By Faakirah Irfan
“All stories have a curious and even dangerous power. They are manifestations of truth – yours and mine. And truth is all at once the most wonderful yet terrifying thing in the world, which makes it nearly impossible to handle. It is such a great responsibility that it’s best not to tell a story at all unless you know you can do it right. You must be very careful, or without knowing it you can change the world.” (Vera Nazarian, Dreams of the Compass Rose)
The first time I saw her was when she was in the middle of an elliptical attack. Her body was shaking, she fell on the floor. The next time I saw her was in a cafe sitting with her friends, sipping coffee. These two versions of her made me curious enough to begin what I would call as one of the most meaningful friendships of my life. As we grew closer as confidants, she started to tell me tales that I wish had no truth attached to them. She had since childhood been molested and sexually harassed by what her parents would call a peer sahab. For all her adolescent life, she had been groped and touched. She bled and rebuilt herself but her psyche had taken a toll. She was suffering from what we called PTSD – the attacks being the aftermath of the battleground her body had become. To cure her from this “entity” – that’s what her parents would call her condition – she was sent to another peer, who again molested her. That was the last nail in the coffin of what one could call her life. After that incident, she started harming herself – her legs were bruised, her hands were cut, her soul was shattered. Yet even in that moment of despair, she looked up to me and said, “I’ll stand in front of my Lord on the Day of Judgment and ask him. He has to be accountable to me.”
He threw the coffee out and started tearing papers around him. I tried to hold him down. He threw me across the table and yelled, “You will never understand how I feel. You will never know how it feels to be around people with a normal past, a happy family, a normal childhood, a place that you can go back to happily. I am a man, right? You know when I realized that? I realized that in the eighth grade in the school washroom. I went back home with eyes full of tears. You know what my father was doing at that time? He was hitting my mother with a belt. I was 13 years old at that time. The man that abused me in school continued to do so because I lost the voice to reach out. I didn’t lose that voice. No, it got muffled over screams for help of my mother. There was a predator both inside and outside of my house and I had the strength to fight none.”
My mother-in-law had seen the same dream she had seen when I had my first child, my first daughter. She came up to me and said, “I know you are pregnant. We cannot have another liability on our heads. We are humans, not animals like a dog that you will give birth every six months.” I was just 21 years old that time. The constant taunts from my mother-in-law, along with her shaming me, for not being able to control myself or my husband forced me to go to the hospital for an abortion. I was 20 weeks pregnant. I held the corpse of my child in my hand. I am the murderer of my child. But what could I have even done? I was frustrated and famished. I didn’t know what to do. I was lost.
I sleep on the same bed I was raped twelve years ago. I was raped for seven years in all the safest corners of my house – in the hamam, in my parents’ room, in my grandparents’ room, in the dining hall, and in the kitchen. Every room in my house bore witness to all that was happening to me. It seems funny to me when you ask me why I don’t pray. Well, I remember the day, when he penetrated me. I was 5 years old. I came up to my room after what happened and saw my mom in sujood. Well, I wonder if she wasn’t praying at the time, she would have come downstairs and caught hold of him. Maybe I wouldn’t have lost my childhood.
These stories narrated above aren’t just tales of violations and oppression. They are the harsh realities of our society about which we talk in muffled voices and deny their existence in the open. The stories mentioned above are either tales narrated to me in confidence or in desperation. Why desperation? Well, because when we as a society deny the existence of things like these, we also shut the doors of healing for the victims. These victims either fall prey to the darkness that these incidents can build in one’s life or come out of it with self healing. The women we called caged or victims of patriarchy are often survivors of what would have broken the educated and the sanest of minds. Their stories are not just heart wrenching but also tales of survival. These stories are an ode to those women, who sleep in the rooms they were raped in. May their patience be rewarded. But we as a society need to become a community and not let victims fight their battles alone. One of the biggest steps towards which would be acceptance of such incidents and eradication of the taboo built around them. Remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites both for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims.
As a Kashmiri woman, I feel we do not still own up to the horrible things that are happening in our society. The fact that rape victims live a life of stigmatized identity is what stops the victims to even come out. Whose fault is that? The perpetator’s? The victim’s? Or of us as a society? As Judith Lewis Herman writes, “It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.” (Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror)
Faakirah Irfan is a law student at the University of Kashmir. She aspires to be a human rights defender someday. For now she can be recognized as the “seditious” research intern at the Digital Empowerment Foundation, New Delhi, India.
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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine on ‘Women’s Writing from North East India’, edited by Dr. Namrata Pathak, NEHU, Shillong, India.