Paakhi Jain (15), a student of Mater Dei School who just gave her Class X board exams, had written about India as a democratic country in one of her answers. Later, on learning about the Kathua and Unnao rapes, she wondered: are we truly living in a democratic country? On Sunday, Jain read out her thoughts about the incidents — which she said had “shaken her” from within — before a large audience at the ‘Not In My Name’ protest in Parliament Street, led by filmmaker Saba Dewan.
Jain was among several students who had come out on the streets to make their voice heard through speeches, poems and songs. “Navratron ke dinon me aap chhoti chhoti bachchiyon ki aarti utaarte ho, unki pooja karte ho aur dusri ore phir unhi ke saath rape karte ho? Aisi aarti aur pooja hume nahi chahiye (During Navratra, you worship girls. At other times, you rape them. We don’t want such worship),” said Jain.
Improvising on Martin Luther King Jr’s famous speech, she added, “I have a dream that no girl, no woman will be tortured or molested or raped in the future… I have a dream that humanity will be the supreme religion of this nation one day.” Jyoti and Chanda, Class X students of a government school in Tughlakabad, spoke about moral policing in a poem: “Yahan to mere dupatte ki lambayi aur mere kurte ki chaudayi ko naapte hain, aur bataate hain ki mujhme sharm haya aur izzat kitni hai (They measure you by the length of your dupatta, the width of your kurta, and decide how much of respect and decorum I have.)”
A student of Bluebells International School spoke about how the concept of childhood being safe had been turned upside down by the Kathua rape case: “The fact that she, as a child, was brutally raped is appalling. I don’t know what I’ll do in life, but I’ll make sure childhood as well as womanhood is a safe space.” Several others also spoke at the protest, including advocate Vrinda Grover, social activist Syeda Hameed and historian Uma Chakravarty among others. Lawyers Talib Hussain and Deepika Singh Rajawat, who are fighting the Kathua gangrape case, also flew down from J&K to be a part of the protest.
Hitting out at the PM, Rajawat said, “You talk of beti bachao, but you’re saying beti bachao par unhe baahar mat bhejo kyunki baahar darinde hain (but don’t send them outside because there are monsters)… In both incidents (Kathua and Unnao), your people were involved. You should hold them responsible,” she said.
Rajawat said only social change could bring about a transformation in such matters. “Today, my community is calling me anti-Hindu. People are asking me why I took up the case. Is it not enough that I’m a woman… that I have a five-year-old daughter? They have done damage to me, maybe they will take away my practice…. But I will not give up,” she said.
The demands raised at the protest were to dismiss the Yogi Adityanath government in UP for “protecting” an alleged rapist and “abetting the killing” of the Unnao victim’s father, as well as the arrest of the two BJP MPs and leaders of the Hindu Ekta Manch who had led a rally after the Kathua incident. They also demanded that families of both victims be provided security and state support, including the best prosecution lawyers to fight their cases.