Mukhtaran and Meena

How did a rape victim become an icon and why? Is Jamshed Dasti a stand-alone, callous bloke trying to use pressure and clout to stifle justice or is he representative of the pugnacious social structure? Mukhtaran Mai’s bravery is a personal one, I am afraid. There has not been a spurt of such court cases; it has not sensitised people at the ground level; it has not resulted in understanding of what rape, especially gang rape, conveys.

Meet Meena. She heard the screams. Her husband lay in a pool of blood. Before she could do anything, the men had pounced on her. After some time she managed to drag herself and get help. She then went to file a complaint. The cops tittered, looked at her breasts above her pregnant belly and said: “Doodh pila de”. She yelled out helplessly. Months later, life was still miserable, now with an incapacitated husband and fear. “They barricaded most of the area. If I left the hut for long they’d break it again. It was so bad that we had to defecate inside on sheets of paper and I’d carry the excreta and throw it on the other side, which was a swamp,” she said.

I was sitting with her far from the cold floor, but her story was chilling. She was indirectly caught in a fight between two builders. Her husband worked for one. The rival hired a goonda gang. This was cosmopolitan Mumbai and they were only earning a living. Until that day, a day that she had to leave behind even as she went looking for work and visiting the police station. Justice was being scraped out painfully; it could not be brandished in bold letters.

Does it all end after the devastation of riots, militant attacks, wars? No. Brutalisation is only the outer manifestation. Women become double victims — first of the actual battle and then of the ideology. In the days when sati was a sanctified institution, the motive was to save women from marauding enemy armies. But, what was being protected —their lives or their sexuality? We have heard about victims marrying their rapists. These are literal demonstrations of masculinisation of power.

Jamshed Dasti’s ‘compromise’ formula is based as much on the tribal laws that forced Mukhtaran’s rape. She was the price they had to extract for another’s ‘sin’. The urban politician is using a similar yardstick and, much as his views are reprehensible, there are often coteries that take over a symbol to showcase their concern for the co-existence of feminism and tradition. Mukhtaran has been hawked like fusion cuisine.

She has become a cliché for injustice and, ironically, even more exploited. The value system and marketing machinery are patriarchal. The victim woman who fights, becomes a canonised caricature, so beloved of the Wsest and the westernised, leaving little room for the voiceless. It is appalling that we cheer when a case gets international exposure. Our media gives them the exotic version when in those countries date rapes, incest and teen pregnancies are a common occurrence. How many of their victims are seen as icons?

Had Jamshed Dasti been worried about the international repercussions he would have shut-up. He is concerned about the local constituency. For all those disparaging him, yes, he is for real. If we look deeper, then he is what many surrounding us are about, including women who accept the status of trophy wives and state, “It’s okay if my husband goes here and there as long as he comes home to me at the end.”

If we have said or heard this and not given it a second thought, then Dasti’s crime is not very different from ours.

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Published in The Express Tribune, July 6th, 2010.

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