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.

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Abuse of Children in India’s Institutions Reveals Nationwide Crisis of Reform

In IndiaSpend, I look at the state of India’s shelter homes for children to discover endemic abuse and, worse, absolute apathy. 

She has no memory of her early childhood, no recollection of her biological parents and no idea of how or why she got separated from them when she was about three years old.

What she does remember is the day she arrived at the Udayan Home for girls in south Delhi.

“I had then been living at a government-run shelter for some years,” said Ritu, who often uses Udayan as her last name. “I must have been around six years old when this lady came to take three of us away, to give us a life. It was so exciting. I had never sat in a car. Never been anywhere. I was curious about everything.”

Now 25, Ritu is one of the exceptional ones who grew up in a shelter home and found a family. She calls Kiran Modi, the founder of Udayan homes, her bua (aunt, or father’s sister) and the two girls who came to Udayan with her, sisters.

“I had a perfectly normal childhood, going to school, going to the park to play and getting the kind of pampering any child would get in a loving home,” said Ritu, who played basketball for her school team. “I was so pampered and so protected that when I left Udayan, I was scared about how I would cope in the outside world.”

Not every child placed in an institution is as lucky.

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It’s time we recognised that men can get raped too

Now that we are making our child sexual offences law gender neutral, isn’t it time we started talking about adult male rape survivors?

Sohaila Abdulali is telling me about the time many years ago when a man called up a Rape Crisis Centre in the US. He had been raped by a teacher some years ago, he said. But men can’t possibly be raped, replied the people at the centre, and hung up.

This would be unthinkable today, says Abdulali whose book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape is out in October. The fact that men too are victims and survivors of sexual assault and rape is a no-brainer. “Rape is a horrible violation,” she says. “Why would it be any less for a man?” Continue reading “It’s time we recognised that men can get raped too”

The bigot in my drawing room

In Hindustan Times: Atul Kochhar is the symbol of a far more widespread problem – the normalization of prejudice against Muslims.

I run into my college friend after a gap of some years. Post the usual small-talk, she wants to know my views on the tolerance/intolerance debate. I tell her I am worried about the erosion of this country’s social fabric in recent years.

Elaborate, she says.

Muslims, I tell her, at least the ones I speak to, are scared of living in this new India. They worry that they are being watched all the time. They worry that the mutton they cook at home could at any minute turn into beef and this would have deadly consequences for them. They worry about their children. They are just scared.

Good, she says. They should be scared. Continue reading “The bigot in my drawing room”

Children don’t seem to be a priority in this country

In IndiaSpend: Anti-trafficking activist Sunitha Krishnan, one of three finalists for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity spoke to me on sex slavery, rehabilitating victims of sex trafficking and death for raping children.

New Delhi: She’s dodged an acid attack, had a fatwa issued against her and survived 17 separate physical assaults. But Sunitha Krishnan, 46, doesn’t seem to be the sort of person to be easily disheartened. The founder of Prajwala, an organisation that describes itself as a “pioneering anti-trafficking organisation working on the issue of sex trafficking and sex crime”, has just been chosen as one of three finalists for the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, a global humanitarian award established to recognize modern day heroes.  The prize-winner gets $100,000 (Rs 66.3 lakh) and an additional $1,000,000 (Rs 6.63 crore) to distribute to organisations doing humanitarian work.

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Laws by public emotion

In response to public outrage against a spate of reported rapes of children, the government has now brought in an ordinance that imposes death to anyone convicted of raping a girl below 11. Why I think this ordinance won’t work, and what I think will.
The remarkable fact about recent Indian law-making, particularly when it comes to crimes against women, is that it seems to be based entirely on public emotion.

Public anger against the gang-rape of a physiotherapy student in December 2012 led to tough new amendments to the law against sexual violence.

It was public anger again – media folklore had it that the juvenile rapist in that crime was the ‘most violent’ — that led to the lowering of the age of delinquency from 18 to 16. What if the rapist is aged 14, asked one MP, Anu Agha. Notwithstanding that objection, Parliament voted to reduce the age in line with public opinion.

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Why women are falling off the employment map

The murder of a woman in Alwar points to India’s most shockingly under-reported story on why nearly 200 lakh women have quit jobs.

All Usha Devi wanted was to give her kids a good education. The wife of a construction worker knew that her husband’s income was not enough to educate her children, Tanuja, 15, and Dheeraj, 10, and, so, she took a job at a plastic factory.

Not everyone was pleased. Incensed that she was ‘going against Rajput tradition’, her husband’s uncle, Mamraj Singh, objected and, when she refused to quit, hacked her to death on March 15. Mamraj Singh has since been arrested and the murder weapon, a sword, has been recovered. Meanwhile, at Alwar district, Rajput villagers are reportedly collecting funds for the children’s education. Continue reading “Why women are falling off the employment map”

The lamentable humiliations of Hadiya

At the heart of this controversy lies not so much the right of a woman to choose her religion and spouse, but society’s attitude to women.

We should be grateful for small mercies. On International Women’s Day, a day when hashtags were declaring ‘Time’s Up’ and ‘My Body is Mine’, our highest court reaffirmed a more basic right: the right of an adult citizen — woman citizen, I should clarify — to marry.

Social media was split into two camps: Those still convinced that the 24-year-old Hadiya was a victim of brainwashing and, thus, incapable of making rational choices, and those celebrating the court-ordered granting of her ‘freedom’. Continue reading “The lamentable humiliations of Hadiya”

Childcare should not only be a woman’s job

All over the world, the responsibility of bringing up children lies disproportionately with women. A 2015 report by McKinsey Global Institute found that 75% of unpaid care-work – cooking, cleaning, washing, caring for children and the elderly – is done by women.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tweeted this past week that she and her partner Clarke Grayford will “join the many parents who wear two hats. I’ll be PM & a mum while Clarke will be ‘first man of fishing’ & stay at home dad”. The idea that a Head of State is going to experience what countless women in the free (and unfree) world go through is not new.

Benazir Bhutto, once disparagingly referred to as the ‘permanently pregnant prime minister’ — the acronym dovetailed neatly to the party she headed — had three children in and out of office. Her second child, a daughter, was born while she was Pakistan’s prime minister. Perhaps to prove that she was asking for no special concessions for being a woman, Bhutto, who delivered that child by Cesarean section, returned to work the very next day. Continue reading “Childcare should not only be a woman’s job”

A year of assertion when notice has been served on patriarchy

A new generation of anti-status-quoists is unapologetic about its beliefs, unafraid about whom it is taking on and unfettered by the hackneyed script.

No careers were brought down. No global hashtags were created. No roars reverberated throughout the world.

And yet, women in India continued chipping away at that edifice called patriarchy.

In a year that began badly with the molestation of women on the streets of Bengaluru, it might seem out of place to chalk up gender victories. But as the year ended, there was cause for hope. Continue reading “A year of assertion when notice has been served on patriarchy”