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Saturday, March 14, 2015

‘Accept and Fight’: Thanks for the invaluable Life lesson, Suzette Jordan!

Life’s injustices must surely be braved and corrected. But you will do well first to accept any situation before you work towards changing it. The key message from Suzette Katrina Jordan’s eventful and tumultuous Life – that sadly, abruptly, ended yesterday, owing to meningoencephalitis, in a Kolkata hospital – was this.

Suzette Jordan
Picture Courtesy: India Today
Suzette was a single mother of two girls. She was warm, compassionate and believed deeply in herself and in the cause of empowering women – something that she championed till her very end. She survived a gang rape on Park Street in Kolkata in February 2012. But, importantly, instead of hiding being the “Park Street Rape Survivor” tag, she came out in 2013 and revealed her identity on national television. It is sad and ironical therefore that her death has been reported across most sections of media as “Part Street Rape Survivor Dies”. Personally, I feel, a fitting tribute to her fight, for dignity and justice, would have been to say that “Suzette Jordan passes away, but the fight she started will go on”. Even so, it is not surprising that the media, that thrives on ‘keywords’ to grab eyeballs, used the ‘rape survivor’ tag to announce Suzette’s demise.

I reached out to Suzette in July 2014 inviting her to receive the first copy of my Book – ‘Fall Like A Rose Petal – A father’s lessons on how to be happy and content while living without money’ (Westland, August 2014) – when we launched it in Kolkata. I am not sure I had her correct email id and so I wouldn’t know if she ever got my invitation. But I learned from someone she worked with that Suzette had become very reclusive. This person, who headed an NGO for women in Kolkata, told me that Suzette had been numbed by the mud-slinging and witch-hunting that the West Bengal administration had launched against her: “Suzette is shocked no doubt with the insensitivity of the Chief Minister and her entire cabinet. But she is in no way cowed down. She accepts her current reality, she realizes that the odds are stacked against her, but she is determined to plow on.” For the record, Mamata Banerjee had termed Suzette’s charge of rape a ‘sajano ghotona’ (fabricated event) and her cabinet colleague, a lady, had called it a ‘sex deal gone awry’. In response to these charges, Suzette told NDTV’s Monideepa Banerjee: “People make mistakes, you know,” she said. “She made a mistake. I don't hold it against her.” Yesterday, Monideepa recounted this further on her blog: “Over the last three years, almost to the day, I met Suzette many times, at her home, at my office. She was indomitable, determined to fight for justice though the legal process dragged. The main accused is still absconding. She told me how in court, the three accused and their parents abused her, cajoled her to drop the case. But she fought on. Without resources. Three years, no job. Her mother lived with her, besides her two daughters. Her mother's brother in Australia sent her money. Her daughters' school fees were waived. She was celebrated across the country, speaker here, speaker there. But no end to hard times.”

And so, with her passing, in a way, the physical version of Suzette Katrina Jordan’s fight for justice has ended. But the spirit of her struggle, the message of courage and indomitable will that she spread in the three years since that barbaric attack on her, and the inspirational metaphor called Suzette Jordan will live on. She was the one that told the Indian media to stop using the word ‘victim’ for those affected by rape; she then modified it to ‘survivor’ and then daringly came forth and declared: “I am sick and tired of being called the Park Street rape survivor. I am Suzette Jordan.” Through her willingness to accept her Life for what it was she taught us the value in and power of acceptance. Through her activism for the cause she led, she also taught us that acceptance is not a passive state. It does not equal inaction. By being accepting of a situation, you conserve valuable energy which you would have otherwise expended in resisting that situation. When you accept your Life for what it is, you can channelize your energy intelligently to focus on doing what’s required of you to change the situation or to fight an injustice done to you or both!

Life’s situations are like an erroneously inflated BSNL bill. You can cry foul, you can rant, but BSNL will begin a dialogue and process to redress your complaint only when you first pay up their claim. So it is with Life. You have to first accept what is. Only then can you look to work on changing it!

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