Why did she take a bus home from the mall, when she should have taken a taxi?
Why did she take a taxi home, when she should have had her own transport?
Why did she ride a two-wheeler, when she should have driven a car?
Why did she overtake the car bearing drunks, and anger them enough to kill her?
Why did she go out to drink?
Why was she wearing a short skirt?
Why didn't she call the police instead of her sister? Perhaps because she thought of how the police would react when she told them she was calling to report a puncture. Perhaps because when women are afraid, the fear is based on instinct and not logic. Perhaps because she did not want to hear, "Madam, this is the police station. You should have called a mechanic."
Why didn't she call a mechanic through an internet service? Perhaps because it was late and she was nervous about standing there alone, waiting for a mechanic to turn up. Perhaps because she didn’t want to feel foolish for turning down the help of a person who happened to be around and was kind enough to offer. Perhaps because, against all odds, she believed in the goodness of the world.
Why didn't she call the rapists "Bhaiyya" and beg them to spare their sister? Perhaps because that wasn't the first relationship that came to mind when someone began a sexual assault. Perhaps because people have raped their biological sisters, daughters, and even mothers.
Why didn't she learn a passage from every religious texts just so she could remind her potential rapists that their god was looking on? Perhaps she did, but didn’t have enough time to have a theological conversation to find her rapists’ religious orientations before they gagged her. Perhaps she was afraid of angering them further, in case they happened to be atheists.
Perhaps because the kind of savages who would puncture a woman's tyres, hang about till she returned, pretend to offer help, gangrape her until she died, and then burn her body don’t believe in a higher power. Perhaps because people have been known to rape children inside temples.
Why didn't her sister drive out immediately to rescue her, instead of waiting until her phone was switched off? Perhaps because she is a woman too. Perhaps because there was an equal chance of the next day's headline reading “Woman raped while attempting to rescue sister; sister returns home safe."
Yes, men get assaulted too, usually by other men. Yes, women can be predators too and their victims could be men.
But the people who ask these questions fall into two categories: the first will deny the existence of "gaslighting" because the notion that women are no longer seen as a subservient species implies to them that they have the same freedoms as men; the second see women as a subservient species who must know their limits or pay for it, because they were “asking for it".
Every woman learns very early on to "be careful". The creeps that sexually harass women on the streets start with prepubescent children who are walking to school, coming to terms with their own awkward bodies, who will react to catcalls by bowing their heads, pretending not to hear, and walking away as quickly as they can, thereby reinforcing the predator’s sense of power, so he repeats his act the next day and the next and the next.
Women learn before they're women, they learn when they're children at whom older women snap when they sit with their legs splayed, when they run about with their dresses flying in the breeze, when their clothes turn translucent in the rain, when their hair falls out of its tight plaits.
They learn when they are in high school, trying to hide their newfound curves under baggy clothes and modesty-wear like dupattas, making sure they adjust their clothing discreetly.
They learn when they are riding buses or trains to college, not knowing how to react when someone comes a little too close and then says the bus is crowded, not knowing who groped them until they see the sly grin of a man slinking away, coming home in tears and wishing they could burn everything they had worn that day.
Women live in terror every day out on the roads, and even in their homes and offices and schools. A stalker could show up with acid. Fellow-students could set one on fire. The office cab could be the last place she knows. Her tyre could be punctured and her charred body recovered hours later.
She is asking for it by being alive.
More Columns by Nandini Krishnan:
Nobel for economist, tailspin for economy
Why the Diaspora has so much love to give
Hindi debate: We are all obsessed with homogeneity
We are choking the earth
When Kamal Haasan endorsed harassment
The Dalai Lama and the death of humour
The delusionary Indian intellectual
India's culture of worship has to end