Sick and tired but not yet dead

New Delhi, Dec. 30: Many who turned up at Jantar Mantar today were searching for words to capture the full force of their outrage.

Archana Kumari didn't have to. She just told her story ' her face half-covered by a dupatta ' standing tall in her five-foot frame.

"I am sick and tired of what men do to women and how no one stops them. I wanted to show everyone that I am not yet dead, I can protest. I am here not just for this girl (the gang rape victim who was cremated today), but I am here for the thousands of other girls who never even have a chance at justice," said Archana, 23, the same age as the paramedical student brutalised in the bus.

"Do you even know how many women were victims of acid attacks in this country? The government doesn't even think it is a crime," said Kumari, who has had 22 surgeries over the past four years that have left her farmer father drained of all resources.

Archana, victim of an acid attack by a stalker, is blind in one eye and partially deaf. Half her face and skull have melted and the use of her arms is restricted. None of this stopped her from coming to Jantar Mantar and raising her voice.

As Archana spoke amid a group of around 100 youngsters, her voice steady and stark, many gathered around her to offer support.

"I do not just salute the resilience of the gang rape victim but also Archana who came all the way from Bihar to speak up against what happened to her. She is the reason these protests shouldn't stop. These protests should continue for all those girls who have no laws to help them and no government to give them free treatment," said Sailesh, a student who worries for his sister.

In July this year, the cabinet had cleared the criminal law (amendment) bill, which for the first time acknowledged that an acid attack was a specific crime.

New sections, 326A (hurt by acid attack) and 326B (attempt to throw or administer acid), will be added to Section 326 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) when Parliament passes the changes. The sections provide for a jail term of five years to life for acid throwers who cause disfigurement and a compensation of Rs 10 lakh for each victim.

Archana drew a distinction between mercy driven by expediency and built-in systems of care that are activated irrespective of a public uproar. "It is not about the money. Money won't buy me my lost life or my appearance. But just like this girl who was taken to Singapore for treatment, a little bit of help and hope would change our lives. It's not just about acid attack victims, it's about victims of molestation, victims of harassment ' there should be a system by which we are able to get over our issues after such attacks," she said.

She also listed problems on the ground, including the ill-prepared healthcare system. "For acid attack victims, doctors more often than not don't know what to give as first aid. The gesture that the government has shown this time should be replicated in other cases as well. This gesture shouldn't be just a formality," Archana said.

Her views were echoed by 38-year-old Neikhol Haolai, a teenaged girl's mother from Assam who had come to Jantar Mantar.

"Women are raped and brutalised in my state and the national consciousness doesn't even blink an eye. However, I am glad that people have made a start in the capital. What better way to show that they care? I hope the protests continue and we speak up for more women who are abused and harassed in their everyday lives," she said.

Suhasini, another protester, came to record her defiance, saying she won't be afraid. "I am tired of being afraid. I am tired of calling my daughter every hour to ensure she is safe. I want her to come to Jantar Mantar every day to protest. I will send her here," she said.

Gulping down water from a bottle, Archana said: "I hope today, with my story, I have encouraged at least a handful to come out and talk about their plight. Not as victims, but as survivors."

 

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