The Price of Duty
Srabonti Narmeen Ali
Tina was 12 years old when her cousin forced himself on her. She had been reading in her room and he came in and locked the door. At first she had struggled but he had threatened her -- he had told her that if she refused him he would tell her parents and she would be thrown out. She believed him. He continued to rape her for the next two years until he went off to college. She had believed back then that what had happened was her fault and that she must have done something to put herself in that position. Looking back now, she knows better, but still cannot expose her cousin, for fear of what might become of her.
"There is really no point," says Tina, now 28 years old. "My family could ostracise me, the extended family will get involved and eventually the blame will be put squarely on my shoulders. I don't believe that in situations like this justice is ever served. Someone will always ask what I had done to bring this on myself, and how I could have prevented it. It took me years to get over it. There is no point in opening up old wounds just to have more salt poured on them by having people accuse me."
There are hundreds and thousands of stories similar to Tina's. Most of them end with the same bitter note -- the acceptance and recognition mingled with the dissonance of fear and shame. Not many of these women speak out. Why should they, after all? In a society where a raped woman is considered the equivalent of a "fallen" woman, what is the point? These women move on with their daily lives, with the memories of being violated beyond redemption and pretend that everything is alright because that is, after all, what we women do.
And they tell us we are the weaker sex.
Rape and sexual abuse rates are alarmingly high within families. It is for this reason that most girls who are victims of these heinous crimes, remain silent. For these women, the shame is double, for it is not a stranger that takes advantage of them and violates them, but their own flesh and blood. Girls often feel like they have to choose between their family loyalty and their own peace of mind. They are torn because if they let things go, they may be compromising themselves, but if they fight it, they will be compromising their families.
Such problems are faced in many households, including Laila's. When she was seven years old her chacha raped her. Laila did not understand what was happening at the time and thought this was her chacha's own way of showing his love for her, as he kept saying. When she finally came to understand what sex was from a school friend of hers, and came to the realisation that it was not alright for her to be in a sexual relationship with her uncle, she told her father.
"It was like the whole house fell apart," says Laila, now 23 years old. "My father stopped speaking to me and my mother told me I should never repeat this to anyone again. No one mentioned anything to my chacha. It was like I was the one who had wronged him and he was the victim and I was the one being punished. I never said anything about it after that, and things returned to normal in my family. My father thinks everything is alright, but I don't think I can ever look at him the same way again. He kept telling me that I was insulting his brother, but I am his daughter. Apparently that is not enough."
Whether they choose to keep things quiet like Tina, or attempt to speak out and get shot down, like Laila, victims of incestuous and family rape feel that their pasts affect their everyday lives. Because the people who abused them are such close family members, and therefore, by default, should be men that they can look up to, trust whole-heartedly and depend on for protection, they grow up feeling not only insecure but unable to really trust anyone.
"I am always expecting everyone to take advantage of me, or hurt me, or disappoint me," says 26-year-old Farzana, who was molested by her brother when she was 10 years old. "I just cannot believe that anyone would have any good intentions towards me, because I guess the person I thought would always look out for me was the same person who harmed me the most. I never mentioned anything to anyone because how can I? He is not some stranger--he is my brother. I want my mother to keep her son, instead of having to choose between him and her daughter's abuser."
Aside from this lack of trust and insecurity, many women in these situations also feel a sense of helplessness which very frequently becomes anger because they have no outlet, nor can they confide in anyone about their problems.
"Let's face it, whether you are raped or molested, you can never forget it and neither can you ever really move past it," says 21-year-old Maya, whose uncle used to bribe her with sweets when she was six years old so that she would lie down naked next to him and allow him to touch her. "And yeah, it makes me mad. It makes me mad every day when I see his face and I have to be normal and say Salaam, because I think he is sick, and I will never forget. Men are so stupid. They think you forget. He thinks I don't remember but I do. I don't know what crippling sense of duty is making me stay quiet but I really hope that he gets what he deserves someday."
It is that same "crippling sense of duty" that becomes a burden to many women as they attempt to plow through their lives and deal with their traumatic pasts. They cannot forget and neither can they forgive, but somehow, the veil of responsibility and loyalty presides over all their actions and words. They are stifled, suffocated and silenced by the same societal and familial rules -- be they unspoken or spoken -- that force them to passively accept their fate, while allowing the wrongs of other people to be covered by their sense of obligation. They save the face of their perpetrators because they are family, and in the process, they sacrifice a precious part of themselves.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005