“I Fought For My Life...And Won”
SOHAILA ABDULALINo. 16 (June-July 1983) MANUSHI
I was gang raped three years ago, when Iwas 17 years old. My name and myphotograph appear with this article.
I grew up in Bombay, and am at presentstudying in the USA. I am writing a thesison rape and came home to do research acouple of weeks ago. Ever since that daythree years ago, I have been intenselyaware of the misconceptions people haveabout rape, about those who rape andthose who survive rape. I have also beenaware of the stigma that attaches tosurvivors. Time and again, people havehinted that perhaps death would havebeen better than the loss of that precious“virginity.” I refuse to accept this. My lifeis worth too much to me.
I feel that many women keep silent toavoid this stigma, but suffer tremendousagony because of their silence. Men blamethe victim for many reasons, and,shockingly, women too blame the victim,perhaps because of internalized patriarchalvalues, perhaps as a way of makingthemselves invulnerable to a horrifyingpossibility.
It happened on a warm July evening.That was the year women’s groups werebeginning to demand improved legislationon rape. I was with my friend Rashid. Wehad gone for a walk and were sitting on amountainside about a mile and a half frommy home in Chembur which is a suburb ofBombay. We were attacked by four men,who were armed with a sickle. They beatus, forced us to go up the mountain, andkept us there for two hours. We werephysically and psychologically abused,and, as darkness fell, we were separated,screaming, and they raped me, keepingRashid hostage. If either of us resisted,the other would get hurt. This was aneffective tactic.
They could not decide whether or notto kill us. We did everything in our powerto stay alive. My goal was to live and thatwas more important than anything else. Ifought the attackers physically at first, andwith words after I was pinned down. Angerand shouting had no effect, so I began tobabble rather crazily about love andcompassion, I spoke of humanity and thefact that I was a human being, and so werethey, deep inside. They were gentler afterthis, at least those who were not rapingme at the moment. I told one of them that ifhe ensured neither Rashid nor I was killed,1 would come back to meet him, the rapist,the next day. Those words cost me morethan I can say, but two lives were in thebalance. The only way I would ever havegone back there was with a very, very sharpinstrument that would ensure that he neverraped again.
After what seemed like years of torture(I think I was raped 10 times but I was in somuch pain that I lost track of what wasgoing on after a while), we were let go,with a final long lecture on what an immoralwhore I was to be alone with a boy. Thatinfuriated them more than anything. Theyacted the whole time as if they were doingme a favour, teaching me a lesson. Theirswas the most fanatical kind of selfrighteousness.
They took us down the mountain andwe stumbled on to the dark road, clingingto each other and walking unsteadily. Theyfollowed us for a while, brandishing thesickle, and that was perhaps the worst partof all—escape was so near yet death hungover us. Finally we got home, broken,bruised, shattered. It was such anincredible feeling to let go, to stopbargaining for our lives and weighing everyword because we knew the price ofangering them was a sickle in the stomach.Relief flooded into our bones and out ofour eyes and we literally collapsed intohysterical howling.
I had earnestly promised the rapiststhat I would never tell any one but theminute I got home, told my father to callthe police He was as anxious as I was toget them apprehended. I was willing to doanything to prevent someone else having
o go through what I had been through.The police were insensitive,contemptuous, and somehow managed tomake me the guilty party. When they askedme what had happened,I told them quitedirectly, and they were scandalized that Iwas not a shy, blushing victim. When theysaid there would be publicity, I said thatwas all right. It had honestly neveroccurred to me that Rashid or I could beblamed. When they said I would have togo into a home for juvenile delinquentsfor my “protection.” I was willing to livewith pimps and rapists, in order to be ableto bring my attackers to justice.
Soon I realized that justice for womensimply does not exist in the legal system.When they asked us what we had beendoing on the mountain, 1 began to getindignant. When they asked Rashid whyhe had been “passive”, I screamed. Didn’tthey understand that his resistance meantfurther torture for me? When they askedquestions about what kind of clothes I hadbeen wearing, and why there were novisible marks on Rashid’s body (he hadinternal bleeding from being repeatedly hitin the stomach with the handle of thesickle), I broke down in complete miseryand terror, and my father threw them outof the house after telling them exactly whathe thought of them. That was the extent ofthe support the police gave me. Nocharges were brought. The police recordeda statement that we had gone for a walkand had been “delayed” on our return.
It has been almost three years now, butthere has not been even one day, when Ihave not been haunted by what happened.Insecurity, vulnerability, fear, anger,helplessness—I fight these constantly.Sometimes when I am walking on the roadand hear footsteps behind I start to sweatand have to bite my lip to keep fromscreaming. I flinch at friendly touches, Ican’t bear tight scarves that feel like handsround my throat, I flinch at a certain lookthat comes into men’s eyes—that look isthere so often.
Yet in many ways I feel that I am astronger person now. I appreciate my lifemore than ever. Every day is a gift. I foughtfor my life, and won. No negative reactioncan make me stop feeling that this ispositive.
I do not hate men. It is too easy a thingto do, and many men are victims of differentkinds of oppression. It is patriarchy I hate,and that incredible tissue of lies that saymen are superior to women, men haverights which women should not have, menare our rightful conquerors.
My feminist friends all assume that Iam concerned about women’s issuesbecause I was raped. This is not so. Therape was one expression of all the reasonswhy I am a feminist. Why compartmentalizerape ? Why assume rape is only anunwanted act of intercourse ? Are we notraped every day when we walk down thestreet and are leered at ? Are we not rapedwhen we are treated as sex objects, deniedour rights, oppressed in so many ways ?The oppression of women cannot beanalysed unidimensionally. For example, aclass analysis is very important, but it doesnot explain why most rapes occur withinone’s own class.
As long as women are oppressed invarious ways, all women will continue tobe vulnerable to rape. We must stopmystifying rape. We must acknowledge itsexistence all round us, and the variousforms it takes. We must stop shrouding itin secrecy, and must see it for what it is —a crime of violence in which the rapist isthe criminal.
I am exultant at being alive. Being rapedwas terrible beyond words, but I thinkbeing alive is more important. When awoman is denied the right to feel this, thereis something very wrong in our valuesystem. When someone is mugged andallows herself to be beaten in order tosurvive, no one thinks she is guilty ofwilling consent to be beaten. In the caseof rape, a woman is asked why she let themdo it, why she did not resist, whether sheenjoyed it.
Rape is not specific to any group ofwomen, nor are rapists a particular groupof men. A rapist could be a brutal madmanor the boy next door or the too friendlyuncle. Let us stop treating rape as theproblem of other women. Let usacknowledge its universality and come toa better understanding of it.
Until the basis of power relationshipsin this world changes, until women ceaseto be regarded as the property of men, wewill have to live in constant fear of beingviolated with impunity.
1 am a survivor. I did not ask to beraped and I did not enjoy it. It was theworst torture I have ever known. Rape isnot the woman’s fault, ever. This article isone contribution towards exploding thesilence and the comfortable myths whichwe build up to convince ourselves we arenot potential victims, thus consigningactual victims to the most agonizingisolation a human being can know.