Nilanjana S. Roy’s account of scars that have not healed and the possibility of forgiving but not forgetting are all too familiar (“Our bodies, our selves,” March 8). Not to forget the nightmares that you constantly need to wake up from to remind yourself that you are safe. Candlelight vigils and protests against sexual abuse may be good but unfortunately they don’t help much.
Taking a closer look at our own homes will help. Is it a place where the mother is a lesser being than the father; where the son believes he has a right to more freedom than his sister; where women maintain that they are secondary to men and that is how it should be; and where people are scared to stand up for one another for fear of society? If yes, nothing has changed and nothing will change.
Child abuse by known and trusted persons has assumed epidemic proportions and needs to be tackled in a concerted manner. The author is a brave-heart who not only transcended the trauma but had the courage to narrate the sordid chapter of her life. Exposing and locking up in jail a few molesters will send a strong signal of disapproval and deterrence to potential abusers. The victims of abuse should not be ostracised by society. A strong network of social support systems can help mitigate the pain and humiliation suffered by them.
Women seldom exercise their rights, and they give up on their dreams and desires in the name of family honour and tradition. They should stand up for their choices because society will not give up its vice-like grip on them. The consent that Ms Roy is talking about is denied to women on some pretext or the other; thus, it becomes imperative for them to fight for it as their legitimate right.
Although India’s conscience was awakened by the 23-year old Delhi student’s gang rape and death, most cases of sexual abuse happen within the family or the neighbourhood. Our culture promotes silence, in the fear that talking about the incident will jeopardise the girl’s future — marriage. The system encourages abuse by husband, including marital rape, as divorce is treated as taboo. And most women cling on to their marriage either because they lack the financial wherewithal to carry on with their lives or because they dread the torture they will endure as divorcees. Even if we celebrate women’s progress on International Women’s Day, the fact that an average Indian woman faces a threat to her self-esteem, or even her life, for the remaining 364 days is hard to ignore.
Why is the government reluctant to make marital rape a serious offence? Is it not enough to be hectored on the streets? Do women have to succumb to the ravishing strides even at home just because they are married? Getting married does not mean the woman gives her consent to be treated like a sex toy.
Marriage does not give the absolute right to men over women. Women’s bodies are not a commodity to be acquired through marriage. Yes, marriage does involve consent but it does not mean consent for everything all the time. We need a strong law against marital rape to protect the liberty and the very being of women.
Ms Roy deserves praise for sharing her trauma as a victim of child abuse and ultimately overcoming it. For an educated, English speaking, Hindu woman who is also lucky enough to get the support of her partner, family and counsellors, it is easier to heal, if not forget, the wounds. But for a Dalit, tribal or Muslim woman or simply a poor woman, the same wounds can be worse.
The feminist discourse in India is highly exclusive in its approach. It is similar to the American white-centric feminist discourse before the arrival of black feminist scholars like bell hooks. That the issues concerning gender and those of caste, class, and ethnicity are not mutually exclusive is often overlooked by academicians.