Not Park Street Rape Survivor, I am Suzette Jordan, She Said.

Published: March 13, 2015 20:29 IST
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(Monideepa Banerjie is NDTV's Resident Editor based in Kolkata.)

When I first saw Suzette Katrina Jordan, she was a silhouette. The back-lights were strong, highlighting her cloud of curly her. Her face, in shadows.

That was in February 2012, days after she summoned the courage to go to the police and lodge a complaint that she had been raped. I remember her telling me the police sneered at her for complaining some four days late. But Suzette fought the sneers, the "your fault" comments - why were out so late on your own? Why were you in a pub alone? Why did you get into a car with strange men?

She fought all that. But she was still a silhouette.

Then Kamduni happened. A college-going girl was brutally gang-raped and murdered on Kolkata's outskirts on 7th June.

Days later, Kolkata was on the streets and among the many faces in the march was Suzette, banner in hand. I dived at her with a mike and shot off my questions, but I prefaced a couple with "Suzette, what do you think" etc.

I stopped mid-way. "Oops," I said, "We would have to do it all over again. I mentioned your name. We can blur your face but I can't take your name," I said.

She gave the interview again and said, "I am sick and tired of being called the Park Street rape survivor." We had started calling her "survivor" after she said she could not tolerate the term "victim". So she said, "I am sick and tired of being called the Park Street rape survivor. I am Suzette Jordan."

She also said to me, "I thought my situation... what happened to me... was the worst thing that could happen to anyone. But look at the girl from Kamduni. She died. They killed her."

I asked her what she felt about Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's "sajano ghotona" comment, that the whole rape incident was "fabricated". "People make mistakes, you know," she said. "She made a mistake. I don't hold it against her."

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.

The last time I met her for a story was in August last year. We wanted stories on strong women. Who stronger than Suzette.

She had moved to a new house. Tiny. In the narrow passage leading to the entrance at the back, a money plant. Blooming.

"Suzette," I said, "my money plants are also doing brilliantly. But they say those who can make money plants grow don't ever have money." She laughed her infectious laugh. "Doesn't matter. I don't have money but I love watering them every morning."

Inside the house, a long interview, a cup of tea she made for me, talking away. About how she met Robert De Niro at an event in Goa, about how she was worried about her mother's health, about how she was applying here and there for a job. Most striking, no hard luck story. No self-pity.

Then I asked her to play Ludo with the daughters for some shots. "Ludo? I don't have," she said. I fished out the snakes and ladders board out of my bag. The three began to play. Suzette did not play act, I believe. She enjoyed every moment of the game. Grimacing when a snake got her and jumping for joy when she went up a ladder.

A rare technical glitch happened that day with our camera. The audio of the excitement, the 'nat' or natural sound did not get recorded.

And today I am left looking at the footage of Suzette, scowling, frowning, laughing during the Ludo game.

But everything is silent.

(Suzette Jordan, 40, died of meningoencephalitis at a hospital in Kolkata on Friday, March 13, 2015)

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