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Priyanka Dubey’s new book No Nation for Women is extremely painful to read for anyone with any empathy. But why is it an essential read for all of us today?
The title is quite self-explanatory, and I had an inkling of what I was signing up for when I was asked to review this book.
I thought I was strong and mature enough to handle the distress. I always think that, and then I fall on my face. Because every time I think I am capable enough, inhumanity hits me in the face really hard. I shatter from inside, I cry, I almost scream, I hold my heart, I close the book, I want to throw it away in the deep seas. I want to hold my loved one and screech my soul out, and then get back to normalcy and lead my very normal life, with average expectations and dreams, till I am reminded again of the millions of women out there who could not do all this, anything of this.
No Nation for Women is divided into 13 chapters that span from corrective rapes, crimes against De-notified Tribes of India, in-custody rapes, human trafficking and its many deep-rooted layers, child sexual abuse, rapes as a tool for establishing caste supremacy, rape and sexism inside the Indian police force, rapes as a part of regimental politics and the state of rehabilitation of rape survivors in India – on books & ground reality. The author also discusses some really brutal cases like the Bhagana gang rape, the Badaun sisters gang rape and the Banda rape case.
It didn’t come as a very huge surprise to me that most of the victims were also victims of caste atrocities. I read about cases as recent as 2012-13. Only some 6-7 years back! I think all those who deny caste-system should read the book like right now. Many of the rapes that are a manifestation of the unfair caste hegemony are also a direct result of the abject poverty of the victims and their families.
The book assumes an extremely compassionate tone when it discusses various cases and when it tells us about the survivors and their families, but takes a very stern and objective tone at the policies – drafted and implemented, and their ground truth. Not once does the author turn a biased eye to any political party or person. Armed with facts and figures and sources, the author manages to strip down the shortfalls of every single political party that has been in existence in India since independence and doesn’t mince words when she talks about how they all failed the women of this country.
The author also discusses numbers and statistics of the reported rapes as well as the conviction rates in those, and one might find themself aghast at the wide difference between the two.
For eg. In one case of corrective rapes of Bundelkhand, where the victim was burnt completely, the dying declaration was rejected because the lawyer stated that the victim could have been delirious and hence the declaration doesn’t stand valid. This passage given below is one of the several heart-churning moments of the book:
“Kantadevi claimed that Rohini had named all four accused in her dying declaration, and had signed against the statement. Yet, the defence lawyer of the accused successfully proved in court that the declaration – the central piece of evidence around which the case was built – was invalid. He asserted that the absence of ‘a note on the physical and mental status of the victim while giving the dying declaration’ was a major loophole. In his view, the victim, with 100 percent burn injuries, was mentally unfit – in a state of ‘delirium’ – and her version of truth cannot be trusted.”
We speak about simply reported cases, but there are several unreported cases. Like in one case the victim’s father very matter-of-factly says that had only his child been raped, he wouldn’t even file a complaint because it’s a very regular thing there, but since these were 4 girls raped, they had support of other people and got courage and the whole village got angry and reported. If this is not miserable, I do not know what else is!
There is a chapter dedicated to Tripura and its political rapes.
The grouse that Tripura has with the centre and all the governments that have been a part of the centre since the last 70 years, is that they do not care for regions that extend beyond the metros.
Representation of the states itself is a huge issue, we cannot even start about how representation of women and their living conditions in these areas is problematic. And it isn’t a great surprise that in any sort of power dynamics, the first victims of power are always women and children. In similar essence, in another chapter of the book, the author discusses the brutality and injustice that the De-notified Tribes in India are subjected to.
There are cases where I was horrified by the amount of victim-shaming that the victims and their families had to undergo. One passage to give an idea I quote here –
“The accused lured my daughter into their basement room by offering chocolates and chips. She is a child. She trusted them so she went in. But some neighbors would say that we didn’t take good care of our children and that my daughter was greedy. It was so painful that we left that area.”
Mothers listening helplessly to their daughters screaming for help, fathers trying to understand how two holes of his daughter’s body merged, and how are mere humans capable of such heinous barbarities, fathers blaming mothers for not taking care of the girls: “Wo le kaise gaye ladki ko? Hum maar dalenge tumko wapas aakar” (How did they even take the girl away from you? I’ll kill you when I come home!), society blaming women for their own plight – disturbing as these conversations are, they are vital to our social fabric.
Another perspective that opens up in these and many other chapters is the plight of the survivors post-rape. In many cases, these women are subjected to abuse and apathy from their own families.
For eg, this passage – “The oldest among the six, Woman A starts talking first. She shows me scars of the wounds around her lower ribs and back. ‘Four years have passed by. But even now whenever my husband finds some money to buy cheap roadside alcohol, he gets drunk. And then he gets angry and screams. He says that I was gang-raped and then beats me. I know that he can’t do anything to those who raped us that night. But he feels terribly angry for me. The easiest thing for him on such nights is to beat me. So he abuses and beats me.”
(Do note the “apology for the abuser” in the above passage. This is the sort of conditioning that we are up against.)
There is so much more – About how the response shown by a woman during her rape has to be in line with what the investigating men expect, else it is not rape at all as per them. Any response other than crying, flailing and resisting at the cost of getting killed, is simply unacceptable and throws open the gates of blatant maligning and sexism against the woman, not just at their professional posts but also at their homes. The concept of consent is a far call in these places where they refuse to even look at a woman for the human she is.
Look at this passage – “I have already lost my husband in conflict. That day my sister was murdered. Our family has seen too much violence. So when they dragged me out of the vehicle, I went quietly. Those who ask me why I did not resist, would they have come to feed my children had the men slaughtered me? I wasn’t in a position to resist. I have lost too much in life to resist. I wanted to live because I had children waiting back home.”
It is also important to note that policewomen also display a lot of internalized misogyny just to ensure acceptance among their peers (for eg. They do things like harassing young couples and arresting college-going women for wearing ‘fashionable’ clothes and having make-up kits).
While talking about the statistics of women police force and their deplorable living conditions (no proper training, no ladies’ toilets, have to work twice as hard as male policemen and face ten times more abuse and sexism if they HAVE to climb the ladders within the profession etc), the author also takes us through the understanding of the problems of the widows of the policemen who are drafted after the deaths of their husbands.
The writer then goes on to elaborate the many references that form the core of her book and each reference tells us how painstakingly researched the book is. The author has travelled to these remote places to get these details and I am in awe of her resilience.
The book does suffer from poor editing, there are jarring tense issues and a couple of language errors that have been overlooked, but the kind of content it holds is extremely essential knowledge. I think every single person of this country should read this book at least once to understand the extent of patriarchy and its roots and how it plays out in the rape situation of the country.
They keep telling me that I should be objective when I review such books. Because people need “facts” and “figures”.
But how do I keep my emotions at bay, when I imagine two little bodies hanging from a branch of a mango tree in a remote village. Why did no one pursue this further? Even if they decided that the girls killed themselves, why did no one try to pursue the reason behind it? Shame? Honor? These are the reasons? Or patriarchy that bestows unrealistic expectations of honor ONLY on women?
Why did these questions not trouble anyone? Was it because these were just “facts” and “figures”? And not two little, living, breathing girls hopeful & happy?
How am I supposed keep my feelings in check when I read about a bright teenager who dreamt of getting into police, but because she was angry at the eve-teasers and dared to display it, her body was found badly mutilated and raped near a canal just 200 metres from her house? How do I forget the description of the eyes of the brother who saw his dead sister and is now not willing to study further for the fear of retribution?
Priyanka Dubey’s No Nation for Women was a tight slap in my face. While I scream on social media about how stereotyping, and gender-based condescension, and sexism needs to be done away with, one virtual rape threat and I go hide in my cozy, privileged shell for days. “Don’t be so hard on yourself” my friends and family tell me. But, I am scared. Of a virtual threat.
I am not being hard on myself but the world is being hard on us. It’s scary how normalised violence is in here. It’s scary how easily if I discard my caste identity, if my loved ones forget to check on me, if I leave my shell, or if I do nothing at all out of these, I will become a single number and no one would really care if my body is cut into pieces and thrown in a trash can. None of my angst, my dreams and my ambitions would remain then. Into dust will go everything. And since there is no remembrance, there is no power, no justice, no me.
And despite all the hurt and the pain, am I glad I got to read the book? Yes, because all these victims deserve to be heard. They deserve to be read about. I would never trade this for anything else, I can assure you.
“As rootless as I am, I never belonged anywhere ever in the true sense. So I always felt more disgusting and less shocked”, says Priyanka and I can only echo her words.
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Image source: a still from the movie 1947 Earth and book image Amazon
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