I am left with nothing but a feeling of helpless anger and a deep abyss of sadness as a result of the cruel incident of rape and murder of an innocent soul like yours.
I, as an empowered deaf woman, cannot accept this fate for you. What am I to do? I know of your vulnerability, your inability to protect yourself, which those lowlife rapists exploited through their evil act, by demonstrating a manifestation of the purely patriarchal and criminal “I can get away” mentality.
A deaf and mute child that could not express or communicate was an easier target for them to rape and murder, to escape media attention and even better, roam scot free. God forbid, that they find another such target again!
When I reflect on what ‘could be’ and what ‘should be’, I am left in awe with the enormity of the issues, underlying the culmination of the incident. My mind is stormed with innumerable unanswered questions of how and why, and the possibilities of preventing anything like this from happening ever again.
I am writing this letter with a little ray of hope, that all the concerned stakeholders such as parents, educators, local administrations, police officials and the Indian society at large, will understand the dire need of early intervention in the empowerment of a deaf and mute child and the marginalised communinty of the people with disabilities at large, in the best possible way.
Why & How
In a small village situated in Haryana, you were living with your parents in the slums, with no street lamps, CCTVs or any other facilities that ensure security of the residents as we have in the metropolitan cities now in some places. These were men living right next door, who lured you into the nearby fields to commit this heinous crime. Why else would why would you venture out into the nearby fields with a young man whom you knew over the years, whom you saw on a daily basis? And of whose friends were already waiting there to exploit your trust and innocence.
You were not able to hear the conversations happening around, nothing to comprehend because of the lack of language access and communication even with your own parents. Were you supposed to know on your own the existence of hidden demons behind their known, friendly faces?
Your mother, also a deaf woman who lacked awareness and kept you cocooned in her world by her family and society, could not make you beware of such happenings. Unable to express or have any say in the matter, she sat there veiled, without words or signs. Your siblings, a deaf sister aged seven and brother aged three, roamed around, with no awareness of the whole situation.
Where does that leave us? Are we, as members of the deaf community, supposed to take this incident as yet another incident and move on? Do we just learn from this and hold our deaf loved ones even closer? Do we enroll them in an education centre for deaf children and allow ourselves to comfortably believe that we tried our best? Or do we raise our voice, protest, publish, advocate and try and change this society? How many of them will be able to hear us? Will society ever understand the exact gravity of the matter? The underlying complexities which have led to this horrendous crime?
I wonder what could have been the situation, supposing you were enrolled in a deaf education centre all along? Would you have learned better? Communicated better? Maybe you could have gained confidence watching more deaf individuals like you communicating with ease? Could you have become more aware and may be have been able to save yourself from the clutches of those predators?
Could it have been possible that if you had a hearing mother she could have made you more aware? But then how come a 11 year old deaf girl in Chennai was raped by 22 men? Why was there lack of communication amid the mother and child for six long months? Why could not she express herself to her own mother? Why do families keeping the likes of you cocooned and over protected, instead of exposing you to your deaf and signing community, which would make you more aware and empowered?
How long will deafness be perceived as a taboo and be hid from society, or fixed with seemingly quick-fix, short term solutions? Will these solutions really empower the likes of you in the true sense? Or will peer-to-peer environment make it better? When will your family, your educators, doctors and society at large accept this truth and make it happen? How many more daughters like you have to be the victim, for society to realise the necessity of finding and implementing the need of peer-to-peer environment as a solution?
The what “should be” done aspect of this whole situation is making my mind go dizzy! When I imagine the numerous perspectives that we as educators hold, the differences of opinions, and much more, I feel completely exhausted.
We live at a time when in this country, a new National Education Policy (NEP) has been recently announced. Further, the Indian Sign Language is going to be “standardised” and the education system, even for a person without disability is undergoing drastic change. Will the focus stay on the pivotal issue of empowering the likes of you or will it shift on to prioritising options of learning and educating methods such as speech therapy, cochlear implants or bilingual education (ISL and spoken language)? What about accessibility of awareness campaigns? Will the media understand the issue and provide equally accessible information for all concerned?
It wrenches my heart my dear child, to say goodbye to you, with our blurred future!
I still sense a ray of hope and wish that your spirit gets the justice it deserves, and the criminals get the hardest punishment for their crimes. So much so, that no one in the future dares to look at any deaf person in the eye with evil intentions! I hope against hope, that the fight for justice, for empowerment and independence will rage on, against all odds and create a brave new world for our deaf community someday!
Till then, may you find peace in the thought that your tragic and humiliating death has awakened our humanity and your life will not go worthless!
With deepest love,
Saudamini Pethe is the first deaf Woman (DLAW Fellow) pursuing law in India. She is a prominent deaf activist who has been working in the field of deaf empowerment since 2008. She is the former president of Haryana Foundation of Deaf Women Trust and board member of Access Mantra Foundation. She aspires to use her law degree to raise awareness in India about the importance of sign language for the deaf community. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Featured image source: Aasawari Kulkarni/Feminism In India