If you’ve been active online of late, you’re probably familiar with the Sultanpuri accident that is making waves on social media.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, 20-year-old Anjali Singh’s bike was hit by a car when she was on her way back home. Following that, her body got stuck under the vehicle and was dragged across the road for at least 10 km, resulting in her death. Media channels are all over this case, and murkier details seem to have come to light since then. From the number of men in the vehicle to the validity of their licence; from the role of the friend present to the possible role of alcohol, the case has moved on to become more than a regular hit-and-run.
While the case is slowly unravelling, another facet of justice is too: Anjali Singh is being fit to the concept of the ‘perfect victim’.
What is the ‘perfect victim’?
Say, you’re walking down a street at night. Two random men on a bike drive by you and pass lewd comments, making you immediately freeze on the spot. You somehow manage to rush to the safety of your home and share the incident with a family member. What questions are you most likely to hear them ask?
What were you wearing?
Were you walking alone?
What area were you walking in?
Where were you coming from?
Why were you coming home at that hour?
Often, when these questions are asked, you are expected to give them the ‘right’ answer:
I was wearing a salwar kameez.
No, I was walking with my brother.
I was walking in a shady locality, but I thought I’d be safe because I was with a man.
I was coming back from work.
I had to stay back late to finish my project.
The intent behind these questions is simple: they want to rule out any possibility that it’s your fault. From the way you dress to the very reason you’re out at a time unsuitable for women, even one wrong answer can make you deserving of the violence you faced. But when all your answers fit the bill and you still suffer, that’s when society jumps up to your defence – you become the ‘perfect’ victim.
Simply put, the ‘perfect’ victim is helpless and was never asking for it. They have no way to fend for themselves, which is when society feels the responsibility to step up. If even a single box is unticked, the support can be revoked.
Apart from the other details of the case emerges another interesting narrative: Anjali Singh’s character.
She was a hardworking 20-year-old woman who wanted to start her new year with a visit to a religious establishment. She was coming home late from work because she was the sole breadwinner of the family. There was no ‘wrong’ reason for her to be out late.
On the other hand, several media outlets are focusing on whether she was under the influence of alcohol. Attempts are being made to prove Singh was drunk, out partying at a hotel, and possibly was habituated to going to hotels, especially with men.
It isn’t surprising that any case related to a female victim would be handled this way. The very fact that a woman was out at a time reserved for men is considered enough to raise questions on her character; the two narratives are in a tug of war trying to establish her character. What is lost here is the fact that her character has nothing to do with whether or not she deserved to die in a horrific manner.
From Jyoti Singh to Suzette Jordan, and everything in between
In 2012, the infamous gangrape of Jyoti Singh shook the nation to its core. The horrific details of the case resulted in massive protests held across the country, and a unanimous call for capital punishment for the perpetrators.
But why was Jyoti Singh’s case significant? Gangrapes weren’t unheard of before her. Women faced horrific violence even before this case. So what made this case stand out?
Media channels focused on how obedient a daughter Singh was. She was smart, studious, ambitious (but not too much), was studying to be a doctor, and simply went out for a movie to destress. This narrative mixed with the vivid, gut-wrenching details of the violence made the public demand justice. And the final blow to this case was when Singh succumbed to her injuries and died.
As grotesque as it sounds, it often takes the death of a ‘perfect’ victim for society to fight for her.
Another rape case had made headlines in 2012 – that of Suzette Jordan’s. Jordan met 5 men outside a nightclub on Park Street and asked them for a lift. They offered it to her, but instead of dropping her home, they gangraped her in a moving car. Surviving the incident, Jordan filed an FIR. However, she was met with laughter and was asked what positions she was gangraped in.
This case works along similar lines as Jyoti Singh’s, but we were outraged at one and forgot about the other. A year after Jordan’s rape, she revealed her identity and took to the streets to protest the rapes taking place in the state. Why was more not said about this?
The concept of the ‘perfect’ victim helps only the patriarchal society that has the power to provide or deny justice to women. What masculine institutions think a ‘good’ woman is informs who they sympathise with. And that, at the heart of it, is why so many women refuse to seek justice for the violence committed against them.
Anjali Singh, just like all other women out there, deserves justice. But she also deserves not to have her character twisted, turned, and ripped to shreds for that justice.