I am still naked
"I am still naked."
She said it tonelessly, almost hopelessly; no anger, not even an eye-lid moved, and then she got up and left. Her hand waved in a feeble gesture, her bony face and cheeks contorted with anger, and then with an almost a deathly expression she said it again.
"I am still naked. Nothing has changed."
I felt her body shudder. And then all at once she was seized by despair. She clenched her teeth so as to not scream...and leaned against the wall. And then tears rolled down her wrinkled face.
I had never seen Laishram Gyaneshwari cry before, actually I never imagined her as someone who would cry. My first meeting with her was a few years ago. The last encounter was clear in my head. We had sat down for an interview on the roof of an under-construction building. The women had brought jute mats along, for themselves and for us. Gyaneshwari had been patient and stoic through the interview. She would stop after every answer, wait for the translator to give me the full import of her response, and then wait for me to ask the next question. And then wait while it was translated back to her.
It went on for a few rounds like that. I had sensed she was getting irritated.
We were on our fourth or fifth round of question translation, answer translation, when Gyaneshwari, interrupted and angrily said,
"Indian Army, Rape Us."
"Indian Army, Kill Us."
" We are all Manorma's mothers"
I remember how the light had changed that moment, enveloping not just the room, but the sky and the desolate hills that could be seen through the half wooden window. Gyaneshwari had sat motionless, as if caught between death and destruction.
July 15, 2004, Gyaneshwari and eleven other Imas or mothers had stripped naked in front of the Kangla Fort in Imphal, they had thronged the gates and screamed their outrage at the rape and alleged custodial murder of Thangjoram Manorama, a 32-year-old suspected member of the banned People's Liberation Army.
Gyaneshwari hadn't told her family about her decision to participate in what would be a historic protest. She had though touched her husbands feet that morning, she told me, something she did only when when she was going out on an important task. No one was sure how many women would finally turn up or whether security forces would sense something amiss and impose curfew.
But bare they did, and dared and with that unprecedented protest, had hoped that a disinterested nation would finally wake up.
But seven years late the interest if any is barely there.
So when this time I entered the house of Laishram Gyaneshwari, she smiled at first, gave me water, pulled my cheeks, touched my head, sat down for a chat and said.
"I am still naked."
No translations were required between her and me from here on.
More about Anubha Bhonsle
Anubha Bhonsle is an anchor and Senior Editor of CNN-IBN. She has been a journalist for over 12 years, starting her career with The Indian Express, then moving to be part of Miditech, the Zee Group, subsequently joining New Delhi Television where she was part of the political bureau and an anchor. Anubha joined CNN-IBN at inception, as prime-time anchor and Senior Editor. She is a graduate in Journalism and a post-graduate in social communication. As a Jefferson fellow she researched on America’s political history and the role of gender and race. Anubha and her team have been part of many award-winning projects. Her documentaries on Irom Sharmila and Children of Conflict won appreciation internationally, at the New York Film Festival and the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. Anubha is a cleanliness freak, loves collecting kettles and admires Pearl Buck. She lives in Delhi with her family.