Friday, June 16, 2017

Spring cleaning and some thoughts on the forgotten women

While cleaning out old boxes, I came across some handwritten notes that I must have scribbled down sometime after the Delhi gang rape survivor succumbed to her injuries. Sharing with slight editing - new notes are in italics.

My acquaintance to the Star Trek universe has been brief and recent, but one episode from the original series sticks to my memory. Captain Kirk and his crew visit a planet that has been at war with another planet for hundreds of years, but it is a peculiar sort of war. Instead of actually fighting, the warring sides have come to an agreement: each side will occasionally declare a casualty - a random citizen of the other side, picked for slaughter as a token to the ongoing war. The citizen thus picked has to accept their fate and walk into some sort of death chamber. I'm hazy on the details, but the geeks will know.

Women in this country seem to be living in a similar state of war The enemy has to just pick any of us as their casualty, and it is the end of the world for her. Society may scream for vengeance, but they won't put up a fight for this girl's right to a normal life. For a people obsessed with the sanctity of the vagina, this woman ceases to exist nearly as soon as this sanctum is violated. Think all the old movies glorifying and normalizing a rape victim's suicide. Once her narrative function is served, once a villain rapes a hero's sister, there is no point in keeping her character alive for the rest of the film, right? Even fans of Sansa Stark stopped watching GoT when she was raped. Her story, as far as some people are concerned, ended with that violation.

It doesn't matter that she may still have a functioning brain, a body capable of springing back to its former vitality, strength and beauty, and even - horror of horrors - experiencing sexual pleasure after the wounds heal. No, rape is no mere injury - it is a violation, an irreversible alteration of a woman's sense of existence. You're declared a casualty the minute a set of nefarious eyes is cast on you, the moment a man decides to abuse you for his perverted pleasure or vengeance or whatever he considers it in his mind -  regardless of your personal choice, your will to live, you will be made to walk into the death chamber.

Just as we have taken this state of war for granted, so have we also accepted the war zones - certain spaces and places deemed unsafe at all times or at specific times of the day, certain modes of dressing that apparently invite enemy fire, certain behaviors, etc. You do this, you'll get raped, you're told. You go there, you wear that, you're asking for it. You're not even a legitimate casualty if you break The Code. This has always been a one-sided war.

So what has changed?

For the first time in my conscious memory, I have seen my side put up a fight. The protests in Delhi are not against the six pathetic men who committed the brutal crime that has triggered national outrage. This is a fight to reclaim our space, our movement, our choices. This is about questioning the boundaries unilaterally drawn around us. Somewhere in all this, is the fight to stay alive. It is about not letting her become another casualty. She did not pick this battle.

I heard about her passing away on the radio while driving to work. For a moment I could not see the road ahead clearly. I hadn't cried when I heard about the rape. She wasn't dead to me before she actually died.

That is more than could be said about a lot of other women, still alive but long forgotten, living a sub-human life, not because they re no longer capable of holding jobs or loving or gossiping or enjoying good food - but because the world around them has marked them as a casualty and moved on, leaving them frozen in the moment when that special someone cast eyes on them.

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