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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 27 , July 1, 2023

Review: No nation for women, reportage on rape from India | Joydip Ghosal

Saturday 1 July 2023



by Joydip Ghosal

No nation for women, reportage on rape from India, the world’s largest democracy

by Priyanka Dubey

Simon & Schuster India
2019 / 320 pages
ISBN- 978-93-86797-09-4

No nation for women: Reportage on rape from India, the world’s largest democracy is the outcome of an intangible confluence of the private and lived experience of suffering mass. It becomes amply clear that while authoring the book the writer unequivocally empathises with innumerable wounds resulting from social, psychological, and physical. The author frankly admits that when she could not bear the collective pain anymore, the idea of chronicling the details germinated in her mind. She felt an irresistible compulsion to commence writing that was already taking shape in the inner recesses of her mind. Writing the book itself was a ‘soul-bruising ‘experience. All the wounds that were collective in nature made it impossible to emerge without a scratch. According to NCRB, crimes against women rose by 15.3 percent in 2021 from the previous year. (The Indian Express)

In this book, the author remains inalienable from the stories she narrates. This first-of-its-kind book debunks the notions of sexual violence as an experience that a single woman undergoes. While dismantling the lackadaisical attitude of the patriarchal bio-sphere this book points out the societal indifference in poignant prose in an easy-to-fathom style. This book nullifies any attempt to make any generalised statement regarding sexual violence in our country. Rather than keeping the diversity of our country in mind this book vehemently establishes the truth that patriarchy is at the heart of every problem. The culture of victim shaming makes it impossible for most women to speak up against the abuse. Deeply-rooted patriarchy propagated the concept of ‘ bodily integrity.’ This book on the other hand is a powerful protest against this. It tears apart by the dint of its powerful narrative the evil intermingling of caste, religions, and mushrooming of prejudicial culture under the auspices of political bigshots. Thirteen chapters in the book are the outcome of extensive fieldwork and journeys to the remotest corners of our country. She unflinchingly documented the instances of corrective rapes in the large swathes of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Feeling compelled to trail the story she documented a matrix of sexual crimes and violence where discarding the offers of advances by men entailed deadly consequences. For the mainstream media, these women simply remained non-existent. Priyanka Dubey cited the example of Tabaqat-i- Nasiri written by eminent historian Minhaj al- Siraj. In that book, it was stated “ Razia possessed all the qualities of a ruler. She was more capable than her brothers. But she had one weakness. She was a woman.” In the impoverished regions of many parts of India with the prevailing feudal set-up, these words still found resonance. Power mongers fuelled by a false sense of machismo helped to create false notions of machismo. The inability to collect circumstantial evidence and faults in the process of investigation resulted in the offenders escaping from the dragnets of law.

She keenly observed the political nature of rapes when the law-enforcing agencies showed utmost laxity. These became prominent when it came to the matter of investigating and collecting evidence in cases of rape. The author painstakingly collected evidence where the victims faced mounting pressure from establishments to yield and bow down. Because of apathy and the attitude of law enforcement agencies, the victims opted out of filing FIRs. While scathingly documenting the politically motivated rapes in Tripura, the author castigates all political parties for their colossal failure of delivering justice to victims.

While reading the book what hurts you most is the denial of suffering and injustice. The author delved into the realms of history. In 1871 the British government promulgated ‘The Criminal Tribes Act of 1871’. 150 tribes were dubbed as tribes with criminal tendencies. That gave British police sweeping powers to apprehend them and conduct surveillance upon those who were categorized under the act. After independence annulling the act the government brought ‘Habitual Offenders Act’, 1952. That act ‘controlled Pardhis’. The de-notified tribal groups had been ‘collectively wronged’ since time immemorial. Justice was not delivered. Even Pardhi communities remained victims of systematic denial. Instances of sexual crimes against women were not acknowledged.

With Priyanka Dubey the readers traverse through the realms of unimaginable crimes against women. This book sheds light on a culture that buttressed the patriarchal mindset. Carnal desire does not always propel them to commit crimes against women. Power also played a pivotal role. She personally interviewed the victims and brought forth the ordeals of their families. These are clear examples of how the disempowered women were caught in the vortex of patriarchy and muscle flexing. As Elizabeth Kuruvilla stated “ Sexual abuse in the country is so rampant that it has been normalised. Only the worst of cases provoke an outcry, and even these often become forgotten bookmarks.”

The author brings out the bravery of certain women in spite of the odds. One woman in Bundelkhand waged a lonely battle against a political bigwig. Memories of horrific crimes were not able to cow her down. She tried hard not to lose track of the events.

In ‘Ashiana gang-rape’, a sustained urban battle against sexual crimes in post-liberalised India evoked our hopes. We find courage and conviction when the victim declared that she wanted to become a judge to expedite the process and deliver speedy justice to the victims of rapes. Despite facing abject poverty her family remained close-knit and their pursuit for justice was as resolute as steel.

Priyanka Dubey delves into the anatomy of rape in the regions of Haryana. A dispute over a playground in Bhagana village of Haryana displaced hundreds of Dalit families. They were forced to live in the open outside the government building. Four girls who were abducted and brutalized did not yield. Defying all odds they articulated and registered their protest sitting at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi. Sometimes the victims got accustomed to repeating to the journalists the accounts of crimes.

The author’s compassion and empathy for the victims drove her to the Betul district of Madhya Pradesh. Massive interstate trafficking and the ominous circle of exploitation and slavery were like cobwebs where the victims got trapped. They found it difficult to make ends meet because of abject poverty. The author took on the arduous task of deciphering the three parts of interstate trafficking networks.

In order to present her view in its entirety the author also delved deeper into various aspects of Justice Verma Committee. Different facets of Criminal Amendment Act, 2013 were discussed in detail. During her assignment to Lakhimpur in Assam, she unraveled the operations of multi-layered illegal agencies. They lured girls with promises of jobs, money, and marriage. Some were forced into prostitution. Some had to face the burden of unpaid work just like modern-day slaves. In the metro cities, they had to do unpaid back-breaking work in the household of rich urban elites. In response to an RTI the NHRC released a confidential reporter who graphically described the harrowing ordeals of trafficked girls of Lakhimpur. The author cited a statement of Kailash Satyarthi who made an analogy where he unequivocally told that buying a girl ‘costs less than buying a cow or a buffalo in Assam today.’

The rape and murder of Badaun sisters and the complexity of the predicament the woman inside the police force faced compelled us to stand before a bitter truth. Famous journalist Swati Bhattacharya, a renowned sub-editor at Ananda Bazar Patrika while discussing the spate of brutal rape in Bengal pointed out the ‘cultural revivalism’. According to her as women were becoming more educated and self-reliant organized crimes against them were mounting. In that cases, the physical submission of victims was stressed. The abusers tried to put ’a woman in her place’.

This hard–hitting book takes a close look at the reasons for India turning unsafe for women, with a mind-boggling rise of crimes against women. Her stories traversed across mere statistics. This book was shortlisted for Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize. The book was also awarded Prabha Khaitan Woman’s Voice Award and Tata Literature Live! First Book Award. This book will remain in the annals of reportage on gender crimes and the pursuit of social justice. Fierce and captivating this book encapsulates the essence of feral patriarchy.

(Review author: Joydip Ghosal is a rights activist)

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