Around 40 students gathered in the Diag on Friday evening to honor Ruth George and Dr. Priyanka Reddy, who were victims of rape and murder. South Asian Awareness Network (SAAN) organized the vigil and featured musical and spoken-word performances from student groups Yoni Ki Baat and Michigan Sahana.
Ruth George, an Indian American college student at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was raped and murdered in a parking lot around 1:30 a.m. on Nov. 23 after ignoring a man’s catcalls. A few days later, Dr. Priyanka Reddy, a veterinary doctor, was gang-raped, murdered and burnt in Hyderabad, India.
Both George and Reddy’s murders gained significant attention on social media and in news organizations, bringing sexual violence back to the forefront of conversation in India and many South Asian American communities. India has seen many cases of sexual violence — a Thomson Reuters survey found India to be the most dangerous country for sexual violence against women.
Public Health senior Anurima Kumar, who is part of The Daily’s Michigan in Color section, helped organize the event. Kumar said she couldn’t help but think about other rapes and murders that have occurred previously when she heard the news. She said she believes the murders of George and Reddy were indicative of a larger societal problem with sexual violence.
“It wasn’t just after Ruth George’s incident, it was after Priyanka Reddy, when the news also came out,” Kumar said. “It pulled me back to Nirbaya in 2012 in Delhi, the gang rape of Jyoti Singh. You think all this pushback in India in 2012 did anything, when it really didn’t. I feel like we never think about that, we never think about what’s happening there … It’s not our onus to change it there, but it’s still our onus to think about it and know what’s happening here.”
The vigil lasted around half an hour, with students repeatedly re-lighting candles despite the strong wind that evening. Kumar opened the vigil, speaking about women’s fears over their safety and the ability for students to create change.
“I know it’s exhausting to move forward from that, but we have so much power to stop what’s happening and we have the power to make change,” Kumar said. “The way I see that is by calling out toxic behaviors, telling people what they’re doing is wrong, and hoping that they listen, so we also have to be receptive to what people are telling us.”
After Kumar’s opening speech, LSA sophomore Anamika Kannan, a member of Michigan Sahana, performed a Carnatic song. Engineering senior Noshin Khan and LSA senior Deepthi Devireddy, members of Yoni Ki Baat, closed the vigil with spoken word poems.
Khan’s poem questioned why women must take precautions for their safety, instead of changing the system that allows for sexual violence.
“I think about the energy that is spent on being careful and where it would go if we knew we were safe,” Khan said. “Instead, we are vigilant, trying not to become another name in the headlines. Or worse, one of the names that are left out.”
LSA sophomore Subarna Bhattacharya, who is a member of SAAN, said George’s murder was particularly frightening because George was a college student in the United States, like many of the vigil’s attendees.
“Ruth George was a college student who was walking along on her own, which so many of us do all the time,” Bhattacharya said. “It kind of makes you pause and think, ‘Am I being careful enough? Who’s around me?’”
LSA senior Archana Prabhakar, who is a member of SAAN, echoed Kumar’s statements and said the extensive news coverage of Reddy spread awareness internationally, creating an opportunity to remember the many other victims of sexual violence as well.
“I think (Dr. Priyanka Reddy) is a name amongst many in India that we’ve heard of, but I think that because it made international headlines, it was a good opportunity to take a moment and recognize that this happens on a daily basis, and it’s not just another name lost in the crowd, but rather one of many we should be acknowledging every day,” Prabhakar said.