Forgive me, Ma

I don’t have the strength or the dignity to respect your hypocrisy in this matter now

N.M Singh | January 2, 2013



My mother called up me the other day in Singapore to tell me that the doctors at Safdarjung hospital in New Delhi had to remove the intestines of the girl who must remain unnamed

I was aware of the Delhi rape case. I was following the public protests happening at India Gate but I had deliberately avoided reading the gory details about the case itself. I did not wish to know every bit of what exactly happened inside that bus and how. And living in Singapore for the past eight months and away from India for the past eight years, it is possible for me to avoid the barrage of news reports that don’t spare a single detail of “were the hands on the thighs or the chest?” – so to speak in Damini language.

When I professed my ignorance to my mother as to why the girl’s intestines had to be removed, she told me of the rods. I asked her to stop immediately. “I don’t want to know,” I said. But she continued, “Why not? This is the monstrosity that’s happening in the world today. Why do you want to close your ears?”

It took me a few days of sleepless nights before I could collect my thoughts on why I had wanted my mother to stop.

Perhaps it was because all my life I had been shut out by my mother when I started giving out too many details about the assaults on my soul. “What can we do, beta?” she had said when I reported to her, as a teenager, that I had been molested by a close family member. “You need to be careful.”

“He’s our relative. We cannot say anything to him. It is a woman’s responsibility to protect herself. The world is full of such people. Whom all are you going to fight?”

And it hadn’t been just her. My father also laid out his own arguments: “When your mother first married me, every man in this family tried to test her. But it was her dignity and her strength that shut them all up.”

Oh yes, that dignity and strength. I didn’t have any strength, unfortunately, to make sense of my mother’s – let me think of the right word – voyeurism in this matter.

The fact that a 45-year-old man, my first cousin, my local guardian at the time in Delhi, punched me in my soul when I was 17 years old did not get my parents to treat that monstrosity as anything more than what already happens, and what must be tolerated for the sake of family relations, for the sake of sanity; forgive me, Ma, if I don’t have the strength or the dignity to respect your hypocrisy in this matter now.

This is a country where over 90 percent of reported rapes are perpetrated by people known to the victim, mostly family members. Yet, the chimeras of izzat, and family honour ensure that there is a complete blanket of denial over the little harassments that happen around us every day. It is precisely this kind of blind permissiveness that emboldens men, encourages them even, and creates the atmosphere that allows the more violent among them to think that they would get away with rape. And most of them do.

It is time to think how we are all culpable in our own little ways for creating the atmosphere that enables this kind of violence.

Important as the Delhi case is in getting people to talk about rape, I wonder whether a majority of people actually understand what it is that they should be understanding about respecting women.

It’s interesting how the girl’s “normality” seems to have shut out the usual detractors – she wasn’t drunk, she wasn’t wearing a skirt, she wasn’t tumbling out of a pub, she wasn’t partying with her boyfriend. Perhaps that’s why even people like my mother identify with her. She was a normal girl doing normal things. It could have been her own daughter.

But what if that normal had not been so? What if she had had a couple of drinks? What if she had been wearing a skirt? What if she was coming out of a pub? I wonder then if our reactions would have been the same. I wonder if India Gate would still have been flooded with candles.

In a milieu where a majority of us is not sure what entails respecting a woman, and which woman even deserves respect, I wonder if my mother will ever understand that talking about monstrosity will not end it, only acting against it in every form will.

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