Gained in Translation: Alice in predator land

We thought that wild animals exist only in forests. No, we are wrong. Here they roam around in your civilised spaces

Written by VAIDEHI | Updated: July 9, 2017 7:20 am
Women empowerment, Indian women, rape cases, lost in translation, Women Issues, Vaidehi, Indian express, India news, Express opinion The remote forest path between home and school, desolate daytime streets, long lonesome commutes, a way of life of singleness — nothing much has changed about the roads a woman traverses, all riddled with her constant fear. Illustration C R Sasikumar

“Educate the girl child!” The need for this clarion call even after decades of Independence is a paradox in itself! Schools have reopened again. From up in the hills and down in the valleys, across rivers and forest and of course through city thoroughfares, children are thronging to schools. True, the number of girls from remote villages attending school are increasing. But how safe are they? Listen to how a mother readies her daughter for school:

Keep it in your satchel
This blade so small
With your pen, paper, books and all
Don’t forget the packet of chilli powder!
And to your bangles a safety pin
“Maa…they ‘ll make fun”
Two hoots to them
You may need all of these.
When the time comes my dear,
By God’s grace, may you remember
To use at least one of these!
Get ready, it’s getting late…
Down the steps and off to school
May you come back soon and safe
And all the best, my child…

Women and assault — same scene, same act; played out in a remote, god-forsaken village yesterday, in Delhi another day, and somewhere else today; an explosion of terror; media outrage; the news slowly fading into oblivion and the refrain, “The situation is clear now… back to normalcy…” until another horror story grips the public imagination .
“If it is a girl, doctor, I am scared to bring her into this world. Please remove it…” — the new rationale for female infanticide!

We thought that wild animals exist only in forests. No, we are wrong. Here they roam around in your civilised spaces; on the one hand, rogues and rascals; on the other, culture vultures right before your eyes, the feral creatures hunting down their prey — the clueless girl child, just an object to be used.

“Child, be careful!” has become the daily mantra of parents today. Be careful of whom? Of what? She asks no questions, she knows it only too well. Open doors appear to be open but are closed at the other end.
As the speech goes on with the right illustrations and gestures, fist pounding the table — “The millennium woman is empowered, educated and equal. She is a doctor, an astronaut, a bureaucrat and what not…” — chilling news of savagery; the infant, elderly lady, teenager, followed by inquiry and then, release of the accused.

Why ever should she have gone there?
Why take the night bus at all?
Isn’t the skirt line too provocative?
Girls have to behave like girls, better and safer if a step behind… She asked for it.
She has brought it upon herself
“Enquiries” by men and also women in the guise of a woman…

The remote forest path between home and school, desolate daytime streets, long lonesome commutes, a way of life of singleness — nothing much has changed about the roads a woman traverses, all riddled with her constant fear. Through the assault on her physical being, her soul gets bruised and her pain becomes the grist to sensationalism.

Laws appear to be reformed and pro-women, but seemingly so. They can dance to the tunes of the clever practitioner. Words spin like tops, conveniently distorted. Questions and more questions: Is it rape at all? How could it happen without consent? Where, when, show me, and then? If you don’t give details madam, how are we to know the truth? The pain and shame that can be inflicted by weapons called words — words that make her go through hell all over again. So much so, that she‘ll end up asking herself, “Am I guilty?”

Whose Fear is it anyway?

We are earthlings — day and night happen to both men and women. How can solitary walks in mountains, forests, plains or lonely roads be the prerogative of men and a dangerous proposition for women?

What holds sway over a woman today is fear, eternal fear — an unspoken and unacknowledged insecurity of returning home late in the evening, a sick irrational fear corroding her natural vibrancy itself.

With all the empowerment and financial independence, are we able to exorcise this fear rooted in our psyche? After a long day’s work, can she return home late with a light heart as a man would? A woman stepping out of home alone is a perpetual cause of concern, till she is back safe.

If the hour is past, silent and dense dread permeate the house with all sorts of alarming thoughts of the “worst scenario”. Why is the word “alone” loaded with so much negativity and fear? Leave alone evening walks, even the daily bus commutes to work turn into moments of anxiety. Suicide becomes the penalty you pay for valuing “honour”. This fear of honour becoming her Achilles heel is another absurdity of our times.

Father Time has always been a Man. It all began with our first epic. The narration of Shoorpanakha’s “nose job” is a classic example of the subtle manipulation of your sense of right and wrong. One must, very righteously feel, “Good, good for her, serves her right”. What fun, what laughter as we visualised her blunt nose bleeding from the assault!

Where did so much mirth spring from? Violence had already made an insidious entry into the portals of innocence. The ordeal by fire didn’t appear unjust. Or as cruelty and assault on the dignity of a woman. Until one day you woke up to the fact that most of the value education had become an instrument of subjugating and lacerating a woman’s spirit. Oh, it was the yugadharma, the way of the world in that era, they say. A legal system for women, created by women, is a deeply felt need of this age and times.

 

Vaidehi (Janaki Srinivasa Murthy) is one of the most prolific and acclaimed writers of modern Kannada literature. Her prominent work include Jathre (The Temple Fair in English) and Asprushyaru Translated by Sumathi Niranjan
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