What we talk about when we talk about rape

A new book by my friend and college room-mate  Sohaila Abdulali explores the idea that victims of sexual violence are not broken beings. Awful as it is, rape is survivable, and those who have been raped are deserving and capable of happiness again. 

I don’t remember the precise moment when my then college roommate, Sohaila Abdulali, told me about being gangraped when she was 17. It was just an incontestable fact of her life: she was from Mumbai, she loved to dance, her parents grew orchids, she had been raped.

This is not to imply that being raped was not a big deal. It was. If I remember correctly, this is how she explained it. “It’s like being run over by a bus and getting terribly hurt. You might never fully recover from your injuries. But you go on living. You can be happy again.”

In the three decades that Sohaila has remained my friend, she has never let that single event define her life, even though it is an inseparable part of who she is. Three years after being raped and while writing her undergraduate thesis on rape in India, she created a minor stir by writing about her own experience for Manushi. Nobody, at least not in India, had ever written about being raped. Nobody had run such an article with their photograph.

Continue reading “What we talk about when we talk about rape”

Leila Seth: Words like justice

A new book by the first woman high court chief justice offers insights into the causes affecting women today.

At the sprightly age of 84, Leila Seth is busy planning her schedule. There are literary seminars to attend, talks to be given to schoolchildren, a book that has just been launched and, yes, already, another book to be written.

The latest is barely out. Launched on her 84th birthday on 20 October, Talking Of Justice: People’s Rights In Modern India is a collection of essays on subjects the former chief justice of the Himachal Pradesh high court holds dear: children’s rights, the status of widows, the need for gender sensitization within the judiciary, prisoner rights, the girl child. Continue reading “Leila Seth: Words like justice”

Book Review | A Rebel And Her Cause

Physician, writer and avowed communist, Rashid Jahan was an inspiration for young Muslim women.

Woman of fire

In the winter of 1932, three men and a woman published a collection of short stories and sparked a literary storm. Sajjad ZaheerAhmad AliSahibzada Mahmuduzaffar and the woman, Rashid Jahan, were writing an angry book, Angarey (embers) that railed against social inequity, hypocritical maulvis and the exploitation of women in a deeply patriarchal society.

The book was publicly condemned at the central standing committee of the All-India Shia Conference at Lucknow as a “filthy pamphlet” that had “wounded the feelings of the entire Muslim community”. The Urdu press called for a ban. Clerics issued fatwas. Demonstrations were held outside book stores and the publisher had to issue a written apology and surrender unsold copies to the government. Within three months of its publication, the British had banned this “immoral” book. Today, apparently just five copies of the original version exist. Continue reading “Book Review | A Rebel And Her Cause”