Tribute

'I am not the Park Street rape victim. I am Suzette Jordan': remembering a survivor's harrowing ordeals

The courageous woman who took on the West Bengal government in her fight for justice has died of meningoencephalitis at a hospital in Kolkata.

Suzette Jordan, 40, who took on the West Bengal government in her fight for justice in a case, that came to be known as the "Park Street Rape" in 2012, has died of meningoencephalitis at a hospital in Kolkata on Friday.  She boldly revealed her identity to the world in 2013 and marched on the streets of Kolkata to protest a series of rapes and murders in West Bengal. As she said then: 
"Why should I hide my identity when it was not even my fault? Why should I be ashamed of something that I did not give rise to? I was subjected to brutality, I was subjected to torture, and I was subjected to rape, and I am fighting and I will fight." 

I met Suzette Katrina Jordan around a year back at the Think Conference, (ironically), in a panel on rape. She was scared and petrified, she had spoken on TV, but had never faced such a large and highprofile audience, she said. I went up to her to comfort her. I instantly told her, "I am gay, so you can hug me." She laughed and said she was scared. I replied, "Kaiko darti hai baba, tu bhi rape victim main bhi rape victim, audience mein bhi rape victims hai." She was shocked and she laughed at my ice-breaker. That very day, Suzette Jordan bonded with my friends Anuja, Ranadeep and Yudhajit. We got along like a house on fire. She and I shared our stories of rape. Pain united us, as we laughed over the abuse in our lives, a cruel black humour, it was, when we were narrating the joke in our country – rape and child sexual abuse.

But we were not defeated by it, we were united by it. We refused to let our past affect us in any way. We didn't turn anti-men. We went on a hunt. She had the resilience no one could match. Later in the day, we made jokes on all the men at the conference like two gossiping college boys. We ogled, not leched at them together, and had our bets on who was gay and who was bi and who was worth a try.

After we left the conference, we kept in touch over the phone. When the infamous Tehelka rape case happened, we both reached out to the affected person. Suzette called me and told me, "This is what is going to happen next with her... she is going to be shamed". She had her horrors of rape revisiting her with every story of rape she heard. The Nirbhaya rape case got her out of the closet – she famously said, "I am not the Park Street rape victim. I am Suzette Jordan." She was reminded again by the Tehelka case, and followed up with me, asking me to follow up with the ex-Tehelka complainant, as she was too overwhelmed with emotions every time she spoke to her.

Suzette loved her daughters. She wanted to get them introduced to me and knew that we would get along like a house on fire. When she was here for shooting for the Satyamev Jayate episode hosted by Aamir Khan, we had a chance to meet. But we couldn't as she was here for a very short while. Satyamev Jayate is hush-hush about its recordings. But i was pre-informed about her visits, because the world knew that we were like love-birds, separated by a few seas. I missed a chance to meet her, and she cursed me for that.

In the meantime, we had more tragedies. While she put up a real brave front, I used to tell her that she could let herself loose and cry. I used to call her and joke and laugh. Laugh, until she would start crying about her psychological unrest. There were secrets that only I knew. I have no qualms in letting them out now. Suzette was really upset about the fact that she was treated like an accused in the rape case. Mamata Banerjee, called her the enemy of the state. She accused her of lying about her rape to tarnish the image of the Trinamool Congress government. She was called a hooker whose client had harsh sex with her. If all of this was not enough, she was treated with absolute contempt inside the court. She told me that the "female" judge behaved with her very rudely with absolute lack of empathy. Her court case appearances were unending. She was asked to narrate her incident again and again as the defence looked for discrepancies in her earlier and later statements. She was determined to fight it out even if it meant that she would be shot dead or raped again.

She was a fighter. But people took her strength for granted. People forgot that she was human and she had the right to cry. She didn't want to be brave all the time. She didn't want to be the inspiration all the time. She was a normal person. She wanted to be seen as a normal average Joe though she had the worst humiliations to face. One incident that affected her very badly was when her undergarments that she was wearing when she was raped were openly exhibited. The defence lawyer held it with a stick and asked her if it was hers, and whether she wearing it on that day when she was "allegedly" raped.  She told me that she broke down in court and pleaded to the judge, asking her to intervene. The judge, one of her own gender, did not.

This one incident was one of the most devastating ones in Suzette's life. She described it as, "I was gang raped. Again and again in the court". She wanted to hold me and cry. I would coyly get her to laugh at her tragedy everytime we spoke. Once when she was too upset with the defence lawyer, I asked her, "Was the lawyer hot?" and she started giving me horrible Hindi abuses in jest. We both addressed each other by what we had experienced: "Hello, can I speak to the rape victim?" is how we would begin our conversations, and laugh before we cried.

She was not raped by some gang of perverted men. She was raped by the people of this country. She was raped by the law process of our country. She was raped by each one of you who doubted her story. Some time back, she was denied entry into a restaurant called @Ginger, in Kolkata because *She was a rape victim*.  There was an outrage on Twitter and Facebook when she spoke up. But actually, the restaurant staff was only holding a mirror to the attitude of people in our country. For us rape is a cause, and the rape victim is a story. Rape is something that happens to the person on TV, or someone you read about in the news, Rape doesn't happen in our homes. We live in a world of denial.

Suzette died today at 3 am. Correction: India murdered Suzette with its mindset and attitude towards women and survivors of rape.

She died of meningitis. We all know that once depression bites you, you become a reservoir of diseases. In the end, she listened to me. I used to tell her "it is okay to go weak sometimes. It is okay to give up fighting and love yourself just as yourself. It is okay to just 'Be'".

She allowed herself to be. She stopped breathing. Her heart stopped beating.

She passed away.

If she was really empowered, if people didn't judge her. If the lawyers didn't ill-treat her in court, if the female judge was sensitive to a person similar to her own anatomy, if the restaurant didn't throw her out, if people didn't judge her, she would have survived, or for that matter, died happily.

India killed Suzette. You killed her.

Things have to change. I demand judicial reforms. No woman should be humiliated like Suzette was in court. No one.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
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