What makes rape the mot powerful tool of repression? And what makes it the most dreaded of misfortunes that can befall a woman?
It is its time tested affiliation with the idea of ‘honor’. Rape-dishonor analogy has endured through culture, class, time and geographic barriers. The consequent dishonor of sexual assault comes exclusively in the woman’s share, rarely there being a case of the assaulter bearing the humiliation.
Last year a Khap panchayat in UP had ordered rape of two sisters as a punishment for their brothers crime. The idea was to disgrace the family beyond reparation for a deed committed by a male member of the family. Its redemption fell on the shoulders of women because in certain ways we are still stuck in the dark ages. Punishing a woman is convenient, easy and very effective.
Kunan Poshpura mass rapes of 1991 are well documented in history. A little research on the state of women in Kunan and Poshpora reveals that more than two decades later society has not yet forgiven them for the crime they never committed. They are socially ostracized by other villages and marriages which usually take place between these villages are like “shifting of tainted burden from one family to another.”
Back in 1947 during the partition of India rape victims were systematically disowned by their families.
Fast forward to Muzaffarnagar of 2013 and not much has changed. According to Shabnam Hashmi, founder, Act Now for Harmony and Democracy (ANHAD), which is helping Muzaffarnagar riots gang rape victims fight their cases, “Many contacted us initially, but were either forced to withdraw or backed out, while a few disappeared from the camps when we tried to visit them later.”
It took Asaduddin Owaisi to publicly praise the rape victims for having the courage to come forward.
While women raped during political conflicts live on to bear the humiliation the men killed for the same purpose attain martyrdom and medals.
Our nation Bharatmata. Among us are people who don’t hesitate to kill in the name of Gaumata. Durgamata is worshiped as a symbol of power. Wealth and wisdom the two essentials of human life originate from feminine forms—the Goddess Lakshmi and Goddess Saraswati.
Among Muslims heaven is said to lie at the feet of mothers and daughters are considered ‘rehmat’-blessing.
There are umpteen examples of powerful and extraordinary women in the history of Indian sub-continent. There is a Razia Sultana, an Ahilyabai Holkar, a Rani Lakshmibai and many more. We had a female head of state as opposed to several first world countries that are still deprived of that distinction. In literature, culture and history our women have been honored in diverse ways.
Yet for all practical purpose the worth of a woman’s worth boils down to an abstract concept of honor, any violation of which renders her not just unworthy and useless but also a spot on the honor of those associated with her.
Even Bollywood the flag bearer of woman’s liberation has seldom endorsed otherwise. Time and again the customarily inverse relationship between sexual assault and honor has been reinforced by Bollywood.
If 90’s films had the honorable ladies jumping off buildings to die honorably we recently had a ‘Mardani’ who proudly proclaimed: Jaan ko chaahe chhalni kar do, Maan ko na choone dungi
(Roughly: I will let myself be killed but I will not allow my honor to be touched)
People who hold or promote the idea that a woman’s right to life is secondary to social values have no right to call themselves civilized and developed. Period.
‘Jaan’ the life of a woman, her existence is a reality whereas ‘maan’ her honor is an abstraction, an intangible concept, subjective and dynamical.
Reality must have precedence over abstraction. Human values must have precedence over socially manufactured values. That is plain logic and natural order of things. But logic and natural order is not what Bollywood is known for endorsing. It is known for magnifying and glorifying social customs and prejudice most of which are obviously beyond logic.
How much longer will it be and how many more stigmatized rape victims will it take for us as a society to realize that a woman’s honor does not reside in a part of her body.
That it essentially resides in her soul, heart and intellect and thereby its untouchable and inviolable.
That all the dishonor resulting from rape must exclusively belong to the assaulter-one who’s action was deliberate.
Has a rape victim ever been told that in the eyes of divine superpower she is still pure and innocent.