Inshah Malik Kashmir
“Rape is not merely an assault on a body. Every such violation is an assault on memory which often forces women to shift from living to merely existing.”
The gruesome gang rape that happened recently in the capital city New Delhi has shocked the Indian nation. The young woman, a 23-year-old college student, was gang raped on a private bus, and six men reportedly in a drunken state were involved in the heinous crime. The barbarity of the incident of shoving iron rod into the private organs of the girl has sent waves of horror down the spines of conscious young people across the country. I know it sent waves of horror down mine. I turned to social media to pour out messages of condemnation, with much emotion, and I remembered Shabnam.
Shabnam was standing near the bus stop when I arrived in a small local car. She was somber in her presence, and her face was pale and wrinkled, though she was only in her late thirties. In the north of Kashmir, a twin village site, Konan-Poshpora, known for the mass rape of some 62 women in early 1990s by the Indian army, every woman has a gruesome story to share. But Shabnam, she is a symbol of existence. She exists, attracting no attention, though easily singled out as different from the rest.
Shabnam escorted me to her tiny little house by the edge of the green fields that belong to the farming villagers. As I entered, a strange sense of distress overwhelmed me, Shabnam’s five-year-old son sat across the room. The room was cold, dark, and a repugnant smell engulfed it. This is one room, where Shabnam has lived all her married life. As I was sensing it, Shabnam intervened, “I hate this house, I never wanted to live here. Last year, I had a terrible fight with my husband and first thing I wanted to do is burn this house down. I almost did.” She laughs and continues, “Just five minutes on this straight road from here is an army camp.” And she abruptly fell silent, staring at the road from the hole in her wooden window. I wasn’t sure how to continue the conversation, and I asked, “You fight with your husband?” She replied in an irritated way, “Of course, men never understand what happens to us,” and in the same breath, “but my husband is an angel, if he was not there for me, I would have killed myself. No man can accept his wife back, after she is raped.”
I was silent for a while, trying to imagine, what must have happened in this place, when in late hours the Indian army men entered each and every house, when there were shrieks of women coming from all the corners. Women were calling all the higher spiritual forces to come to their aid, as I am thinking now of the helplessness of a Delhi girl clutched by six barbarians, alone in a moving bus.
Shabnam continued sharing her ordeal, “How can a man be happy with a woman who can no longer satisfy his sexual urges, a woman whose genitals are electrocuted?” This detail surprised me, because in the mass rape there were no reported instances of torture. She continued, “I was interrogated and raped again, a year after the mass rape happened in this village. They arrested me because my husband’s brother was a militant. Twelve army men raped me and after that gave electric shocks in my genitals. Even after this my husband took me back. For me, isn’t he a prophet? But, I am no longer an able person; he earns little and pays all for my medical treatments.”
I was speechless; this was first time for me to face the reality of our political situation as well as my feminine self. I had by now forgotten all lessons of research and knowledge generation that my university prepared me with. I sat unmoving, thinking and listening.
Kashmiri women protesting, Konan-Poshpora. Photo Credit: Hindustan Times
She continued, “That year when the mass rape happened, it was my second year of marriage. A day before that my husband brought me some gifts and we were still in love; now perhaps I don’t know what we mean by love, it has become such a grave realization. That night they dragged all the men of the village out in a crackdown to hunt militants fighting them for freedom, and they dragged my husband out of the house. It was winter, they made him sleep on a six feet high heap of snow. I was watching from the window, I could not see my husband in this condition. I came out of my house and told the army men to leave my husband. My husband became furious and shouted at me, “Don’t you see what they are doing to women? Get inside and lock the door. Let me die.”
“A strange realization dawned on me. My sister who was still unmarried was in the house. I asked her at once to leave the house from the window. This irritated the army men. I ran inside and closed the door, they broke open the door, they were ten or twenty or more, I have no consciousness of that, I just remember, I was bleeding all through the way to hospital. I wish they assaulted my memory too so I did not have the burden to remember it or narrate it,” she said.
I slowly made my way out of that room, a hole of dingy darkness. I walked slowly, leaving behind Shabnam, left in a constant struggle with her memory.
The recent incident in Delhi has perturbed us all. Rape is not merely an assault on a body. Every such violation is an assault on memory which often forces women to shift from living to merely existing. When a woman is raped in a patriarchal society, she is often raped twice: once of her body and again by the silence of her community. Today, the conscious young women of India must ask questions for Shabnam too, because a uniform does not remove the barbarity of the masculine militaristic state nor its patriarchal mind.
Inshah Malik is a PhD student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Born and raised in the tumultuous years of armed insurgency in Kashmir, Inshah has been actively engaged in highlighting the problems of Kashmiri people, especially issues faced by Kashmiri women. She published research on Kashmiri women in 2011 and also runs a women’s collaborative aimed at highlighting the issues of Kashmiri women.