A woman was punished for being gang raped.

Sudan court convicts Ethiopian woman over ‘gang-rape’.

It is nothing new.
We know it very well that we women get harassed, raped, abused, trafficked, tortured and then
we get punished for being harassed, raped, abused, trafficked, tortured. We get killed for not paying
dowry, for not behaving well or for not cooking well.

A gangraped girl telling her story

She was gangraped when she was 17. Three years later, outraged at the silence and misconceptions around rape, she wrote a fiery essay under her own name describing her experience. Then she was busy living her life. After more than 30 years she revisited her own experience. Her words touched my heart. She said, ‘we have spent generations constructing elaborate systems of patriarchy, caste and social and sexual inequality that allow abuse to flourish.’ It is so true! Here is her story, very painful and very moving.

soha

I Was Wounded; My Honor Wasn’t

It’s not exactly pleasant to be a symbol of rape. I’m not an expert, nor do I represent all victims of rape. All I can offer is that — unlike the young woman who died in December two weeks after being brutally gang raped, and so many others — my story didn’t end, and I can continue to tell it.

When I fought to live that night, I hardly knew what I was fighting for. A male friend and I had gone for a walk up a mountain near my home. Four armed men caught us and made us climb to a secluded spot, where they raped me for several hours, and beat both of us. They argued among themselves about whether or not to kill us, and finally let us go.

At 17, I was just a child. Life rewarded me richly for surviving. I stumbled home, wounded and traumatized, to a fabulous family. With them on my side, so much came my way. I found true love. I wrote books. I saw a kangaroo in the wild. I caught buses and missed trains. I had a shining child. The century changed. My first gray hair appeared.

Too many others will never experience that. They will not see that it gets better, that the day comes when one incident is no longer the central focus of your life. One day you find you are no longer looking behind you, expecting every group of men to attack. One day you wind a scarf around your throat without having a flashback to being choked. One day you are not frightened anymore.

Rape is horrible. But it is not horrible for all the reasons that have been drilled into the heads of Indian women. It is horrible because you are violated, you are scared, someone else takes control of your body and hurts you in the most intimate way. It is not horrible because you lose your “virtue.” It is not horrible because your father and your brother are dishonored. I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina, just as I reject the notion that men’s brains are in their genitals.

If we take honor out of the equation, rape will still be horrible, but it will be a personal, and not a societal, horror. We will be able to give women who have been assaulted what they truly need: not a load of rubbish about how they should feel guilty or ashamed, but empathy for going through a terrible trauma.

The week after I was attacked, I heard the story of a woman who was raped in a nearby suburb. She came home, went into the kitchen, set herself on fire and died. The person who told me the story was full of admiration for her selflessness in preserving her husband’s honor. Thanks to my parents, I never did understand this.

The law has to provide real penalties for rapists and protection for victims, but only families and communities can provide this empathy and support. How will a teenager participate in the prosecution of her rapist if her family isn’t behind her? How will a wife charge her assailant if her husband thinks the attack was more of an affront to him than a violation of her?

At 17, I thought the scariest thing that could happen in my life was being hurt and humiliated in such a painful way. At 49, I know I was wrong: the scariest thing is imagining my 11-year-old child being hurt and humiliated. Not because of my family’s honor, but because she trusts the world and it is infinitely painful to think of her losing that trust. When I look back, it is not the 17-year-old me I want to comfort, but my parents. They had the job of picking up the pieces.

This is where our work lies, with those of us who are raising the next generation. It lies in teaching our sons and daughters to become liberated, respectful adults who know that men who hurt women are making a choice, and will be punished.

When I was 17, I could not have imagined thousands of people marching against rape in India, as we have seen these past few weeks. And yet there is still work to be done. We have spent generations constructing elaborate systems of patriarchy, caste and social and sexual inequality that allow abuse to flourish. But rape is not inevitable, like the weather. We need to shelve all the gibberish about honor and virtue and did-she-lead-him-on and could-he-help-himself. We need to put responsibility where it lies: on men who violate women, and on all of us who let them get away with it while we point accusing fingers at their victims.

After I wrote about my rape, again

The World Health Organization recently came out with the first global survey of sexual violence. It’s a grim picture: many millions of women have been raped, by strangers as well as the men closest to them. At the same time, suddenly, after a few millennia of studied silence, rape in India is a hot topic. The protests after last December’s rape and murder have led to an amazing moment of awakening for my country, which awaits the impending verdict for one of the accused men. For me, it’s been a surreal six months.

On New Year’s Eve, I got an innocuous-looking email from a friend in Delhi, with “This making the rounds on Facebook” in the subject line. I scrolled down, and saw my own teenage face on the screen next to a screaming headline.

After I was gang-raped in India, I wrote about it in a women’s magazine. That was more than 30 years ago. Time went on, life went on. Then came the internet, the December rape, and suddenly the old article was everywhere. I was all over Facebook, and I don’t even have a Facebook page.

I was suddenly not a writer, not a mother, not an ordinary, muddled, rather happy soul, but apparently, The World’s Most Famous Living Rape Victim. I didn’t want my 17-year-old’s cry of rage in the women’s magazine to be my final word on the subject, so I wrote an op-ed on the recovery process, and the stupidity of equating rape with dishonour, for the New York Times. Then, all hell really broke loose.

In the first month alone, my website got more than 2m hits. I got several thousand emails from women and men all over the world. I have been so very touched by the global outpouring of support.

Hats off to you, madam, they said. You are so brave. You are one helluva tough cookie. You are a saint. You are a hero. Please help me. Please be my friend. My husband beats me, my cousin rapes me, I never told anyone. Hats off. Heads off to you, said one particularly eager soul. University students debated my piece. The Indian government quoted me. Media called, institutions called. Everyone wanted to hear more. But I was done telling my story, so, Bartleby-like, I wrote back, “I prefer not to.”

I chose to speak out the first time. The second time, it really didn’t feel like a choice. It was surreal how big it got, and how quickly. Almost all my relationships have been given a good, bone-rattling shaking. Everyone seemed to have read the piece, and everyone had a reaction. My immediate family shone like stars. My extended family buried their heads in the sand.

Some people cheered, and some looked away in embarrassment. Some people said truly nasty things. (Rape is like any other life-shattering event – no matter how hard you try, you remember how every person reacted to it, and you either love them forever or you spend the rest of your life not quite succeeding in forgiving them.) My 11-year-old daughter, whom we hastily told before she heard about it at school, nodded casually. She saw her normal goofy mother and wisely decided everything was all right. And it was, and it is.

So why do I feel like bolting for the street when I walk into a sandwich place and the guy behind the counter, a total stranger, says, “I saw you on Facebook!”?

It’s not shame or guilt, it’s not embarrassment – truly, it’s slightly befuddling. The rape was catastrophic, and it took many years to feel safe (a necessary delusion). But I’m at the other end of that now, and I don’t quite know what to do when a friend who didn’t know this about me starts weeping. It’s good to be loved, but I’m done weeping. At this moment, my daughter’s maths progress feels more important than revisiting three-decades-old emotions.

So, here is my main point: I feel incredibly lucky that my rape story feels old. Millions – yes, millions – of women don’t have that luxury. A new study found that victims of conflict-related rape in the Democratic Republic of Congo benefited significantly from group therapy, and talking about their experiences. Imagine that. No matter how awful it was, it helps to talk about it. Feminists, therapists, journalists, this-ists and that-ists, all agree that we need to talk about it.

But we don’t. I recently spoke to a group of 250 Indian women. Afterwards, one woman said, “If my daughter got raped, I would never broadcast it to the world!”

I wish I could treat it like any other piece of writing. I wish I had felt comfortable boasting about my op-ed to the woman on the plane who asked what I do. But it’s about rape, and no matter how that should be like any other trauma, it’s not – for no earthly reason other than that we have made it so. I didn’t want to deal with her reaction, so I didn’t tell her. When the sandwich guy says he saw me on Facebook, or someone I barely know hugs me on the street, I feel a bit like I’m in one of those dreams where you show up to an important interview, your teeth fall out, and everyone stares.

I’m glad I spoke up. I understand and respect those who cannot. I’ve moved on. I want to be known for my work, for my charm or lack thereof, for my perfect cup of tea, for more than simply living to tell the tale.

Just another day

1.1.2013

Today is just another day. I woke up, drank tea, petted my cat, and then drowned myself in reading and writing. In the evening I walked around in cold Delhi, protests against gang-rape were still going on. I could be happy if I did not know that a 6-year-old girl was raped in Pune today. Not only that, a 7-year-old girl and a 17-year-old girl were also raped in Bangalore. Rapists gave India, that was still mourning for the Delhi rape victim, new year’s gifts: two more rape incidents. And a girl suffered 90 per cent burn injuries after being set on fire by a man. The only crime the girl committed was she resisted street harassment. [Read more...]

We are raped to death.

Whatever little rights the women of the Indian subcontinent have gained till now, most of it has been because of men. Men have fought with the misogyny-laden society in favor of abolishing the abhorrent practice of Sati, and facilitating the acquisition of suffrage, the ability to walk beyond the household boundaries, the rights to education and jobs by the women. That said, the number of good men are still very limited. Although some men have time and again assisted the women in their quest for progress by parting the wall of hindrances, most men have shoved women backwards. In fact, the number of men trying to force women into retreat has always been rather large.

I have been living in India for a while, because my right to reside anywhere in this subcontinent, other than in India, has been severely violated by a so-called democratic government, which doesn’t believe in democracy. By virtue of living in India for a few years, I have watched closely this country – the oldest democracy in the subcontinent, far ahead of its neighbors in education, and equality. It comes as a great shock and surprise to me when, every morning, the newspapers bring reports of rape; rape of minors, cold-blooded murders following sexual abuse – men are slaughtering women by strangling, shooting, hacking, burning and stoning them to death. What surprises me the most is the resounding lack of protests against such horrors. Thousands take to the streets in protest if the price of onions or petrol vary a little bit, but the rape and abuse of hundreds of women doesn’t motivate a single man or woman to protest. People have become desensitized to rape after hearing about and encountering such heinous incidents on a regular basis; no longer is someone shocked by the news of rape. Even the news media are no longer interested in reporting about rape. It is not considered newsworthy unless a gang-rape occurs.

A young woman in Delhi was gang-raped in a moving bus by some men just this other day. Not just a gang-rape, something even more horrific. Hurting her with their penises didn’t adequately satisfy their blood-lust; inserting an iron rod into her genital organ, they ruptured her uterus and ripped out her intestines. But they didn’t stop there. Their rapacious merriment over, they threw the almost dead woman out of the moving bus. One could not expect her to survive; indeed, the young woman, after valiantly battling death for a few days in hospitals, finally succumbed to her irreparable injuries today.

For the very first time, folks were angry. Or did it wake them up? Does wakefulness appear so easily? It is true that for the first time, thousands of men and women of all ages took to the streets demanding from their government the safety and security for the womenfolk. It has also been demanded that the perpetrators should be hanged by the neck till death. Capital punishment by hanging is not a major issue to this government – it is a rather easy, hassle-free solution. But it is a lot more difficult to take measures so that men cease to see women as sex objects, so that from a tender age, human beings learn to recognize and treat other human beings as human beings. The responsibility for this tough task should devolve upon the government, surely.

Of course, parroting lofty lines such as “men and women have equal rights; don’t treat women as subhuman beings; don’t hurt them, don’t rape them;” from an early childhood is no guarantee that the message would reach the brains. Even if it does, when children, adolescents and young adults continuously witness at home or elsewhere that men are vocal, men take charge, while women play the second fiddle and lurk in the background, that experience fills their brains to the exclusion of everything else. Experience at brothels in the youth also teaches them that anything can be done with women’s bodies, no matter if the woman is a child; that it is not largely considered an offence in the contemporary society. The same goes for one’s wife. Sexual abuse of the wife, also known as marital rape, may now well be a criminal act by law, but it’s not a culpable infraction in the eyes of the patriarchal society. This is similar to the way in which the dowry system – illegal and prohibited by law – still flourishes in the society, proving every day that women are rather inferior, powerless, voiceless, lower-order beings – that the entire lives of women are to be dedicated to bribing the menfolk into accepting them as slaves.

Married women bear various marks on their bodies to advertise their marital status. Just as lifeless photo-frames are sometimes marked with a red mark as ‘sold’, the application of the red vermilion mark on the forehead and the parting of hair suffices as a veritable purchase notice for married women; for them, from the hair on the scalp to toenails are considered property of their husbands. Married men, however, are never properties of their wives. If protests against the rape of women carry on while leaving such patriarchal traditions intact, would rapes ever stop? On one hand, ninety-nine percent of Bollywood movies portray women as sex-objects, television carries the same message, newspapers splash images of barely-clad women; everywhere the women are merely bodies – smooth, soft skin; only breasts, only genitalia; their brains are not brains – women philosophers are not philosophers, scientists are not scientists, intellectuals are not intellectuals, professionals are not professionals. Once they are within reach, are men going to discuss science and philosophy, or are they going to be more inclined towards rape? I don’t think men don’t know that whatever a woman might wear, be it a short skirt or nothing, no one has the right to rape her. I think men know it well. At the same time, they also know that they are the decision makers! Men have more muscles, more brains, more courage; they can take greater risks, and they are beyond shame and fear; men are brave, fearless, powerful, stronger both physically and mentally – there is nothing they cannot do. This is what they have learnt, this is what they have been taught every moment of every day since their birth. The act of rape, to these men, is an evidence of their virility. The truth is, however patriarchy has raped women’s bodies, it has raped women’s minds even more; it has raped their vitality, their lives and liveliness, their limitless possibilities, dreams and freedoms. A physical injury often heals, an emotional injury doesn’t.

This has been transpiring for centuries. All living organisms evolve. The human species has sustained for so long because it has adapted to evolving conditions and situations, from good to better, from better to still better. Within the same species, if one group continues to persecute another simply on the basis of different genitalia, that time may not be far when the entire species would become extinct. If men cannot control their proclivity to rape, if enjoyment continue to come from forcing oneself upon another, then the evolution of human beings would progress only towards destruction. Very few species consciously oppress or torment the female of the species. Gang-rape? No other species, barring humans, show such loathsome inclinations.

Humans are intelligent, as evidenced from their various endeavors. They have sent machines to Mars, but cannot create an equitable environment on their own planet for men and women to live together in equality, equal rights, empathy, understanding, peace and harmony – is it because they lack intelligence, wherewithal or a desire to do the right thing? I suspect the latter. Even if I accept that men rape because they are stronger, but society, state or the nation doesn’t run on merely strength. They run on intellect. Have the menfolk raped their own intelligence, conscience, and hearts to a comatose state? Ripping apart their consciousness, they are raping their own future!

Who will change the society, then? The powers-that-be. Those who made up the patriarchal society. Those who are powerless, oppressed, raped, and tortured, what can they do? The presence of the tormentor, oppressor groups at the anti-rape protests on the streets of Delhi are far more important than the presence of the tormented and oppressed. The torments shall cease when the tormentors cease operations and withdraw. If they stop for fear of retribution, the cessation may not last as much as it would if they stop because they understand, because their eyes have opened. That would certainly be a longer-term solution.

That India is the largest democracy in the world is true from the perspective of its population count. However, democracy is not restricted to mere arrangement of elections. Democracy encompasses equal rights and equal freedom of expression for men and women, rich and poor, everyone. Contemporary India has neither, let alone the entire subcontinent. In a true democracy, people live in safety and security. Would the expressed outrage of a subsection of the Middle Class be at all effective in bringing true democracy? Only solution, perhaps, is a mass uprising. Political maneuvers keep such mass uprisings in abeyance in the subcontinent. Watching and living with inequities and injustices day in and day out, human beings get used to these social evils. A majority of folks don’t know or understand what equality or equal rights means. Unfortunately, most of the deprived don’t realize they are deprived; most of the distressed can’t recognize their harassment.

Let them know, let them realize, and then wake up.

(My sincere thanks to Kausik Datta @kausikdatta22 for translating my Bengali write up)