In the recently released movie NH10, Meera frantically runs away from four men in rural Haryana who have killed a girl from their own family and her lover, and are now chasing the Gurgaon resident because she witnessed the murder. In a desperate attempt to save her life, the young, urban professional, played by Anushka Sharma, starts climbing a rocky hill. The men see her with feet firmly placed on the sharp edges of the stones, arms straining to haul her body up the slope.

The men start abusing Meera. Each step she takes up the hill challenges their masculinity. Their egos hurt, they start raining abuse and stones on her.

But Meera somehow makes it to the top. She abuses them back and throws a big stone at them.

Watching this in a dark cold Delhi multiplex, I hooted in the hall for the first time in my life and cheered her on.

The whole sequence felt like watching animals struggling to kill a female of their own species in a barren desert forest. The scene was so raw, it made wonder whether we humans are  the kind of animals who appear to be evolved but actually revert to our beastly natures as soon as the sun goes down.

Tragically, NH10 isn't a case of cinematic licence: such brutal violence is visited upon girls in Haryana every day.

Nightmare for women

While travelling through the state to cover rapes, honour killings, female foeticides and other crimes against women as a reporter with Tehelka, I would be shaken by the deep misogyny I encountered. Any attempt to retrieve the story of a rape victim meant getting accosted by her neighbours who would take it upon them to them to talk about the girl's allegedly loose character.

Victim-blaming is endemic in the state, but I was still not prepared for what I found while working on a piece on the Dalit rape survivors of Bhagana village. The girls sat for months on end in Delhi's Jantar Mantar with members of their community, trying to get attention and justice. When I travelled to Hisar, the district in which the village is located, the girls' lawyer told me, “These girls are wrong and the police are right. They were not raped...I think first they form relations with consent and then file charges of rape later if they feel cheated or neglected.” 

In a place where even the lawyers start fighting rape cases by refusing to believe their victims, the everyday lives of women are nothing but harrowing. In Rohtak, a young woman activist told me, “We can’t go out after 6 pm even in Rohtak town. If we dare to boys will hoot and taunt us all the way...You can be raped if you dare to sit in one of those sharing autos full of men after the sun goes down, and specially if you are not a upper-caste girl."

Life and representation

Some have accused the makers of NH10 of creating a deliberate negative profile of Haryana. But so what? We should concentrate more on how to stop honour killings and rapes rather than focusing on how to obtain good representation of a place. When the situation on the ground improves, the depiction in mass media will change too.

This is not meant as to justify the violence that Meera adopts in the film to get back at her ruthless pursuers, but I must confess that I felt elated at her intelligence and bravery.

It isn't her urbanity or clothes that drives them crazy. It is the fact that she repeatedly manages to slip from their clutches and grinds their egos to dust.