Jyoti means "light "or "flame" in Hindi and in the Sanskrit, "celestial brilliance". It is also the first name of a 23 year old young women, Jyoti Pandey Singh, known in India as Nirbhaya, who was pack raped and reportedly eviscerated by one of her six attackers on a cold night in Delhi, 16 December 2012. She had gone with a friend to an early Sunday evening movie session and they were simply trying to go home. She succumbed to her injuries some 13 days later.
Just before the first anniversary of her death, I found myself in Delhi with fellow filmmaker Bruno Acard making a music video in English and Hindi of a song inspired by these tragic events entitled Shine a Light and Navjyoti ki Oar.
Jyoti as a Catalyst
What happened to this girl was horrible and is unbearable to read and to hear. India was seized by a wave of revulsion, as was the rest of the world. I was in Delhi shortly after these events and read, heard and saw detail, too much detail and found it incomprehensible. I was struck by the sadness, the anger and the incredulity of people, this in a place where papers print on a seemingly daily basis reports of rape and violence toward women and children.
For many people, Jyoti's attack was a catalyst, a line in the sand in its sheer barbarity and awfulness. Huge demonstrations ensued, public statements for change were made and blame was apportioned -to western influences and, incredibly, at times to Jyoti herself. The perpetrators were tried and sentenced to death, one suicided or was killed in jail and the minor, reportedly the most brutal attacker, got a sentence of three years. Since then, the dreadful litany of rapes and brutality in India has continued unabated. Womens' insecurity was an election issue in Delhi's December 2013 elections.
What happened to Jyoti stuck in my mind and attached itself to my heart. In a Paris café on a quiet summer afternoon in August 2013 , I listened to a demo of a song inspired by this tragedy. 'Shine a Light' was written by British team of lyricist Mel Barnett with music by William Playle and was written for and is sung by a young Delhi singer, Sagarika Deb. The poignancy of the lyrics and the sweetness of the voice of the singer appealed and seemed right. The version in Hindi, Navjyoti ki Oar, had become an anthem for the Indian NGO for womens' empowerment and education, 'Navjyoti', created 25 years ago by Kirin Bedi.
I thought a video had to be made and listened to in India and indeed the world. I talked to Bruno Acard, a French filmmaker with whom I have collaborated before, and proposed a no frills/ no pay production in Delhi of two versions of the song, in the original English and in Hindi - for Jyoti. We had a two week window in early December 2013 and he took the challeng.
Crowdfunding was intended but the French banking system was against us. The administrative organizer in Delhi let us down and disappeared at the last minute. Ingenuity, our own pockets and those of friends and friends of friends plus an unexpectedly fast approval of the Delhi Police did the rest. "The making of" Shine a Light / Navjyoti ki Oar is a story in itself for another time.
Shine a Light -A music video for Jyoti
How do you make a music video in the era of 'twerking' and sensationalism that has as its inspiration a brutal rape and murder? How do you make it without sensationalism? How do you do it with respect for the humanity of the victim? How do you transmit the intent and the message of the lyrics? Why did we make it?
The last question was the easiest. We made this video because we felt we had to. It seemed evident to us. We wanted to do homage to Jyoti, to the lost life and the truncated promise of her youth. In giving her name to Reuters in early 2013, her father said he wanted her remembered and that there be some sense to the senselessness of what happened to her. Music and moving image are immensely powerful and emotional communicators and we wanted to lend our skills to carry a positive message and a story via music and video. We saw Shine a Light as a story, a visual dialogue between a Boy and his memory of a Girl. The relationship is undefined and the style deliberately low key and personal.
Why Jyoti matters to us
In the book (the only book?) about Jyoti called Courting Injustice: The Nirbhaya Case and its Aftermath, Rajesh Talwar raises very pressing issues for reform of the legal system but also provides some compelling insights into what made this particular incident so disturbing. As he writes, she was every young Indian woman from a poor background seeking to improve her situation and that of her family via education. Secondly, she put up a ferocious struggle against overwhelming odds.
To that I would add it was life interrupted, a light snuffed out randomly, brutally and pointlessly. The Times of India and the Hindustan Times carried a series of articles in the aftermath, extracts of her diary and her last notes to her mother in hospital. She is every young woman -our daughter, our sister and our friend - everywhere. She is not a statistic, not "person x ", not an abstract symbol. She was real, she is our loss and it is personal..
In the process of getting permission to film from the Delhi Police (which they subsequently and rapidly gave), I was asked the curious question "What would be the single most important thing you would do for women's empowerment in India." My answer has changed. After shooting this video in Delhi, it is what I have always taken for granted, the freedom of movement and, as a right, to simply "be" as a woman in a public place without outright danger.
I can't stop seeing their faces Jyoti to wrote her mother. I keep seeing her face and as personified by Sagarika Deb in the music video, she looks back. At us all.