The Sad need of Nirbhayas

rape 1

It happened some 18 years back. A girl in her teens disappeared one fine day from her School hostel in Munnar in Kerala, in January 1996. Some 40 days later, she miraculously re-appeared in her father’s office, who was a postmaster. In these forty days she was raped by several men, including some of the influential lot; this was perhaps the reason that the local police tried to discourage her from pursuing the complaint.

The victim stated that she was forced to elope with her lover, who was a bus cleaner. Raju, her lover, abandoned her during the journey and later a woman named Usha befriended her. This woman tricked her and brought her to a lodge where a man named Dharmarajan raped her. Late this duo took her to homes, hotels, in cars and public buses across the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. She was forced to take liquor and sedated with pills. She was paraded before several men, influential men…retired professor, lawyers, business men, government officials…..who raped her.Later when she fell seriously ill, she was let go with a threat. Doctors who examined her later, said that her private parts were so badly ruined that a mere touch in these areas would induce blood.

I can not even imagine the plight of that girl and her parents, whose simple life became so complicated and tragic within a short span. But their troubles had only begun; they were forced to re-live the torture of those horrendous forty days again and again.

Their difficulties were worsened when the girl identified P.J.Kurien, a congress leader and the then Union Minister, from a newspaper photograph as one of the accused who raped her in a guest house. However, as it happens and which happens in “all” criminal cases where a powerful person is indicted for some crime — almost everyone, from the principal investigator to the bogey witnesses, tried their very best (allegedly) to keep Kurien’s name out of the files, infact prove it as a case of “mistaken identity”. And Kurien, whose wikepedia profile states his occupation as “political and social worker, Teacher and Educationist”, went on to win the 1996 Lok Sabha elections ( source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suryanelli_rape_case).

In 1999, almost three years after the rape(s), the first-ever Special Court to try a case of sexual assault was set up by the Kerala government, which tried 40 accused and the mastermind, Dharmarajan with “alleged kidnapping, wrongful confinement of a minor girl, rape and gang rape of the victim”. In 2000, the Special Court sentenced the 35 persons with RI, four were let off. The Court also gave the maximum possible punishment in the case to Dharmarajan, stating that he, a lawyer himself, was hardened criminal and his act was devilish.

No, the story does not end here. This actually becomes murkier and murkier; it shows why so many rapes go unreported in this country.

In 2005, the Kerala High Court acquitted the 35 convicted earlier and found Dharmarajan guilty of crimes related to the sex trade. His sentence was reduced to five years. Among various baseless reasons given by the High Court bench to justify their judgment was the reason that the “victim’s statement could not be taken at face value, because she had shown ‘deviant behaviour’ earlier. It also said that the accused could not be considered guilty of statutory rape, as the victim had just passed the legal age of consent (16 years) and the accused could not be punished for gang rape, since there was no “culpable common intention (among them) to commit rape”; plus there was no evidence to suggest that the intercourse was not consensual. Shockingly the Court described the alleged rapes as a “willing journey of a misguided girl”, and claimed that the male accused were “guilty only of the immorality of going to a woman, who they thought was a prostitute”.

Such is our system. This explains why people like Abu Asim Azmi and Mulayam Singh Yadav can dare to give gibberish statements in media against women…it explains why we listen and absorb it passively, except few dharnas here and there. This is not the mindset of one man but of the society. More than catching the accused, we are keen in measuring the length of the dress of the girl/woman brutalised, keen to see when and why did she step out of her house. We try to find every reason to justify the RAPE, to make it look less-inhuman and to make it look an act of ‘vengeance’ or ‘she brought it on herself’.

The Suryanelli rape case would have ended in the pile of innumerable cases buried forever in official files…..had there been no rape on that fateful day in December 2012 in a bus in Delhi. The NIRBHAYA rape stirred and shocked almost everyone. It made people rethink their past judgments and thus in that moment of dysphoria this case was brought to the notice of the then Chief Justice of India. The Supreme Court, in 2013, described the Kerala High Court judgment as “shocking”, and set aside the Court Judgment, directing it to take a re-look at the case. On April 4, 2014, after 18 long years, a division bench of Kerala HC convicted 24 of the 31 accused and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from four to 13 years.

But look at the irony of our political system. In January 2013, the government of India released a new anti-rape law, in response to the Verma Committee report on rape and sexual violence on women in India.  Of the many recommendations of the Verma Committee, a key one was for the government to ensure that no politician charge-sheeted with rape be allowed to be in office, which the law in India currently permits. On February 19, when the Rape Ordinance was discussed in Parliament it was chaired by P.J.Kurien !!!!

I am intentionally not using the word ‘victim’ here for the girl, because she is not the victim alone. Her family, her parents and the whole women-folk are victims here. The Suryanelli girl, the name given by media to her as she belonged to the Suryanelli village, must be around 33 years now. As I was reading some media report, she is still haunted by the ghosts of her past, she is scared to move out in public, her family faces verbal harassment and social boycott. Her family had to move houses constantly, and still continue to be ostracized by society, and face harassment from various quarters. Her only sister chose not to marry, her father fell chronically ill. She managed to get a clerical job in a State department, but in 2012, she was arrested on some alleged financial irregularities. No prizes for guessing why she was arrested. So sensational was this case that a film Achanurangatha was based on this in 2006. Why it so hard for us to accept the reality of “Rape”. The very sexual organs which we worship in form of “Shivalinga-female vagina” have become the tools of vengeance, male dominance, crime. Whenever there is a rape…..there is an attempt to justify the savageness of men and suppress the sexuality of women.

And sadly, the Nirbhayas, Pari give timeline to these rapes, they are like 9/11 attacks….they shake the society from its delirium atleast for some days ..only to get lost again…..

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And Here Comes The Bride

 She was dressed in a heavy bright-orange bridal lehanga; small drops of sweat beaded her forehead, more because of panic and less because of excitement.  The sight of women standing at the doorway of her new home, to welcome the newly wedded couple, further accentuated her fears. Taking small measured steps, keeping the head bowed and with the gaze fixed at some distant point on the ground, she moved ahead. Her husband, whom she had known from last eighteen months of courtship, had suddenly become a stranger in that crowd, and she was alone…all alone and panicky standing there, wishing that the ghunghat (veil) becomes an ‘invisibility cloak,’ and save her from those penetrating and measuring eyes. Suddenly everyone was on a mission, loaded with advices, criticism, do’s and dont’s, this and that, and all these missions were directed against one person – her. As if she were a war trophy, brought by her warrior husband from some great battle, for which the whole community had gathered to measure its worth.

Next day was—muhdikhayi — the ceremony in which women from neighborhood and relations come to have the first glimpse of the bride. Dressed in the best saree from her collection and face layered in cosmetics, she was made to sit in the living room on the floor. There were women everywhere around her, of every size and every age. One woman said, her complexion is okay; another said height is little short; somebody cautioned her mother-in-law to keep a tight hand on her. And hence, the feedbacks poured, from all quarters. Every visible inch of her body was scrutinized and every not-visible inch of her body was speculated upon. An old woman pinched her buttocks, “get some fat here you skinny girl, if you want to deliver healthy babies”, chuckled the woman, bringing others to join into a chorus of laughter. As if she were a cow, in buyers market, whose teeth are checked or moo is listened to or the udder is squeezed… to assess how much milk it will produce.

 

Everyone was laughing, enjoying, small kids, old and young women, men in the house, but it was only she who was sitting with a shivered smile pasted on her humble lips, shivering like a child lost in a jungle. An old woman advised the groom to spank her hard to keep her under control, “an experienced teaching”, she said with a wink.  Some distant relative shared another piece of advice, “never address your husband by name, he is your god now. For any chaste Indian woman it is a sin calling her husband by name, however modern she may be”.

 

She was quietly listening to them, but her heart was hit by a storm of emotions. She was wondering about all these women, they must have suffered/felt the same, which she was facing now.  It was like an initiation ceremony, initiation into this SISTERHOOD OF SUBMISSIVE WOMEN. And, all these women gathered here to see to it that she too is moulded and bend into these set norms of this society, which runs on gender lines.

She was asked to bend…touch one set of feet to another, and thus began the task of subduing a new recruit. How much she longed for at least one soul who would have hugged her warmly and calmed her apprehensions in this new environment.

Though there were no demands or conditions of dowry, yes she should consider herself blessed. But dowry or no-dowry — it is always one of the factors, which decides the attitude of people towards the bride. It is the price tag which decides her brand….her parent’s brand.  And, thus the most important spice in that ladies gathering was to discuss this profit, which will tell whether the groom-side was lucky to have such daughter-in-law or not. So dowry is another social pressure, which such sisterhoods or ladies’ gathering seeks to preserve.

Her father phoned, sister-in-law received the phone with a cold air and called for her. She picked up the phone, holding the receiver too tight with excitement; suddenly there was a hush, all chitter-chatter fell quiet and two-dozens of ears fixed into a position. Her Dad asked if she was all right and everyone was treating her well. She could sense the worry, a helplessness in his voice, as if he had a vision of her state. With her – her whole family was suffering. She missed the soothing solace of his arms, magic touch of her mother’s fingers on her head, playful teasing of her sister.

She had always thought that time has changed. That’s what she was taught in school and University and that’s what her parents had let her believe. And thus, such reality was so troubling for her.  She had never believed herself to stand mute in such adversity, but there she was… mute and trampled upon, her resentment crushed under the social pressure which this institution of marriage was putting on her. What twenty five years of living could not teach her was taught by two hours of ceremonies…that she was a woman, an inferior sex. Next was the attack on her culture, she was corrected and taught new vocabulary, way of living, doing things, time table etc etc. Things which she had done back home were now forbidden here. Why a marriage does not mean an assimilation of culture, why is it a replacement or dominance of one culture over  another…naturally groom’s over the bride’s like those victorious Aryans. Why this concept of victory and defeat, high and low, up and down, ‘groom’s side and bride’s side’.

Her family and she were inferior in their eyes, while groom and his side were superior, including their women as they too had assumed gender of the groom. Everyone was walking, one inch above the ground. So even a toddler had more liberty and privileges then her, if he happens to belong to their side.

Then began the task to train this new entrant (she) as a perfect handmaid for the groom. Her mother-in-law, sister-in-law all came prepared with their advices to inculcate “virtues”, which were essential to keep their son or brother happy. So she was taught to make his favorite dishes, to dress-up according to his taste (though she had come from a sound family with commendable etiquettes, but now her background culture was a defeated culture for them), to address him in subdued tone, to respect and serve his relations, to divert her love and care from her parental family to this new family as this was now the tradition. She was a sapling uprooted from its soil and implanted into new one, but won’t the sapling wilt if the ground is hard and rocky and lacks water and air. And after uprooting her physically, why they wanted to uproot her emotionally too.

Fortunately, her husband was supportive. He stood by her in his own way. So, he was her only pillar on which she could rest upon. She wondered what happens to those women who are unfortunate in getting even this pillar of support. But in an ironic way this whole system of pillar and support vindicates the objective of this sisterhood of submissive women. She had no identity, no identity at all…save her husband. Had he not been there to stand by her, she was a dead end (except the extreme step like absconding the marriage). So ultimately she was made to depend on him, he was that pillar on which she, a cow, was tethered to, and the length of the rope decided the limit of her liberty.

What her in-laws taught her was not entirely wrong, but it was wrong when one tells you all the duties but no rights. To get respect one should give respect too, but while they demanded respect from her but didn’t reciprocate the same. What was the point of all this hostility, prejudices towards her, why all this resentment in accepting her as part of family, why all these tests to see whether she suited them or not. Why she was not treated with equality, with the same love and concern like they had for their son. She was a stranger, an outsider coming into their family, She was more vulnerable then them. And why no rights of guy’s parents are endangered after his marriage but for girl’s parents it is otherwise. Everybody behaves not because they behave that way but because that’s how in-laws behave. It is really funny that the actual agent in this game of gender biasing is not a man against a woman but woman against a woman.Every single custom, suggestion is meant to make her accept herself as an inferior person, a commodity which is owned by someone, i.e. her husband. Everything has a prefix and suffix of: “this is tradition, it happens with everyone”.  

Why do we keep on extending the expiry dates of these wrong practices by giving them a tag of “Traditions”. And when the spell of these sisterhood is going to break