FEMLEADS STORY - Suzette Jordan

FEMLEADS STORY - Suzette Jordan

Suzette Jordan, in her own words, was just another woman. A simple woman who loved her family, loved her children and would not take crap. Except that Suzette was a rape survivor who had shown exemplary courage in 2013 and had waived her right to anonymity as a rape survivor and revealed her name and face on television. Until then she was only known as the ‘Park Street Rape victim’. But, she wanted to fight wide open so that people could see her and see her pain, she had reasoned. That was her way of fighting and she had truly nothing to be ashamed of.

On the night of February 5, 2012, Suzette Jordan went out with friends to have a couple of drinks at a nightclub in a five star hotel in Kolkata in February 2012. At the end of the night, she was thrown from a car onto the street, bruised, battered, gang-raped, her clothes ripped half off. She recounted to the traumatic event: “I tried to open the car but the door was auto-locked. He started to beat me up. When he shoved a gun into my mouth, I thought it was the end. I couldn’t breathe or swallow. I could taste my own blood. He was trying to strangulate me. And then he laughed. The others were cheering. I was consumed with fright and rage. It’s a terrible feeling — like you’re alive but somebody has buried you in a coffin. Even after he raped me, he beat me as if there were an age-old vendetta between us. But we didn’t know each other at all. He kept asking his friends to rape me. He had the power. And that made him feel good about himself.”

Barely alive, Suzette was thrown out of the moving car a few hours later. One thought gave her the strength to get home — “I am alive and I can see my children”. For three days, Suzette couldn’t leave the bed. She had two daughters and her older daughter, a teenager, stood beside her like a rock holding her, letting her cry, nursing her, and taking care of her. On day four, bolstered by family, she reached the police station. She made a conscious choice to file a complaint. People advised her to keep quiet, forget about it and that she would get into a lot of trouble. But she wanted to fight for justice.

Suzette found the experience of filing of the FIR horrible and humiliating. “Each and every policeman there came one by one and asked me, ‘Are you sure you were actually raped?’ ‘How was it possible to be raped in a car?’ ‘What were the positions in which you were raped?’ A prisoner in the lock-up there who had been held for the rape of an 11-year-old girl also heard the entire conversation!” She also recalls that the doctor at the public hospital, too, lacked compassion. Said Suzette, “He asked me to narrate my story in full public view. Then, during the physical examination, he actually commented on my tattoo. ‘Hmm. Nice tattoo,’ he said.”

Her determination to pursue the case cost Suzette. Her personal tragedy soon became a political football. The Chief Minister dismissed her case as a sajano ghatana (manufactured incident). Ministers made remarks about Jordan’s character – what kind of a mother would be out at discotheque so late at night? Over the next fifteen months, Suzette Jordan became a blurred image on our television screens, a silhouette, a disembodied voice with an identifying label: the Park Street rape victim. There was public humiliation at the hands of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who insinuated that her story had been cooked up to malign her government. She was dubbed a prostitute, stigmatised, denied employment. Then came death threats from her attackers. The comments about her character stung. “I’ve been a single mom for 11 years. Instead of saluting you for being a both mother and father, they cast aspersions on you. Oh, she’s a single mom. Her husband left her. She might have been a prostitute.” She says the “dignitaries” who make these remarks don’t realize the implications of what they are saying. “You called me a prostitute and you don’t even know me. And then you endanger the life of an actual prostitute. You are trying to say her word does not matter and anyone can do anything to her.” Yet, despite the odds, she never failed to speak of her “angels” — her family, friends, lawyers and police officers like Damayanti Sen, who investigated her case and concluded she was telling the truth.

The NGO Swayam supported her. But emotional support didn't pay the bills, and she was running out of money. She went for job interviews but once they saw the NGO reference in her CV, they would put two and two together. “Never ever till today has anyone gotten back to me,” says Jordan who started wondering “Am I really that worthless? Because I was at a nightclub? If nightclubs are so bad then shut them down.” Her confidence was shattered. “I started taking so many anti-depressants, sleeping tablets. I had nightmares. I would wake up screaming. I was a mess. I was hurting myself. Had it not been for my parents and my babies, I definitely would have been dead.” Women’s activist and entrepreneur Santasree Chaudhuri also tried to get her a job. “With my background and social contacts, it’s not very difficult for me to get anyone a job in Kolkata,” says Chaudhuri. “I’ve been into women’s activism for twenty years. I empower women by giving them jobs.” She didn’t hide Jordan’s identity from those she approached. “They all said OK, I’ll get back to you. I just waited for the return call. Till today no return call. And these are very good friends.” In the end, Chaudhuri hired Jordan at a helpline she started called Survivors For Victims of Social Injustice. The remuneration was at best modest. 

Suzette, born in 1974, truly celebrated life. There were many terrible days at court. She had very few means, was finding it hard to get a job. But she pursued happiness with determination. “Just because I have been raped, people feel I have no right to live and I certainly have no right to be happy. I feel as if I am being blamed for being alive. But why shouldn’t I enjoy life?” she would say. Suzette grew into an iconic figure, raising the humanitarian concerns of survivors of sexual violence at various forums with great eloquence. So sparklingly alive was she that her death came as a terrible shock. In March 2015, Suzette, at the age of 40, succumbed to meningoencephalitis. Nevertheless, on December 10, 2015, the city sessions court, Kolkata found all five of the accused guilty. The accused have been convicted under 120 (B) (Criminal conspiracy), 506 (criminal intimidation), 323 (Voluntarily Causing Hurt), 34 (Common intention), 376(2)(g) (Gang Rape). At the time of her death, three of the five men accused of raping Jordan inside a moving car had been arrested and were on trial, although they denied the charges. The remaining two, including the main suspect, had not been arrested. The names of the accused are: main accused Mohommad Ali and Kadir Khan who are still absconding, and Nasir Khan, Ruman Khan (Nishat Alam alias Ruman Khan alias Tussi) and Sumit Bajaj who are serving sentences.

Suzette had said: “If I had chosen to just accept injustice submissively, I would never be the right role model for my daughters.” In the process, she became a role model not just for her own daughters but for many other women who draw strength from her story. 

 

Source: Wikipedia and Google search.

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