I met Angeline’s father in 2009. Her father was a tall and dusky man. He handed me a neatly-stapled document. I gestured and asked what the document was and he motioned that I should read it.
He patiently waited for me while I read what appeared to be his daughter’s affidavit of complaint. There were no chairs outside the government office, we both stood while I held the document and read the details of his daughter’s ordeal as a rape victim.
I learned that Angeline was a typical student in a state university who had dreams and parents who supported these dreams. One evening, after attending a religious concert, she was abducted from her apartment and brought to a location where she was raped. The details of the crime seemed to have leapt out from the pages.
I was consumed with anger, overwhelming sadness and disbelief that something like this could happen.
After the rape, Angeline’s family moved to another municipality for their safety. They had to leave their small land which her father used to tend. Angeline moved to another region to continue her studies. She had to leave her home, her friends, her classmates – the greater part of her young present – and move on.
But Angeline and her family did not run away. They chose to fight the battle. While the case was on trial, Angeline studied hard as a student. While in university, she tried to live a normal life; her classmates and professors did not know she was fighting a gargantuan battle for women everywhere.
Over the years, Angeline and I kept constant communication. She recently completed a degree in another university and then found a job. She also updated me about the trial, saying that one of the perpetrators has been put in jail but the others, unfortunately, remain scot free.
Many have lauded Angeline’s bravery and her family’s courage to wage an uphill fight. After all, the perpetrators belong to an influential clan. A friend who worked for the local media said that Angeline was “lucky” because other rape victims reportedly did not survive the brutality.
But the ones who are lucky are the young women and children who may never go through the same ordeal because of someone like Angeline who stood up for her rights. The ones who are blessed are the parents who can be less afraid about their children’s security because Angeline’s family did not quiver in what seemed like an excruciating fight against an iron wall.
Angeline’s case wasn’t the last one. There have been other victims of rape in different parts of the country. I remember “Florence.” I remember "Given Grace.' And many other young women and children who have been raped by a stranger, a friend, a relative, a neighbor and even a family member, both reported and unaccounted for.
When rape happens in other parts of the world, in regions where legislation protecting women are non-existent, where there are no women leaders and where there is escalating violence, somehow, a part of us knows that rights are violated. But if there is wanton disregard of women’s rights in a democracy, the logical conclusion is: this goes beyond the enforceability of laws and political will.
I remembered Angeline because recently, I came across disturbing news from India, the largest democracy in the world. The report said a young Indian woman succumbed to multiple organ failure and heart attack. She was brutally gang-raped inside a moving bus in India. The victim was a medical student whose family subsisted on meager meals to support her education. She was reportedly raped with disturbing ignominy – perpetrators inserted a metal rod inside her body.
I came across news stories about the spate of sexual assault incidents in India. But this story cut a vein inside my heart. The young woman went through horrendous pain. I read that a day before she died, she told her brother that she fought back, biting and beating the men who raped her.
She did not, however, survive. I grieve for her and for her family. But it is the same horrendous pain that sparked a wave of protest calling for justice and greater protection for women against sexual violence in India. Her death should not be in vain.
What democracy means
Elie Wiesel wrote that “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” The call to protest is universal. Women’s rights are universal. While other countries fight for democracy, we who live in democratic spaces should never waiver in upholding democracy.
Yes, legislation may be in place, policies may be enforceable, leaders may be sympathetic, causes can be lobbied but at the heart of democracy is an opportunity for every citizen to exercise the freedom to do what is right.
This means speaking up for all those who are oppressed. This means being familiar with rights and being willing to invoke these to protect others. This means not spreading rape jokes. This means sympathy, concern and righteous anger. This means that wherever we are and whoever we are, we are all women’s rights activists.
Angeline and the young woman from India did their part. May we have the courage to do ours. - Rappler.com