|There is no picture. See what you want to see, and wake up.|
Have you been awakened yet? Have your eyes dropped out from their sockets as you saw the pictures of the girls hanging from a tree? Are you done with discovering poetry in the limbs of the branches and the scent of the soil, the mango fruit that would now lack lusciousness? Ah, lusciousness. That is what you were seeing. Are you aware now? You did not know that rape existed? That Dalits existed? That women's bodies were used and abused? Of course, you did. I heard you each time there was a rape talking about how you were elbowed in the local train, or that uncle leering at you when you were young, You spoke about it, and it was always applauded as a courageous move. You were so brave. You knew everything. You and those nice men who are concerned about protecting women. Those media vultures with their pixelated faces made to replay a tragedy that no one, no one, no one can understand except the one who goes through it. I won't describe it. You are looking for that. You need it to awaken you. I tell you what. Get a cup of coffee. Or something stronger
Ever since the two teenagers, cousins, in Badaun, UP, were taken into a room and gang-raped, with the police helping along, and then were strangulated and tied to that tree you are using flowery language for, and hanged till they died, you have discovered your inner conscience. Now you want everybody to chart out their travel itinerary to find their consciences. You say the photographs are necessary to make people aware. Cinema has shown the rape of women, including realistic cinema. There are books with characters who are sexually brutalised. Newspaper reports stare at you while you sip your morning cuppa. Why does nothing happen to you then? Why do you get an adrenaline rush only when you see girls like these?
I could not look at the photo for more than a second till it came on my screen. I did not want it to. Did I have a choice? You and your brigade of straw warriors who have a moral position on pornography were indulging in just that. This was your vicarious thrill. You garbed it with the piety of a passion you do not possess. Yes, I am judging you, because you are judging two dead girls. You think you are doing them a favour? Take a good look at yourself. They are gone. They are poor. Their families do not even know how to use the word privacy and dignity; they are victims of vultures and the uncouth. Hell, the girls went to the field to relieve themselves.
And again you find a tangential bylane to walk through: It's because there are no toilets in those villages. They need toilets, everyone needs toilets and healthcare and education. But what they needed was help from people when they might have screamed. What they needed and many others need is that men should learn to respect women; they do not own bodies other than their own. You know what? You are also claiming those bodies as yours, by putting them up for display. You have no bloody right over them. If this has awakened you, why don't you mock-play the scene and post your own pictures to show what it feels like? Your hormonal conscience coteries will be able to connect much more.
Have the photographs reached the interiors? Would it alter the mindset of men who assume proprietary rights? By looking at such images, the helplessness becomes even more manifest. The subtext is that not only can you rape women, you can even display them to look like puppets, and have an audience. That audience is not just the villagers who gathered around, but you, you dear lovely urban dweller tapping on your touch screen. In effect, you end up being in cahoots with the criminal, and not the victim.
You are no different from the cops and lawyers whose inquisition into rape cases almost always involves queries about what the woman wore, where she was, what exactly happened, how did she feel. Oh, man, they ask how did she feel. Do you know that? There was no picture of the how-did-she-feel moment. I guess, it won't affect you then. When you are shown for the exploiter that you are you turn around and say that I am elitist and live in a bubble. Come, meet Meena. Gangraped in a Worli slum. Husband beaten so badly he could not move. Both locked up. They would defecate in that dark hut and throw the faeces out. The cops eyed her when she finally escaped. I won't go into details here. I know that's what you want. I won't give it to you. If you don't understand what's happening now, you never will.
Meet Tara. At 12, she was taken to a brothel and ten men were forced upon her. She was given drugs. The addiction made her beg, begging made her do whatever she was told. She had tried escaping, but did she have a choice? I was not awakened by anything. When I did those stories, even if it was to highlight their plight, I felt like I was using them. It was very difficult. Especially with Tara. A child. Almost a teenager. I had judged myself, so I know how wrong it feels. And you are telling me not to judge you? You who admit that this is to make people know the truth? The truth is there. It exists. Looking for evidence of it assumes you do not quite believe what you purport to care about. You want your posh friends to know what happens to Dalits, as though they are some artifacts being rescued by a hip diva to exhibit at a well-appointed 'ruin' of a boutique.
I want to know whether you will put up those pictures on your walls? After all, some great art has used representation of events and tragedies. That would reach you where it hurts - your comfort zone - and remind you every single day. Will you do it? No. Then on what basis do you accuse others of having delicate sensibilities only because we do not want to use the victims? When the Delhi gangrape happened, and many were out in the streets, did you want photographic evidence of the woman who was named 'Nirbhaya' by the media? Why did you keep quiet then? Did you think people had been awakened only because they were there? Has it made any difference? Has it changed the lives of those in the villages?
And why this emphasis on gruesome crimes? In many cases of rape, there might not be visible physical violence; the girl/woman could be drugged or just overpowered. Is that of any less consequence? Your attitude reveals that you revel in the sensational. Even when there is a supposed sense of empathy, the headline reads "Two girls in a tree", as though they are objects.
And objectification it is. First by the rapists, then by the cops, and now by you. You are a spectator. You cannot bring about change in this manner. There are small organisations in villages. There was Bhanwari Devi, a gangrape victim, who became a 'saathin' to help women. There is the Gulabo Gang of vigilantes. To an extent, even the dacoit Phoolan Devi was such an example. They went through the fire and could keep the flame alive.
Awakening is not about a candle that will melt.
(c) Farzana Versey
Published in Countercurrents
Also: Reporting Rape