gail Whitmore February 11, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    Bless you for writing this. I have shared it all over the Czech Republic and to all my known groups in the US. The lesson is simply invaluable.

  8. Charu February 12, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    God bless you for writing this! I don’t know if it means anything to you, but I, too, have felt the same fear that this incident will be forgotten like so many others before it. And a few days ago, I started compiling all the wonderful articles (on advice, of disgust, of change) that I have been reading in the past month. It’s not just about the wonderful pieces of writing (like yours) but also, because I am afraid that all this enthusiasm and anger and these promises to change will be forgotten. And I really don’t want that to happen. I also vowed to not let it go whenever someone makes a stupid comment borne out of a patriarchal upbringing, no matter how unpleasant it gets to argue, I am scared that if I let it go thinking that someone else’s mindset does not affect me or my life, I would one day be in the same situation that Jyoti was, and some nincompoop politician would be referring to me as a “Zinda Laash”.

    Thank you for writing this article. And I promise that you would always find me on the side of those who don’t forget. Your article is going in my compilation!

  9. Safrina Nishad March 27, 2013 at 3:58 pm #

    This article reminded me.

    And your words brought about situations that reminded me to remember the next time. The next time a relative reserves the bigger chuck of meat for the male species of the family, I will remember.

    Such a beautiful tribute.

  10. Renu December 21, 2013 at 3:05 am #

    beautifully written letter. When women are united, sense prevails. Respect, power etc are possible once women themselves support any & all freedom of fellow women/girls without ‘ifs’ & ‘buts’. Since nature has created females with basic disadvantages, it is only via a unified stand that we take that can prevent injustice being done to us. If women themselves are divided on basic understanding, then we will forget & justice remains elusive.

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