Being raped was terrible beyond words, but I think being alive is more important.Sohaila Abdulali, Rape Survivor
The idea that rape is the worst thing that could happen to a woman is so ingrained in our psyche that we rarely question it. And so, a raped woman is called a ‘zinda laash’. She becomes a ‘victim’ and not a survivor.
Yes, rape is a horrific crime; a nauseating act of power and oppression often misunderstood as an act of sexual perversion which causes intense trauma. And thanks to our institutions, which fail the rape survivor at every step of the way, the trauma is magnified.
But rape is not murder. To think that would mean that we, as a society, value a woman’s ‘honour’ more than we value her life; honour which we have arbitrarily decided resides in her vagina.
The problem, though, is that we do think that rape means the end of a woman’s life. And this thinking has seeped into our courts, in the way we talk and write about rape, and even in our lack of infrastructural support for women.
When Death Is Considered Preferable to Rape
A rape is not an act of sexual perversion; it is a desire to express power. Which is why the consequences of rape cannot be only measured in physical terms. It is an extreme form of violation of a woman’s consent, and the way she understands her identity.
But when we consider rape to be a violation of a woman’s ‘honour’ – that intangible construct – we are looking at it as a social crime. A rupture in our idea of an ideal woman, where a raped woman is no longer acceptable.
And it isn’t a matter of abstraction. ‘Zinda laash’ is a term which has been used in the courts, as an argument against rape.
During the Shakti Mills gangrape case, the prosecutor argued that the survivors “had been scarred for life” and “would never recover from their vegetative state.”
Maybe the argument was being made to obtain justice for the rape survivors or maybe it was just a case of courtroom theatrics. But when the very pursuit of justice means that a rape survivor should view herself as half-dead, shouldn’t the idea of justice be reviewed?
A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?
Recently, a Dalit girl in Rohtak was gangraped by the same men who raped her in 2013. When the rape took place, the accused men were out on bail. The girl’s family had shifted from Bhiwani to Rohtak, fending off pressure to settle the case out of court. In the outrage which followed the incident, there were demands for the death penalty and for bail to be denied to the rape accused. But what about protection for the survivor? What about measures to prevent the rape survivor from being intimidated?
The rape survivor was, once again, a footnote.
In an interview with The Wire, Flavia Agnes said:
This incident brings to the fore the issue that our entire criminal justice system talks only about punishment for the accused. There is very little talk of support for the victim. Nobody is talking about what the victim needs, how she can be rehabilitated after the incident.
Abysmal lack of infrastructural support for rape survivors in India is a fact. And a fact which intensifies the trauma of being a woman who is raped in India. Even if a rape survivor decides to fight for justice, she is humiliated at every step.
The trauma of being a rape survivor becomes a permanent fixture in her narrative. And so, why should a rape survivor not feel like her life has become insignificant after the rape?