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"I Felt Eyes Piercing My Body" - A Female Indian Journalist Speaks Out About the Rape Case that Shook the World

As the four men involved in the Delhi gang rape are sentenced to death, one woman reflects on her recent homecoming to India.

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For the first time in my life, I realized my existence on the street. For the first time in my life, I realized my gender. I realized I was a woman in India. I realized I was the “other” on the street. I realized that I was something different, which would attract attention. What was I wearing that day? A long skirt and a tank top with my shoulders covered with a wide scarf. It was nothing unusual.

Such thoughts never crossed my mind before I left for the United States. I felt I was a strong, liberated woman. I knew I was one. I straddled conservative and modern India, rural and urban India, with almost equal ease. I wore cool clothes in the evenings in Mumbai; I wore boring clothes on my jaunts to rural India. I knew what to wear at what place, and I learned to adjust to my surroundings and the various perceptions of women. As a journalist, getting my story was more important than worrying about how patriarchy did not allow me to be dressed in a certain way, no matter how hot or uncomfortable the dress code for the region. I chose not to fight over fashion when my larger purpose in life was to convey oppression of various forms by being a journalist. And to do that work, I carried the diverse two Indias within me — in the way I dressed, in the food I would order at a restaurant or accept in a mud hut, and in my choice of carrying the  dupatta.

Once, I painted a beautiful picture of India for a French friend in Boston to convince her to travel to my country with me. She asked me if the long-distance trains had doors for each passenger. I remember laughing aloud and telling her that doors were not even a regular feature in the trains in the West. Her eyes bulged out, and she said, “I can never travel to India by train then. I will add to global warming, if need be, but I will only fly around India. I don’t want to get raped in the train!”

I was shocked to hear her words. I thought she was being paranoid and that the media was contributing to that paranoia. Upon returning home, the odor of that paranoia engulfed my being.

Printed in black ink

My plan upon returning to India was to travel across the country, jumping off from one train to another, from one assignment to another, making friends on the train, speaking freely to men and women alike, gathering their stories and the story of the carefully sown together pieces of India.

When I returned to the country, the newspaper that my family subscribed to had one page dedicated to news of rape: a five-year-old raped by neighbor; a college student stalked and raped; a toddler raped and murdered by uncle; an employee alleges rape by boss; and so on. I picked up a copy of the other leading newspaper at my neighbor’s home and that newspaper too had a similar page. These stories were laid out as boxed items that detailed where the rape took place, the profiles of the raped and the rapist and, of course, the brutality of the process. Each particular rape news story seemed to overpower the next.

I began to notice small things that I would have overlooked earlier: Some newspapers had logos for rape stories. Others had a boxed tally presenting rape statistics, a chronology of incidents of rape. Babies discovered with bleeding vaginas and anuses. A plastic bottle shoved into the vagina. All of this, I was told, began after the Delhi rape that captured the world’s attention.

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