“All too often, when we see injustices, both great and small, we think, That's terrible, but we do nothing. We say nothing. We let other people fight their own battles. We remain silent because silence is easier. Qui tacet consentire videtur is Latin for 'Silence gives consent'. When we say nothing, when we do nothing, we are consenting to these trespasses against us.”
― Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist
As the case spanning over nearly a decade-and-a-half finally came to the dockets, the supporters of Dera Sacha Sauda, including swarms of women and children thronged to Panchkula and Chandigarh claiming innocence of Ram Rahim Singh Insaan. In the electoral and political bargaining that happened, everything from Rahim’s movies, to choppers, to rock concerts and jewellery was showered with attention. Yet the spectacle-seeking audience glossed over the two braveheart victims. The incident became more about the personality of a bling Godman rather than the strength it took for the two women coming from Indian hinterland, from families seeped into devotion of ‘pitaji’, who took it upon themselves to stand up for themselves.
Crime against women in India has achieved a chillingly normal status. The mundane sequence of events, the routine paragraphs on page 5 of National newspapers screaming of a host of offences committed against women from age group, right after birth till their dying breath, tells a tragic tale of their status in the country. One of the reasons why it becomes easy to get away with such crimes is often due to the patriarchal notion of ‘honour’ associated with a woman. So during violence, riots, civil strife, women become the first targets to deliver a blow to the entire community. This idea of honour forces women to remain silent, often see perpetrators of the crime every day.
One of the earliest, most hard-hitting incidents that comes to mind, is the gang-rape of Bhanwari Devi in a Rajasthan village in 1992. Ironically, she was a ‘saathin’ or grassroots worker working for the Women’s Development Programme who tried to stop a child marriage. This resulted in rape at the hands of five upper caste men. What followed was a decade-long battle for justice that constantly eluded her. Bhanwari Devi was insulted, ostracised and labelled a liar. Her vaginal swab was delayed, police action hesitant, and her rapists roamed free. 25 years on, Bhanwari still awaits punishment for those who violated her. However, her fight for not just her own self-respect but women’s rights led to the groundbreaking Vishakha Guidelines, when finally India had some semblance of a code against sexual harassment at workplace, which resulted in a law in 2013.
10 years on, across the border, Mukhtaran Bibi in Baloch village of Meerwala, Pakistan was gang-raped at the order of a tribal council of Mastoi clan, a more powerful group than her tribe. Battling for justice was not easy in the badlands of Balochistan with Bibi facing the ire of the social and political systems of the country. The Supreme Court of Pakistan in 2011 acquitted the accused. Bhanwari Devis are not restrained by borders of nation, religion, caste or class. Bibi, despite the threat to her life has been at the forefront to support and educate Pakistani women and girls. Women voicing concerns against violence of any kind is blasphemous for the conservative and fundamentalist sections of society. Like the murder of journalist Gauri Lankesh, a free-thinking woman, who did not fit the strict mould of timid femininity and so, was gunned down. Yet, unfortunately, for the bigots, the explosive ideas of these women can’t be trampled on just as easily.
These women are examples to rising up against atrophied patriarchal system that treats women as mere subjects, lacking agency. These women came from impoverished backgrounds and yet fought gory legal battles to assert what is right. The anonymous letter to then Prime Minister and Chief Justice told a tale of sexual exploitation against numerous sadhvis. Two of them became voice of tens of others, who in the name of piety were turned into instruments of pleasure for a baba riding the high of power. One of the sadhvis saw her brother being murdered and constant threat to her life and that of her loved ones. Yet she persisted and resisted. These women are NOT victims, they are survivors. They are fighters. By speaking up against injustice, against exploitation, against violation of their free will, they become burning symbols for the need to finally not be silent.
Prerna Trehan (Author)