Any news or discussion concomitant to sexual violence, especially women circulates like a forest fire becoming the burning issue of the hour. While sexual violence has been an effective patriarchal weapon in violating the dignity of women, one needs to gauge and intensify the insight why rape of a woman grabs heightened attention.
A woman is historically associated with the body and the man with the mind (the Cartesian mind-body split). Whether it is religion or the medical discourses the central principle is rooted in controlling and regulating the bodies of women. The confinement of women with the private realm and her domestication has been intertwined with the distribution of property. If the child is borne out of an “illegitimate” relationship it will call for dissemination of property to the person who does not share the ‘blood’ of the family. The taboo of the illegitimate child is interlocked with economy under the veil of honour. It is owing to the same reason that Brahmin women were restricted within the private space of the home which is a metaphor for safety and security. This was an attempt to abstain the mixing of ‘impure’ blood of the lower caste men if they entailed in sexual relationship with ‘pure’ upper-caste Brahmin women.
Since childhood, a substantial part of a woman’s socialization is woven around her body. Whether it is her apparel or her posture, she is persistently reminded by her parents, the school and college authority the need to dress in a ‘decent’ manner, the imperative to conduct ‘appropriately’ and is given a list of proscriptions about how she should not sit or walk. An intimate scrutiny would reveal that the autonomy enjoyed by a woman is nominal as she has to be conscious 24×7 about the fashion in which she regulates her body. This preoccupation with the management and administration of a woman’s body insinuates that a woman’s honour and self-esteem rests in her body. Any scar in her body becomes a scar to her pride. Her body becomes synonymous to her womanhood. Hence, any blot to her self-respect can be injected through corporeal violation that would be an injury to her self-esteem too. This perception of purity of a woman’s body underscores the misogynistic attitude within a patriarchal framework that has been trailing the project of civilization.
During sexual assault, when a woman’s body is violated, it is her sanctity, chastity and purity which are throttled. The collective wrath regarding sexual offences against the perpetrators is not because the dignity of the woman has been violated. But it is because through bodily laceration, her self-esteem and right to life has been annihilated. She becomes the ‘zinda laash’ as made famous or infamous by a prominent political leader. The projection is that her life comes to an end and she loses the spirit of finding meaning from life. Hence, she should be ostracized from the mainstream society because it is assumed that her sexual assault has rolled down a curtain to the normalcy of her life. She becomes the shame of the family. This notion of shaming and humiliation instigates war crimes of sexual offences, ethnic cleansing and rape camps to seek vengeance through the rape of the women of the opponent community. Whether it was the 1947 partition or the Gujarat riots, it is the women who became the bait of sexual violation to shame the other community, ethnic group or religious group.
Another disturbing and obnoxious succeeding event of rape is that marriageability of the woman becomes a challenge for the parents because she has already become ‘polluted’ through sexual contact (although it’s a rape!) with another man. Hindi telesoaps continue to capitalize on this shoddy tactic and it is we who needs to be blamed as a large section of the society echoes this sentiment either explicitly or implicitly. There is an emergency to introspect and review our actions. We need to look within to forge transformation outside.
The reason for penning down this article is straightforward, a woman’s dignity does not lie in her vagina. A sexual assault is heinous not because it interferes with my bodily sanctity but because it infringes with my right to life according to my own terms and becomes an impediment for others too who chooses not to bow down to the patriarchal template of leading life.