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She is Dead. But Can We be Said to Live?

By       Message Pubali Ray Chaudhuri     Permalink
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I am in mourning. No, not for the dead 23 year old victim of one of the most brutal rapes our woman-hating country, India, has yet seen. To her the cease of struggle, the sleep and rest after unbearable suffering. To us the questions, the self-criticism, the challenge to step up. To her the end of agony; to us, the beginning of agonizing, and, though I say it with no great assurance, the promise of a better tomorrow. We can make it happen. But will we? She, her entrails torn from her, had yet the courage to fight till her last breath; do we, our bodies intact and whole, have the stomach for our own fight? For it is a fight that we are facing; make no mistake about it; it is a fight. A battle, a war. Against, as I have said before, India's hatred of women. This battle has to be fought with our own fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends. It has to be fought in hundreds of millions of homes across India. It is a fight that is an ongoing project, a continuing, wearisome struggle. There has not been an ultimate victory in this fight even in the West. It is a fight from which, in India, most of us cringe. We prefer to hide from it, to pretend it is not to be fought. But it does.

It has to be fought with ourselves.

Misogyny stares at us across the breakfast table in India. Misogyny sways and sweats alongside us as we travel in crowded buses and trains to go to work. Misogyny works at the desk next to us, goes shopping with us, meets us after work for drinks. Misogyny shares our bed with us at night.

Misogyny stares at us from the mirror each morning. It is there and everywhere else that we must confront it.

I will not say: This is a fight we can no longer afford to ignore, because the truth is we could never have afforded to ignore it. This rape, this death, represents nothing at all new. Women are raped every day, many women, all across India, in police custody and out of it. The rape of each and every woman matters, whether she be an Adivasi activist Soni Suri, raped in police custody with stones inserted into her vagina and rectum, or a middle-class, probably upper-caste young woman disembowelled at night on public transport. Each and every woman matters, and our response if it counts one above the other is selective and therefore inadequate.

As Arundhati Roy has pointed out, we have a culture of rape. The word "culture" is pertinent. Indian culture is like a lab culture where rapes are inevitably manufactured because they are the natural, organic, inexorable result of our hatred for women. This is not foreign culture; it is not a result of British rule. This is Made With Pride in India. And it's everywhere.

What are we to understand by "a culture of rape"? Why simply this, that misogyny is as endemic, as indigenous, to our culture as salt to brackish water. It is so commonplace the stench of it has ceased to bother us. And yet one could give example after example, cite instance after instance, easily sufficient to fill volumes, of the relentless, casual misogyny we women are subjected to every day and to which we have learned to subject ourselves and one another, thus completing the patriarchal triumph, forging our own fetters with our own toil.

"Women drivers! Don't tell me about them! A nuisance, that's what they are. Ha, ha!" guffaws Father.

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"Ha,ha!" we flute back, eager to please Father. After all, it's only a joke, isn't it? Father is a nice man, and we must have a sense of humour. Humourless hoors are loved by nobody. Smile. Swallow the smart.

"These women should watch how they dress. After all, provocative clothing, you know, and boys naturally...," says Uncle.

And we nod in agreement. Uncle will be pleased with our womanly acquiescence. After all, it is "not done" to contradict elders.

"You're a woman, my dear; learn patience!" counsels Aunt.

Quite. Aunt has had more experience of the world than we have; she has learned, in the American idiom, to get along by going along. So we learn patience of Aunt.

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"You women! None of you can think logically!" Thus a rational colleague at work. Our response? Silence. For who would we go to for redress of this form of sexual harrassment? Who would call it sexual harrassment? The even more rational male boss? The self-rationalized female boss, who might pull an Aunt and tell us to "learn to take things lightly," "learn to adjust"?

Sometimes it's just a look. The look of joy when the long-awaited male heir finally puts in an appearance. The look of disappointment at the birth of yet another accursed female. The strained smile with which demands for more dowry are met. The glance, the gesture, the sigh. In such things are our stories told. In such things do they remain untold.

Want to list more instances? Be my guest. Write to me your stories. I bet there are trillions - sorry, can't think of the next bigger number, but trillions will do to start with - trillions of such stories that you could tell me if you spoke, sister women and any brothers courageous enough to face the truth. So tell them. Break the silence, for one woman at least can speak no more. And though we walk and talk and move and breathe, our continued dishonesty about India's misogyny makes us more rotting corpses than she will ever be.

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Pubali Ray Chaudhuri lives and writes in the Bay Area of California. She is Associate Editor at Intrepid Report

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She is Dead. But Can We be Said to Live?