“Don’t make a big deal out of it, his life will be destroyed.”
“Don’t make a big deal out of it, he will retaliate, he may even throw acid on you.”
I think these two are the most common sentences we, women who have raised their voice against the abuse we have faced from the men around us, one makes the man look like a powerless victim, the other a powerful perpetrator. Two images, polar opposite of each other, and yet, similar in the response they want from women raising their voice for themselves, both want silence. When a case of abuse is spoken about, the queries begin with speculations about the women to deem her responsible for what happened to her and the same about the men to redeem them of the responsibility for their actions. The instances of violence against women remain majorly underreported owing to this very factor along with the very misplaced sense of community honor related to a woman’s body. A vast number of violence against women are committed by people known and close to them, including family members, spouses, partners, friends, and relatives. In such cases, despite the required legal provisions being present, the lack of reporting stands as an obstruction on the way of women receiving justice. And a woman who forces her way through the obstructions to justice gets thrown out of the good book of the patriarchal society almost instantly.
The first day I told my mother about the relatives who abused me, my mother’s reaction was not of sadness, but fear that I actually will do what I told her, to report them. Her concern was not me getting justice, but the fact that people close to her, close to us, will suffer. My father behaves normally with them when they come to our home as if they did nothing to his daughter for years. We are told to take the high road, be forgiving, learn lessons but not aspire to get justice for ourselves and our fellow women.
When a fellow batchmate sexually assaulted one of his classmate in one of my alma mater in the final semester, the pressure was on the survivor to alter her routes, her usual hang out spots, so that the man does not feel unwelcome, threatened, and stigmatized. The pressure was on the woman to not take it further because it will cost him his degree. I wonder, why was it not his concern? Probably because he knew minor issues like violating a woman would not cost him so much.
3 days ago, the news of a filmmaker, Arghya Basu who was named in the #MeToo movement by globally acclaimed documentary filmmaker Nishtha Jain, hanging himself surfaced in the media. The immediate reaction was to blame the survivor for taking to social media to level the accusation. Some even compared the suicide as the doing of an “online lynch mob”. Comedian Mallika Dua in her tweet conferred this title on the women associated with the #MeToo movement. It is noteworthy that journalist Vinod Dua, Mallika’s father was also accused of sexual harassment by Nishtha Jain.
RIP Arghya Basu. It is indeed an irresponsible, unregulated online lynch mob.
— Mallika Dua (@MallikaDua) March 4, 2019
When Aziz Ansari, a celebrated comic and actor, was accused of sexual assault, the huge amount of discussion went on why the woman behaved the way she did in that situation, why she didn’t leave sooner, why she went in. The discussion hardly seemed to focus on why Ansari chose to behave the way he did. The minority status of a brown, Muslim man was brought up to contrast with the perceived superiority of the white woman survivor. His talent and achievements were brought up to serve as if in the form of evidence of him not being an abuser.
The same happened here in India when veteran thespian Mahmood Farooqui went to jail for a brief period of 2 years after raping an American research scholar, the liberal circles writhed in pain over the great scholar and artist’s misfortune. Their sensitivity miraculously disappeared in the context of the suffering of the survivor. A ‘liberal’ filmmaker, successfully claiming praise if not the desired box office success riding the wave of the discussion on consent, longingly wished for the release of Farooqi with the logic that the assault was not really “assault enough”. He waited with open arms and hearts to welcome him into the life he left behind as if he was a victim of the justice system. I had the misfortune of being present there and couldn’t stop myself from asking him how he could hope for the release of a criminal like that. He promptly replied, “To kya hua, wo mitr hain humare.”
This line I think sums up the attitude that we have for instances of sexual harassment, the perpetrator becomes the “mitr” or friend, his misfortune of being at the receiving end of social stigma, possible convictions, loss of jobs, opportunities, everything becomes more important than the suffering of the survivor. On one side the qualities and achievements of the perpetrator are brought up to glorify him and at the same time the survivor’s character is assassinated, their suffering minimized, their fight for justice deemed as a cruel longing to enjoy a poor man’s unjust suffering, under a legal system that is apparently tilted hugely in favor of women. What is not mentioned is how the law enforcement machinery is biased towards men, how difficult it is to go through the legal process and how scarce is justice. It is not mentioned that the mere possibility of a family feud prevents the reporting of a huge number of cases of child sexual abuse and intimate partner violence. The focus on the punitive nature of punishment does not deliver justice, it merely lives up to the hypermasculine, violent idea of retributive justice. It makes the perpetrator look like the victim and makes the survivor look like a villain.
This pushes our patriarchal society to fervently accommodate the perpetrators into their old lives, as if no crimes were committed, no dignity was violated, no suffering was inflicted on the survivor, the only suffering worth acknowledging becomes that of the perpetrator. So people like Vinod Dua get his own show, Mahmood Farooqui appears back on the stage in no time, Aziz Ansari gets back with a tour, Brock Turner gets out after three months for ‘good conduct’, and my relatives go on with their lives as easily as it could get.
I would like that to change from this women’s day. I would hope that the ease with which the abusers get back on the wheels of their normal lives to disrupt. I would hope survivors to be treated with as much concern as the society treats the abusers with, if not more. I would hope the society starts putting as much effort in delivering justice to the survivors as they put in rehabilitating the abusers.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NEWSD and NEWSD does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.