THE BURNING PYRE
The land, affectionately known as “Bharat Mata”, is the same land that reports 1 rape case in every 16 minutes. The land of shakti falls weak in protecting its Devis from the hands of Demons. The land that echoes with the valour of Durga and Kali is also the land of Draupadi, Ahalya and Araja who were left with the onus of “saving themselves” from the hands of lust and predators. Despite dynasties being replaced and power changing hands, the age-old stories of women being robbed off their honour remains unchanged. In 2019, India recorded 88 rape cases every day. And out of the 32,033 reported rape cases, 11% were from the Dalit community alone (NCRB annual report titled ‘Crimes in India - 2019’).
The conscience of the nation shook when the visuals of the burning pyre surfaced on the night of 29th September. Manisha, stirred the soul of the nation. One broken spine, a bleeding vagina and a body paralyzed were too little for Manisha to prove that she was raped. From 14th September to 29th she lived to tell her horrors but a society tangled in its prejudices denied her honour even at death. Hathras, Muzaffarnagar, Boolgarhi, Mathura are sadly just numbers to be counted for the next NCRB report. Newspaper, blogs, surveys and interviews are there in plenty - that too in vivid details to retell how the perpetrator shoved their manhood inside them and moaned in pleasure while Manisha, Nirbhaya, Aruna, Manorama, Sonam, Sori cried in despair. Even irony dies a slow death when the victims are questioned. Mathura- the Brij Bhoomi, along with countless tales of Krishna, also has the story of 16 year old Mathura, who was raped by two policemen inside a police station. When the court set-free the accused, stating - that since Mathura was sexually active, she has “voluntarily” consented to sex. The nation erupted. Much like today, indignant protests by activists, led the government to amend the anti-rape law in 1983 to accommodate the provision - if a victim says that she did not consent to sex, the court will believe her.
Still today the rapist escapes with light punishment because the patriarchal society makes the court of law believe that the crime was committed only because the country’s Grade-A citizens were intoxicated and thus, to serve them with harsh punishment, would be “unjust” because they have a family to look after and also because “MEN WILL BE MEN”. While most of the victims are still waiting for justice to be served, many choose silence, fearing social stigma. “Rape-culture”, the frequently used term these days, came in the media and public domain only in the late 1970’s. The documentary by Margaret and Renner titled ‘Rape Culture’ (1975) helped in establishing the relationship between rape and culture’s sexual fantasies. Even the age-old mythologies from all across the world have stories of women being “taken” by Gods as punishment, pleasure or conquest. Sadly, rape for many is not even a crime and is looked upon as theft/insult against her “owner”. Even in today’s world, rape of a sex-worker or a woman of “lower cast” or that of a “non-virgin” is not even considered a crime simply because it is believed that she has no “chastity” that is left to be damaged. In 1992, when Bhanwari Devi stood against child marriage, the upper caste men raped her- a lesson taught for crossing caste and gender boundaries.
On 29th September 2006, India woke up to the horrors of the Khairlanji massacre where a mother, her daughter and two sons where dragged out of the house, stripped and paraded naked. One of the sons was beaten to death for refusing to have sex with his sister. The vultures mutilated their private parts, gang-raped the women and even continued to rape the dead bodies. And on 29th September 2020, India went to sleep hearing the cries of a mother who could not see her daughter for one last time. Manisha’s burning pyre will continue to haunt the conscience of every soul. It will serve as the light that the society desperately needs to overcome its darkness. The society needs to fight back the prejudices, laws, it needs to evolve and the administration needs to buckle up. What Manisha could not do in her life, her burning pyre did it for her, the flames of her mortal remains forced the society to listen. As a society we need to listen - for our silence gives consent to the perpetrators. Like the Plague and Ebola, Corona will pass as well but this “pandemic” won’t end until the society is challenged to its core.