I was discussing with a colleague, an expat, about the direction India is headed to. The fancy corporate buildings in Gurgaon and women inside them working till late night, people catching up over drinks after work - all of that betrayed an impression the country and its economy were treading in the right direction.
Suddenly, a news flashed on TV and it became hard to gulp down my beer any further. Around 600km from Delhi, an eight-year-old girl was abducted, sedated, repeatedly raped and killed in Kathua, J&K, by a group of men who wanted to drive the Muslim Bakarwal community out of the village.
To add to the disgust, the act was committed inside a temple. Some more details sent shivers down my spine - the accused in the case included policemen and were supported by lawyers. All this is happening just 600km away.
After a moment of silence, shock and grief, everyone resumed their drink. After all, such incidents are reported in India every day. One of them remarked in jest, "You suffered from Chikungunya last year. What are Indian women more afraid of, mosquitoes or men?"
Pink Floyd's "comfortably numb" was playing in the background. It hardly happens that I don't enjoy Pink Floyd, and this unfortunately was one such moment.
If Kathua does not disturb us, probably as a society we have decayed to a point of no return. We should collectively apologise to the children of this country. The dastardly act was committed to drive out the nomadic Muslim community of Bakarwal.
The impression among Hindus in the region is that the Muslim community is involved in cow slaughter and drug trafficking and the said act was to teach a lesson to them . The child was used as a tool, a life was snuffed out in the most horrific manner.
But I refuse to see this issue as a communal and political issue. This is basically about how our country treats women and the girl child. We must not cling to our religious and political opinions to condemn something as heinous as this. The men who did it did not belong to any religion, they do not have any god.
Dear child, we failed you. We have not just failed you, but have also instilled fear in several other children across the country. What worse precedent we can set for our children?
I still remember the first time, I read about rape of a 12-year-old girl as a child. I couldn't take my mind off that news. It continued to haunt me for long. It made me realise how vulnerable I was in the toxic patriarchal set-up.
As a 32-year-old woman now, all I can say is that I am lucky that it didn't happen to me, but there are a number of children who are not as lucky. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a child is sexually abused every 15 minutes in India. In July 2017, the apex court rejected a petition filed to allow a 11-year-old girl to abort her pregnancy on the grounds that at 32 weeks, she is too far into her pregnancy. She was raped by her uncle. As a society, we turn a blind eye to such incidents, something that is evident in our general reluctance to talk and report such issues.
We can only dream of raising our daughters in the society we have created. We have become insensitive to a point that our blood has stopped boiling over such news, our eyes shed tears and we do not feel the lump in the throat anymore. Yes, we have normalised every crime that patriarchy has committed against us.
I realise no amount of protests and "MeToo campaigns" can break the fortress of patriarchy. The dismantling of toxic masculinity would require teaching our sons to respect women, their choice and right to control their own bodies. Our fight is far from over.