My coworkers were smart and kind, my students bearable on most days, and the opportunity almost too good to be true. The truth was that I had accepted this job because it kept me out of India, not because I wanted to teach.
I grew up accepting that I would have to adjust my lifestyle around men, their advances, their violence. Women were brutally raped, assaulted and killed on a daily basis, sometimes in cities, many times in remote, isolated villages and towns. The police and government participated and enabled.
It was terrible, but no one wanted to become a statistic. After Nirbhaya’s death, there was a public outcry for change. The maximum punishment for rape became the death penalty, instead of life imprisonment.
I guess this is what happens when a country is shaken like this, we become polarized. My departure day for the United States was fast approaching.
I counted down the days, because my anguish had turned into sickness and anger. Nibhaya’s death represented something bigger, for me and the rest of the country.
I watched with the rest of the country, and soon enough the rest of the world, as the gruesome details of the incident unraveled. Then there were the anti-protesters, the ones who blame women, the ones who think nothing is wrong.
When Nirbhaya died a few days later in a hospital in Singapore, we were all stunned into silence, but only for a minute. People took to the streets across the country and asked the bigger questions—how could we live in a place where the circumstances allowed something like this to happen? That’s a lot of people in India, and the world, unfortunately.
I learned how to sit at a big round table and say things in a way that made it seem like I knew what I was talking about, and soon enough I was able to make a convincing argument about pretty much anything.
I also learned how to drink irresponsibly and still live to experience the hangover the next day. What changed the most for me, though, was how I thought about my own country.
This was hardly compensation, but it was something, a dialogue, at least. But, the issue with systemic oppression and cultural bias is that change is not enough. You have to look inwards, and ask the harder questions.
What were the messages Bollywood had been teaching us for decades?