By Inshah Malik
21 December, 2012
The gruesome gang rape that happened recently in the capital city New Delhi of India has knocked off the imagination of Indian Nation. The college going ‘girl’ was gang raped in a private bus, six men reportedly in a drunken state are involved in the crime. The barbarity of the incident of shoving iron rod in the private organs of the girl has sent jitters down the spine of conscious young people in the country. This news perturbed me quite irately. I went on to pour condemnation messages all over social media, very emotionally until I remembered Shabnam.
Shabnam was standing near the bus stop, when I arrived in a small local car. She was dim, her face was pale and wrinkled while she was just in her late thirties. In north of Kashmir, a twin village site, Konan-Poshpora which is known for the ‘mass rape’ of some 62 women in early 1990’s by the Indian army, every woman here has a gruesome spine chilling story to share. But Shabnam, She is a symbol of ‘existence’, she exists, quite plainly and different from the rest of the ‘mass’.
She escorted me to her tiny little house by the edge of the green fields that belong to the farming villagers. As I entered, a strange sense of apathy overwhelmed me, Shabnam’s five year old son sat across the room. The room was cold, dark and a repugnant smell engulfed it. This is a room, where Shabnam has lived all her married life, her best and probably the worst moments happened under this roof. As I was sensing it, Shabnam intervened, “I hate this house, i never want to live here. Last year, I had a terrible fight with my husband and first thing I wanted to do is burn this house down”. I almost did, she laughs and continues, “Just five minutes on this straight road from here is an army camp”, and she abruptly fell silent staring the road from the hole in her wooden window. I didn’t know how to progress the conversation in such a situation and I asked, ‘you fight with your husband’. She said in an irritated way, ‘of course, men never understand what happens to us’ and in the same breath, but my husband is an angel, if he was not there for me, I would have killed myself. No man can accept his wife back, after she is ‘raped’.
I was silent for a while, trying to imagine, what must have happened in this place, when in late hours the Indian army men entered each and every house, when there were shrieks of women coming from all the corners. Women were calling all the higher spiritual forces to come to their aid, as I am thinking now of the helplessness of a Delhi girl clutched by barbarians lone in a moving bus while hurt her friend severely.
Shabnam continued sharing her ordeal, ‘how can a man be happy with a woman who can no-longer satisfy his sexual urges, a woman whose genitals are electrocuted’. This detail surprised me because in the mass rape there were no reported instances of torture. She continued, “I was interrogated and raped again, a year after the mass rape happened in this village, they arrested me because my husband’s brother was a militant. Twelve army men raped me and after then gave electric shocks in my genitals. Even after this my husband took me back, for me, isn’t he a prophet? But, I am no longer an able person; he earns little and pays all for my medical treatments”
I was speechless; this was first time for me to face the reality of our political situation as well as my feminine self. I had by now forgotten all lessons of research and knowledge generation that my university prepared me with. I sat unmoved, thinking and listening.
She continued, “that year when the mass rape happened, it was my second year of marriage, a day before that myr husband brought me some gifts and we were still in love, now perhaps I don’t know what we mean by love, it has become such a grave realization. That night they dragged all the men of the village out in a crackdown to hunt militants fighting them for freedom, and they dragged my husband out of the house, it was winter they made him sleep on a six feet high heap of snow. I was watching from the window, I could not see my husband in this condition. I came out of my house and told the army men to leave my husband. My husband became furious and shouted at me, “don’t you see what they are doing to women? Get inside and lock the door. Let me die”.
‘A strange realization dawned on me, my sister who was still unmarried was in the house, I asked her at once to leave the house from the window. This irritated the army men. I ran inside and closed the door, they broke open the door, they were ten or twenty or more, I have no consciousness of that, I just remember, I was bleeding all through the way to hospital. I wish, they assaulted my memory too. I did not have the burden to remember it or narrate it’, she said
I slowly made my way out of that room, which was beginning to appear a hole of dingy darkness; I walked slowly, leaving behind Shabnam with her constant struggle with her memory.
The incident in Delhi that has perturbed us all alike, rape is not merely an assault on a body. Every such violation is an assault on memory which often forces women to shift from ‘living’ to merely ‘existing’. In fact when a woman is raped, she is raped twice: one of her body and another by silence of others. Today, the conscious young women of India must ask questions for Shabnam too because uniform does not remove the barbarity of neither the masculine militaristic state nor the patriarchal mind. In fact, Uniform furthers just these very aspects of cannibalistic colonialism
Inshah Malik is a PhD scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru university
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