Posted: 04 January 2013 at 9:35pm
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"I Fought For My Life…And Won" – Sohaila Abdulal #mustread #Vaw #Rape
Iwasgangrapedthree years ago, whenIwas17 years old. My name and my photograph appear with this article. in 1983, in Manushi.
Igrew up in Bombay, and am at present studying in the USA.Iam writing a thesis onrapeand came home to do research a couple of weeks ago. Ever since that day three years ago,Ihave been intensely aware of the misconceptions people have aboutrape, about those whorapeand those who surviverape.Ihave also been aware of the stigma that attaches to survivors. Time and again, people have hinted that perhaps death would have been better than the loss of that precious"virginity."Irefuse to accept this. My lifeis worth too much to me.
Ifeel that many women keep silent to avoid this stigma, but suffer tremendous agony because of their silence. Men blame the victim for many reasons, and,shockingly, women too blame the victim, perhaps because of internalized patriarchal values, perhaps as a way of making themselves invulnerable to a horrifying possibility.
It happened on a warm July evening.Thatwasthe year women's groups were beginning to demand improved legislation onrape.Iwaswith my friend Rashid. We had gone for a walk and were sitting on a mountainside about a mile and a half from my home in Chembur which is a suburb of Bombay. We were attacked by four men,who were armed with a sickle. They beat us, forced us to go up the mountain, and kept us there for two hours. We were physically and psychologically abused, and, as darkness fell, we were separated, screaming, and theyrapedme, keeping Rashid hostage. If either of us resisted, the other would get hurt. Thiswasan effective tactic.
They could not decide whether or not to kill us. We did everything in our power to stay alive. My goalwasto live and thatwasmore important than anything else.Ifought the attackers physically at first, and with words afterIwaspinned down. Anger and shouting had no effect, soIbegan to babble rather crazily about love and compassion,Ispoke of humanity and the fact thatIwasa human being, and so were they, deep inside. They were gentler after this, at least those who were not raping me at the moment.Itold one of them that if he ensured neither Rashid norIwaskilled,Iwould come back to meet him, the rapist, the next day. Those words cost me more thanIcan say, but two lives were in the balance. The only wayIwould ever have gone back therewaswith a very, very sharp instrument that would ensure that he neverrapedagain.
After what seemed like years of torture (IthinkIwasraped10 times butIwasin so much pain thatIlost track of whatwasgoing on after a while), we were let go,with a final long lecture on what an immoral wh**eIwasto be alone with a boy. That infuriated them more than anything. They acted the whole time as if they were doing me a favour, teaching me a lesson. Theirswasthe most fanatical kind of self righteousness.
They took us down the mountain and we stumbled on to the dark road, clinging to each other and walking unsteadily. They followed us for a while, brandishing the sickle, and thatwasperhaps the worst part of all—escapewasso near yet death hung over us. Finally we got home, broken, bruised, shattered. Itwassuch an incredible feeling to let go, to stop bargaining for our lives and weighing every word because we knew the price of angering themwasa sickle in the stomach. Relief flooded into our bones and out ofour eyes and we literally collapsed into hysterical howling.
Ihad earnestly promised the rapists thatIwould never tell any one but the minuteIgot home, told my father to call the police Hewasas anxious asIwasto get them apprehended.Iwaswilling to do anything to prevent someone else having to go through whatIhad been through. The police were insensitive, contemptuous, and somehow managed to make me the guilty party. When they asked me what had happened,Itold them quite directly, and they were scandalized thatIwasnot a shy, blushing victim. When they said there would be publicity,Isaid thatwasall right. It had honestly never occurred to me that Rashid orIcould be blamed. When they saidIwould have to go into a home for juvenile delinquents for my "protection."Iwaswilling to live with pimps and rapists, in order to be able to bring my attackers to justice.
SoonIrealized that justice for women simply does not exist in the legal system. When they asked us what we had been doing on the mountain,Ibegan to get indignant. When they asked Rashid why he had been "passive",Iscreamed. Didn't they understand that his resistance meant further torture for me? When they asked questions about what kind of clothesIhad been wearing, and why there were no visible marks on Rashid's body (he had internal bleeding from being repeatedly hit in the stomach with the handle of the sickle),Ibroke down in complete misery and terror, and my father threw them out of the house after telling them exactly what he thought of them. Thatwasthe extent of the support the police gave me. No charges were brought. The police recorded a statement that we had gone for a walk and had been "delayed" on our return.
It has been almost three years now, but there has not been even one day, whenIhave not been haunted by what happened. Insecurity, vulnerability, fear, anger, helplessness—Ifight these constantly. Sometimes whenIam walking on the road and hear footsteps behindIstart to sweat and have to bite my lip to keep from screaming.Iflinch at friendly touches,Ican't bear tight scarves that feel like hands round my throat,Iflinch at a certain look that comes into men's eyes—that look is there so often.
Yet in many waysIfeel thatIam a stronger person now.Iappreciate my life more than ever. Every day is a gift.Ifought for my life, and won. No negative reaction can make me stop feeling that this is positive.
Ido not hate men. It is too easy a thing to do, and many men are victims of different kinds of oppression. It is patriarchyIhate, and that incredible tissue of lies that say men are superior to women, men have rights which women should not have, men are our rightful conquerors.
My feminist friends all assume thatIam concerned about women's issues becauseIwasraped. This is not so. Therapewasone expression of all the reasons whyIam a feminist. Why compartmentalizerape? Why assumerapeis only an unwanted act of intercourse ? Are we notrapedevery day when we walk down the street and are leered at ? Are we notrapedwhen we are treated as sex objects, denied our rights, oppressed in so many ways ? The oppression of women cannot be analysed unidimensionally. For example, a class analysis is very important, but it does not explain why most rapes occur within one's own class.
As long as women are oppressed in various ways, all women will continue to be vulnerable torape. We must stop mystifyingrape. We must acknowledge its existence all round us, and the various forms it takes. We must stop shrouding it in secrecy, and must see it for what it is — a crime of violence in which the rapist is the criminal.
Iam exultant at being alive. Beingrapedwasterrible beyond words, butIthink being alive is more important. When a woman is denied the right to feel this, there is something very wrong in our value system. When someone is mugged and allows herself to be beaten in order to survive, no one thinks she is guilty of willing consent to be beaten. In the case ofrape, a woman is asked why she let them do it, why she did not resist, whether she enjoyed it.
Rapeis not specific to any group of women, nor are rapists a particular group of men. A rapist could be a brutal madman or the boy next door or the too friendly uncle. Let us stop treatingrapeas the problem of other women. Let us acknowledge its universality and come to a better understanding of it.
Until the basis of power relationships in this world changes, until women cease to be regarded as the property of men, we will have to live in constant fear of being violated with impunity.
Iam a survivor.Idid not ask to berapedandIdid not enjoy it. Itwasthe worst tortureIhave ever known.Rapeis not the woman's fault, ever. This article is one contribution towards exploding the silence and the comfortable myths which we build up to convince ourselves we are not potential victims, thus consigning actual victims to the most agonizing isolation a human being can know.
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