Where do we stand now?
As I watched the disturbing show Delhi Crime (on Netflix, based on the 2012 Delhi gang rape on a moving bus), I could not help but cry every time Deepika and/or her parents were shown on screen. And these were actors, mind you, and the series was aired more than six years after the events took place.
During the final episode, I read in the English dailies that in Feni, on April 6, a madrasa student named Nusrat was set on fire, for reporting to the police that the principal of the madrasa had made sexual advances towards her, and his subsequent arrest on account of her complaint. She was admitted to the hospital with 80 percent burns and died a few days later on April 10. Within a week, the newspapers stated that 13-14 people were involved in the plot to kill Nusrat, 2 of them being women.
Not only did the screen bombard me with incidents of brutality against women’s bodies, but so did reality.
Ever since the horrific attack against Nusrat was reported, there have been protests of outrage, outpouring of grief, demands for justice, and calls for the perpetrators to be punished in such a manner as to deter further such incidents all over the country. And ever since the horrific attack against Nusrat was reported, there have been incidents of gangrapes, sexual assaults, and sexual harassment all over the country.
So where do we stand now? Does punishment deter crime? It does to some extent. But one cannot discount the complexities of human nature, power structures, and the prevailing attitudes towards women’s bodies in social spaces.
Take this case, for instance: a principal of a religious institution who, by all accounts, felt that he owned the bodies of the female students; hence, in all likelihood, he felt justified in summoning them to his office as and when he wished and for whatever purpose he wanted.
Then there were his aficionados, who felt outraged that their esteemed principal had been placed behind bars and retaliated by setting Nusrat’s body ablaze. I cannot help but wonder what quality of education had been imparted to them to execute such a plan, and I am guessing that something along the lines of Nusrat burning in the fires of hell had been impressed upon them, given their actions.
I cannot also help but wonder about the 2 women who were involved in this heinous crime, and their perceptions regarding the spatial boundaries of their own bodies, of Nusrat, and of women in general. Did they believe, or were they conditioned to think, that it was acceptable or normal for men to decide how and where to take possession of a woman’s body, and to do or dispose of it as they wished?
And there was the controversial video of Nusrat describing how she felt violated, how her body was violated. Of course, she was nervous and inarticulate and covered her face. Can a woman describe being a victim of a sexual encounter or an advance without guilt, shame and remorse? No, because somehow her body language must have attracted the men, and thereby she must be complicit, and therefore any violation of her body cannot constitute an offense.
If I was disturbed by Delhi Crime, I am highly anxious and distraught about the events that led to Nusrat’s death. I agree that there must be stricter laws and more effective law enforcement to protect women, but we as a society must also reflect on our value system, which sadly conditions some men and women to convince themselves that a woman’s body is not her own, and she has no right to protect herself against its abuse or desecration.
Chintamoni grew up in Dhaka, where she will always belong, but never quite fit in. She is an enthusiastic traveller, a compulsive procrastinator, and a contumelious raconteur.