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      Volume 12 |Issue 01| January 04, 2013 |


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Writing the Wrong

A Savage December, 2012

Sharbari Ahmed

“Most men fear getting laughed at humiliated by a romantic prospect while most women fear rape and death”
– Gavin de Becker

I followed the story, not closely, because it evoked too much emotion in me. Call me a coward or self centred—you would be correct on both counts—but I simply could not process the brutality of what happened to a young Indian woman on a public bus in Delhi. But now, she is dead, and for her sake—and mine– I have to focus on it.

A mere two days before she was raped with a metal rod for an hour because she got on a bus after watching a movie and wanted to go home, 17 first graders were gunned down a few miles up the road from me and my son in Newtown, CT, an upscale, sleepy town, much like the one I live in.

I am connected to both these events—as are all of you—so don't kid yourselves that it's all too far away.

I know nothing, but I am going to attempt—for my own sanity—to make sense of these acts of abject violence that have definitely coloured the beginning of 2013 for me.

Indian protestors pose with placards during a rally against the gang-rape and murder of a student in New Delhi. Photo: AFP

Both acts have to do with power, and the perpetrators' sense of powerlessness. Rape and violation are never about sex, it is always about power and control. Adam Lanza, the 20 year old gunman who walked calmly into his childhood elementary school with four weapons, and killed 27 people, the majority of them very small children, felt powerless, small and disenfranchised and so he exacted his revenge on his mother and anyone he came across at that moment. His alienation made him sick-among other physiological issues that are slowly emerging. The six rapists on that bus took a metal rod and violated a young girl for almost an hour, and then threw her off the moving vehicle, taking their “power” back.

I have watched men in Bangladesh, in the Emirates and when I was younger, in India. I was 14 when I first became cognizant of what I now call the “predatory” gaze that was tinged with a barely concealed hostility. I even almost became victim to it once or twice. Once, in Newmarket in Dhaka, when I was about 16, a man looked at my chest and said he would cut off my breasts. Had he gotten me alone, he might have done just that. I was with a cousin and she said, we are told to wear dupattas to cover our chests so they are not tempted, but that doesn't even work. We were both taken aback by how angry he was by my body, my femininity.

“Why was he so angry?” we both wanted to know. I know now, I think. Here I was, an object—make no mistake he did not view me as whole or even human-- that evoked in him frustration. The essence of his desire is natural—hormones, survival; the suppression of it is acute and thus, the way it manifests itself is ungodly.

There are several complex strains at work here. It's not just about the fact that sexual impulse has no outlet for young men in these societies, in fact, I will wager that is the least of it. For men, a great deal of their self worth is tied up in their self determination. In the places like the ones mentioned, including Bangladesh, the majority of young men have so few opportunities for professional and educational growth, and the odds of leading a full, stable life are stacked against them. Eventually, their impotency can and does often turn to violence against those more vulnerable, and lower on the food chain—women and children.

Then there is the culturally inculcated misogyny that is part and parcel of South Asian society. India is the world's fastest growing democracy, and that is greatly due to the fact that women, more than ever are finding their footing professionally. They are earning the money, running households single handedly, taking on roles of leadership that were once inaccessible to them. Whatever opportunities are being given, women are grabbing them. This is precisely how it is supposed to be anywhere. It is natural, balanced and rational. It is the only way for a society to evolve. However, this progress is happening in an environment where every 22 minutes a woman is raped, where female infanticide and selective abortion are rampant, where the images on the screen and on the TV are showing women who objectify themselves, forget about anyone else doing it to them. I remember acutely as a child watching a Bollywood movie starring Poonam Dhillon where her character is raped and then falls in love with her rapist. I was ten or younger. It was very confusing to me. I knew the man did a bad thing to her—she looked so helpless—and so when, a few frames later, she was smiling at him coyly and dancing in the mountains with him, I was baffled. I did not know she was raped—I was too young to understand that—but my child's sensibility knew that she shouldn't be gallivanting with him through a meadow in Kashmir or wherever it was after what he did.

Think about the signal this sends the young men and boys of India. How are generations of these sons, who are told they are inherently superior to their mothers and sisters, yet nothing if they are not born into a certain class going to reconcile watching women rise up and claim what is their right? They are not. It has and will continue to evoke a savagery in them that is endemic.

Ok, that is how I am processing it. I cannot go into how ineffective gun control laws in the US are or that funding is cut every cycle for the mentally ill in the “greatest” democracy in the world. Finally, the debates are coming to the fore, from both these acts of violence. Indian women—and some men—are refusing to be silenced and perhaps some progress will be made. But the madness continues and the children of Sandy Hook Elementary or the young woman who suffered so brutally in New Delhi have sacrificed their lives for what? Think about the countless other women and girls whose deaths and suffering did not or will not make it into the headlines. I guess only time will tell.


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