Between myriad possibilities and multiple universes, the known and the unknown, you were given a choice. A choice to pick your home. You chose this, you chose us. We celebrated your arrival. “Ladki hui hai!” Your father swore it was the happiest he had ever been. And your mother, she breathed her best breath when you breathed your first. “Meri gudiya!”
We vowed, with sincerity, that your life was ours to protect. And this family of yours would unabashedly stand by you, strong like stones of a fortress, the bark of an old banyan, and the unapologetic waves of the sea. But we failed you sister, not once, not twice, but compulsively.
When it happened for the first time, you were little. Too little to verbalize your dissent. But if tears and shivers could give voice, yours would scream, “No!”
This secret of his was buried along with the bloody sheets, and any care for your consent. We apologize sister for not knowing. For being blissfully unaware of the inhumanity you were treated with, and not questioning the obvious circumstances.
When it happened in adulthood, your trauma was treated with negligence, and in the midst of people you rightfully called your own, you felt deserted, and suddenly desolate. We’re sorry for not having the spine to stand up for you, when we promised you that you mattered. We’re sorry that our words were cheap and our actions, inadequate; they could not handle the gravity of your agony. We’re sorry that your suffering was only a subject of media attention and not a wake-up call. We’re sorry that your predator was let off the hook, without a lawful price to pay, while you adjured for justice. We lit candles for you, but we were incapable of pacifying the fire burning inside you; our inattention festered your burns.
You felt threatened in your own home, the home you so effortlessly chose; we’re sorry for not being able to provide you with a better environment.
We’re failing, failing as a community, when our sisters and daughters are treated with such levels of inconsideration and apathy. When our men dare to touch them wrongly without a hint of guilt or self-reproach. When we free them from accountability, and hence convey that their actions will not have calculated repercussions. When we minimize their punishment to the extent of nothingness, and let our fury boil down to helplessness. When we shame our girls for their active and responsible choices over educating our men and battling far-reaching levels of patriarchy and misogyny.
We are sorry, sister, that your brothers were your biggest exploiters, ruthless and lacking all compassion, feeding off your innocence, relishing the outcome. We’re sorry that your family was deficient, and did not ferociously oppose everyone who dared to do you wrong.
Your assault was unpardonable, even a mere thought of hurting you was enough to cause outrage; yet we let all discretion slide, we let their thoughts change to reality, and your reality to a nightmare.
He was a hateful creature, not belonging to this race, to your home, not worthy of breathing your air. He, a beast so detestable, with wavering mental health and an ailing mind.
You, a survivor of combat, a woman most heroic, an inspiration in entirety, we applaud your undying spirit.
We may have failed you, but you were our greatest win.