Let’s talk about rape: Eight eminent Indians write open letters in Hindustan Times to discuss the reality of sexual assault in India.
In Part 3 of the series, Shashi Deshpande writes an open letter to Indian men.
I am slightly uneasy at addressing you as ‘dear’ men, in view of the things I am going to say to you. But of course, this is only a formality. It is also a wish and a hope, so let the ‘dear’ remain.
I have for long wanted to speak to you directly on the subject of rape. But I have a suspicion that you don’t want to listen to anything which makes you uncomfortable. Which is why rape has become a problem that only concerns women. But you know, or rather you should know, that it is not a women’s-only issue. There are two parties to any offence – offender and victim; both have to be part of the conversation. So, here goes.
I am sure many of you remember the girl who was gang-raped in a bus in Delhi. Perhaps, you also remember the brutality and savagery with which the rapists treated her. Something strange happened then, something we can’t explain even now: the country erupted in protest. And you too, yes, you men, were part of the protest.
How gladdened I was to see you standing along with the women in this fight. ‘Nirbhaya’, the media called the girl, following the convention that a victim of rape should not be named. But on the first anniversary of her death, her mother, as courageous as her daughter, declared, “My daughter is not Nirbhaya, her name is Jyoti Singh.” Hearing her words, I had goose bumps, as if I was witnessing something momentous. Something momentous had happened. This woman, by declaring that there was no need for her daughter’s identity to be concealed, was denying the shame and humiliation that had always been a rape victim’s lot.
The girl and her death haunted me for long; it still does. But do you know what haunted me more? It was the cruelty with which the men had dealt with the girl. I asked myself: where does this cruelty come from? Agreed that rape comes out of lust, out of looking at women as possessions; but cruelty? It can only come out of hatred. So where does the hatred come from? We can’t escape the truth that most of us, you too, have been brought up by women – and with care and tenderness. Some of the most intimate and tender moments of our lives have been spent with each other.
I know, too, the love with which fathers, brothers, all men look upon the females in their family. Which is why I ask you: do you make a difference between ‘your’ women and ‘other’ women? But if it is so, why do we hear, too often these days, of fathers, brothers, uncles, even grandfathers raping girls in their family? I read a terrible story of a girl raped over a long period of time by her father, brother and uncle. Even more terrible was the fact that the girl’s elder sister, too, had had to endure the same ordeal and had finally committed suicide. The story filled me with horror, anger and pity.
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I am sure most of you will say: what have I to do with rapists? I don’t rape. But let’s put rape in its context, as part of a pattern of taken-for-granted violence which has many facets. Eve-teasing. (What an inadequate phrase!) Stalking. And flashing. I was in hospital after my first son’s birth when a man opened the door and, pretending he was looking for another room, exhibited his pride and glory to me. A woman who had just delivered! But let’s move on.
In the family there’s casual cruelty, there’s wife-beating and marital rape. In the world outside, gang rape is becoming common; they hunt in packs now. The latest trend is acid-throwing.
Rape, however, is an ancient practice. Even the gods raped. Zeus and Indra were both notorious rapists. I wonder how many of you know the story of Ambika and Ambalike, princesses of Kashi, brought by Bhishma to marry his sickly brother King Vichitravirya. When he could not father a son on them, they were forced to sleep with a stranger to provide heirs for the kingdom. They each had a son: Pandu who was white because his mother turned pale and fainted when she saw the stranger she had to sleep with, and Dhritarashtra, who was blind because his mother closed her eyes to the horror of what she had to endure. Such a lot of cruelty and fear concealed in this story, isn’t there? Yet, some people talk of our ancient culture as an ideal one. Not for women, it seems. But let’s give credit to the story-teller who told this as it happened. Forget about the past, we need to make this age better. We can do it only if we work together. Women need to teach their sons to respect women, but there are some things only you can do. Like teaching boys that being gentle is not being unmanly. Teaching them how to deal with their bodily desires without hurting others. And only from your behaviour with women will boys learn that companionship with women is possible. Perhaps, they will then know, when the time comes, what sex really is: a union that is the ultimate expression of love and an act of the greatest shared pleasure for all humans.
Yours in hope
( The author is a novelist and short story writer)
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