Women’s bodies are not battle fields!

Because, heavens forbid, if the kind of sexual violence against women that was perpetrated in Manipur recently gets normalized, then we no longer have the right to call ourselves human. By Reena Amos Dyes

That women are always at the receiving end in the midst of any conflict is something that we are acutely aware of. In a male-dominated society, this violation of women to score a point or domination over the other party or as “spoils of war” is as old as time itself. But, that doesn’t make it right. It was not right then, nor is it right now. It’s not acceptable and never should be. Because, heavens forbid, if the kind of sexual violence against women that was perpetrated in Manipur recently gets normalized, then we no longer have the right to call ourselves human.

As a society we seem to have become desensitized (and sadly so) to sexual assaults and rapes because we hear so much about it. Sexual violence against women and girls seems to be all around us, to the extent that we have developed a thick skin and just seem to shrug it off as “none of our business” or “she must have been at the wrong place with the wrong kind of people” or “why did she venture out at that time.” This victim blaming in order to console ourselves and to stop our conscience from pricking us at the lack of action on our part (ostensibly to protect ourselves and our loved ones) seems to be the way we deal with news that is highly disturbing to say the least. We have become immune to sexual violence; we have become hardened to it.

May be that is why it takes something as heinous as the 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape case, or the 2018 Kathua rape case for us to react as a nation. Maybe that is why, after a studied silence for the last two months the aam janata, the media, celebrities and political parties of all hues have finally chosen to speak up after the gut-wrenching, soul-shaking, highly traumatising video of two hapless, crying and pleading Kuki women being paraded naked and being sexually assaulted by a mob of Meitie men before being taken to the nearby fields and being gangraped, has finally made people sit up and take notice of the horrors that have been taking place in Manipur. Finally, there is a national conversation happening on the issue. Finally people are asking for justice for the victims of Manipur violence and asking the Government to put a stop to it and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Sadly, it took such a heinous incident for the conscience of the nation to be shaken and for people to open their mouths and demand an end to this madness, this inhumanity, this shaming of India in the eyes of the world.

Why did we, as a nation, not speak up before, I wonder? Were we not aware of what was happening in Manipur till now? Were we as a nation not aware of the violence, burning of houses, places of worship, businesses, burning alive of people, sexual violence against women in Manipur and the displacement of thousands upon thousands of people caught in the middle of a horrific civil war the likes of which has not been seen in this nation for a long time? Or is it that we couldn’t be bothered because all this was happening in a far off place like a northeastern State? Or because we don’t want to get caught up in the highly sensitive minority-majority debate? Because it’s just too uncomfortable and dangerous to stick our precious necks out and speak up for our suffering fellow citizens?

Whatever it was that was holding this nation back till now, the fact remains that Manipur is a black spot on humanity, it has shamed India and Indians.

We, as a society, should realize that there are elements who are depraved and they thrive on this kind of depravity. So, the mob in Manipur has set a new benchmark for those who would perpetrate this kind of atrocity on women gladly and display the kind of animalistic behaviour that was displayed by the men in Manipur. These are called copycat crimes. Remember, soon after the 2012 Nirbhaya gangrape took place where the victim was not only gangraped, sodomised but also brutalised, there was a rash of copycat crimes across the country. There was a Nepali woman who was gangraped and burtalised in a similar fashion as Nirbhaya, there was a 5-year-old girl who was brutalized by her rapist and there were a few other cases as well but it’s not possible to list all of them here.

And why go as far back as 2012? The most recent examples of copycat crimes is the spate of murders and chopping up of bodies that happened soon after the Aftab-Shraddha sordid tale unfolded in the media. I can recount at least seven to eight such chilling kill-and-chop cases that took place across the nation soon after. One such case that comes to mind is the murder of Aradhana Prajapati in Uttar Pradesh. Prince, the man she was in love with before marriage, killed her and chopped up her body in several pieces for refusing to return to him. Then there was Vandana Kalita, a woman from Assam who killed her husband Amarjyoti Dey and mother-in-law Shankari Dey, chopped up their bodies and kept them inside a fridge in Assam’s Noonmati, a neighbourhood in Guwahati before throwing the body parts some 150 km away in Meghalaya’s Cherrapunji area. Kalita’s relationship with her husband was strained as she was having an extramarital affair. So she chose to end her marriage this way.

There were a host of such cases but then I would be deviating from the point I am trying to make, which is that if we don’t speak up against injustice and force the powers that be, to act against an injustice that is being perpetrated against our fellow citizens then we become a party to it, we are as guilty as the perpetrators of the crime and worse, we are in danger of falling victim to that crime ourselves.

Take for example the recent case of the beating up of two Dalit women in West Bengal by a group of women and men in a busy marketplace and parading them half naked on the accusation of stealing something. Or the case of a minor girl and a male teacher in Bihar being stripped and beaten up in Bihar by goons recently.

It’s shameful how such horrific incidents are happening in so many parts of the country in the wake of the Manipur incident and as usual our politicians are busy trying to score political points out of someone else’s misfortune. It’s appalling how sexual violence is being used as a tool to settle scores, political and otherwise. But amid all this, we must remember that a chilling and blood curdling precedence has been set. Today it’s them, tomorrow it could be us!

Unless we, as a nation, don’t demand an end to such dirty games that netas, anti-social elements and sociopaths play, no woman is safe. Today it’s someone else’s beti, tomorrow it could be yours. Today it’s a Kargil veteran’s wife, tomorrow it could be yours. Today it is someone else, tomorrow it could be you. So don’t remain mute spectators to depravation, injustice, hate crimes, sexual violence. Don’t normalize it. Speak up for India, speak up for Indians. You don’t want to leave this horrific legacy for your children.