Friday, March 22, 2013

The Rape of "India's Daughter" by India's Sons (Hum Magazine, March 2013)

“Mother, I want to live.” Unable to speak, 23-year-old Jyoti Singh Pandey wrote these words on a piece of paper in an intensive care unit at Safdarjung Hospital in New Delhi while being treated for injuries resulting from being gang-raped and beaten on a bus. Only 5% of her colon remained in her body when she was brought into the trauma center on December 16th, 2012. She died on December 29th from her multiple blunt injuries and massive gastrointestinal infections.

As a physician I pride myself on being able to tolerate ghastly images. I did not vomit or faint when I saw my first cadaver or bloodied trauma victim. However, just reading the details of Ms. Pandey’s experience nauseates me. In trying to wrap my mind around what happened to her I find myself at a loss. I am reminded of when astronomers explain how much farther Saturn is from Earth than Mars. Both distances are on the order of millions of miles. Though Mars is much closer to Earth, on such a scale my mind is unable to realistically differentiate the distances. Similarly, Ms. Pandey’s experience is many orders of magnitude greater than the darkest experiences of my life and thereby nearly impossible to fully appreciate.

She has been dubbed “India’s Daughter.” As such I like to think that she is collectively Our Daughter. In order to honor the memory of Our Daughter, we need to effect change. Although I am heartened by the demonstrations and hope her story will help lead to a reduction in the incidence of sexual assault in India, I do not want the details of her lived experience to be lost in the sociopolitical shuffle. The words “gang-rape” and “beating” do not capture the hell this woman experienced. To ensure that our enthusiasm for change does not waver with governmental distractions and changes in the news cycle, we need to put ourselves into her shoes on that horrible night and tattoo her experience into our memories. Let’s not allow safe journalistic language to obfuscate the depths of devastation this woman endured.

In service of harnessing our collective vitriol, I would like to engage you, dear reader, in a thought experiment. Since her suffering was on a nearly inconceivable level, we need to psychologically layer the multiple transgressions she experienced upon ourselves to fully appreciate it. For example, I begin by imagining my clothes being removed forcibly on a city bus. If the transgression stopped there I would go home sobbing and eternally humiliated. I would likely never ride a bus again. Then I add another layer: in addition to being forcibly stripped, someone touches my genitals. This is beyond humiliation; I have been physically violated. Then I add a multiplier: violation by not one person but by five. Already I am approaching a level of terror of which I struggle to conceive. Up to this point, legally speaking, I have been “molested.”

Then I move into a plane of terror that thoroughly exceeds my ability to fully appreciate. I imagine that those men take turns penetrating me. Without condoms. For nearly an hour. Thoughts about deadly infectious diseases like hepatitis or AIDS fly through my mind. Next someone is beating my head with a luggage rod. In my semi-conscious state I realize that someone has pushed that same rod into my anus, past my rectum, stopping at my transverse colon (roughly 2 feet into my body). Then an incomprehensible sensation occurs wherein the rod is removed, pulling my colon out with it, pulsing and bleeding onto the bus floor whereupon millions of bacteria leap onto my entrails. I haven’t been merely exposed. I haven’t been merely violated. I have literally been turned inside out. On a city bus.

This is exactly what happened to Our Daughter.

Lets not distance ourselves from the perpetrators no matter how comforting such separation might feel in this moment. As Ms. Pandey has been called “India’s Daughter,” let’s remember that her assailants are also “India’s Sons.” This moniker is neither a point of pride nor an insult. If we are to truly appreciate the magnitude of this issue we have to recognize that our sons have a problem. Sadly, instead of addressing the problem with our sons, some Indian state governments have foisted greater limitations on our daughters. In some states, women are further limited in how they dress or how late they may stay out at night as a result of Ms. Pandey’s rape and subsequent death. Such statutes only serve to reinforce a patriarchal system in which the sexuality of women is considered a liability and thereby covered over in order to curtail male sexual violence.

Instead of more rules that simply sweep sex under the rug, we need to pull the rug off completely to show our sons what sex is and what sex is not. Sex is about love. Sex is about passion. While sex is powerful, it is not to be used as power over another person. Least of all, sex is not a weapon. When our daughters show their skin, they are not inviting harassment or assault. They are allowing themselves to feel pride in their own bodies. Our sons must recognize that the mothers, sisters, and grandmothers they love so dearly were once the young women currently being catcalled, molested and raped.

If our goal is to raise men as opposed to overgrown boys, we must show our sons that manhood does not occur when the clock strikes midnight on their eighteenth birthday. A boy becomes a man slowly over time, through demonstrations of respect and restraint. A man is secure in his masculinity such that he does not need to molest or rape a woman to feel sexually vital. Furthermore, a man does not need to participate in gangs or think with a mob-mentality; he thinks and acts for himself. So secure is he in his sense of right and wrong that he is willing to intervene in a mob, even if it causes him to lose face. If there was a single man in that group of boys that took Our Daughter’s life, the event would have been over before it began. If these expectations of our sons seem daunting lets remember the details of the evening Our Daughter spent on that bus. Let’s put ourselves into her horrifying position. Let’s remember that in the aftermath of her experience she voiced one basic wish: she wanted to live. We owe Our Daughters so much more.

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