by Gitanjali Maria
She walked past the glittering shops that had been decked up for the festive season. It was Christmas time and New Year was peeking about the corner. There was joy in the air and high spirits everywhere. People were enjoying out, partying and shopping. Nina too felt her spirits soar higher as she watched people celebrating and enjoying life.
Adding to the joy of the festive season, she was happy that she was selected for the annual college scholarship and could pursue a semester of study in the States. A bubbly, cheerful and confident girl, she was loved and admired by all. She was smart and bold. She was looking forward to an exciting new year and was extremely happy.
She met her friends at the Café near the Cinema hall where they had planned to enjoy the night with music and food. They had a wonderful time dancing and playing small-time games. It was past midnight when their party ended and they said goodbyes.
In the Cinema nearby, the night show had just ended and there was a crowd moving out. Nina too walked along to reach her house that was just a five minute walk. It was then that Nina saw two hooligans, probably drunk men, following a girl, probably her own age, and passing lewd comments at her. Probably both the parties had been at the movie and the drunkards were targeting the girl. Though there was a sizeable crowd out there and the lights had still not been turned off, the girl who seemed to sense the men was frightened and had quickened her pace. They had walked past her house, but something kept Nina moving forward. They had walked quite a distance and the crowd had thinned and dispersed.
Suddenly, one of the men grabbed the girl and pulled her into the side - alley. There weren’t anyone around now. They had come quite a distance and the people had dispersed. Nina who had walked a few paces behind the men ran to the alley to help the girl out. A brave and sensitive girl, Nina’s first instinct was to help and protect the girl. She fought the men as they tried to manhandle her.
The girl got free and went off to find help, but Nina got caught up with those mad ravenous men. Angry that somebody had threatened them they beat her up fiercely before assaulting her and robbing her of her modesty.
She lay in that dark alley covered with her own blood and slime as the drunkards, after their insanely and inhuman act fled the place. By the time, the other girl came with help, all was over. Nina was admitted to the hospital and her parents informed. But the penetrators had escaped. Little did the law do to bring them to justice nor did Nina’s family want to pursue the case further, not wanting to bring more disgrace to the family, especially to her two unmarried sisters.
Nina suffered, she suffered silently. Silenced by her family and defeated in front of the law and shocked and disgraced by the incident, Nina felt she had nothing more to live for. Her life had been damaged, her sheen on her future rubbed off. Hardly 48 hours before, she had been a cheerful girl with a bright future ahead and now she lay, bruised and fallen. The society that had praised her and looked at her with awe at her achievements and skills now looked at her in a different light. A social stigma was now attached to her name for no fault of hers. She tried suicide many time but failed. There were days when tears would not stop and then followed by days of silence, nightmares and bad moods. Months passed like this and she felt she had no more strength or will power.
Slowly she tried to pull herself together. It was a journey alone. Her conservative family ostracized her, just giving her some space and food, but else ignoring her existence completely. With no support and counsel, she had to build herself up again. Slowly she tried to forget the past. It was difficult. It was then that she decided to run away from this wretched place that had cost her everything, to start a new life, far away from where it had all ended for her. She packed a few belongings and left one night, fearing nothing as she had nothing to lose this time. Her family didn’t register a complaint of missing.
In a far away land, Nina once again taught herself how to live. She enrolled for classes and found herself a job. It was a difficult task but she wanted to do it. She wanted to be ‘Big’ so that she could bring to task offenders and help rehabilitate victims like herself. She achieved big, though it took a longer time. She worked among poor and helpless women, teaching them how to earn a living and waging battles on their behalf to get them justice and equal treatment.
Her honourable and courageous work brought her the Magsaysay award. She had tears in her eyes as she received the award, tears of joy, tears of pain, tears of gain and tears of loss. As she walked down the aisle with the trophy, she promised herself that no one defenseless should get hurt nor should any offender walk free. She did not mourn about she could have been but for…. but at the same time prayed that no girl have to go through the same ordeal.