India Today - - UPFRONT - By Ar­shia Sat­tar Ar­shia Sat­tar is an au­thor and trans­la­tor

Rape is the only crime that is so bad that vic­tims are sup­posed to be de­stroyed be­yond re­pair by it, but si­mul­ta­ne­ously not so bad that the men who do it should be treated like other crim­i­nals.”

Ab­du­lali is not an ob­jec­tive com­men­ta­tor on sex­ual as­sault and ag­gres­sion—she was gang-raped when she was 17 and soon af­ter, wrote about what had been done to her. Her ac­count was pub­lished in Manushi, at the time In­dia’s only and path-break­ing fem­i­nist mag­a­zine. Since then, Ab­du­lali has earned de­grees, writ­ten nov­els, had chil­dren and con­sis­tently been a coun­sel­lor for women who have suf­fered sex­ual vi­o­lence.

Her new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape, is re­mark­able for many rea­sons and is, per­haps, unique. Rather than be­ing an ac­count of all that she has done and achieved and en­dured, it is a nu­anced re­flec­tion on the af­ter­math of rape, her own and that of oth­ers. It asks many ques­tions: does rape de­fine a woman’s life for­ever, what is con­sent, is rape about sex and/ or de­sire, does a woman who has been raped ever get over the trauma? Ab­du­lali’s sen­si­tiv­ity lies in the fact that she does not of­fer sin­gle an­swers to the ques­tions she raises. Rather, she re­sponds to her own ques­tions in ways that cover a spec­trum of pos­si­bil­i­ties, recog­nis­ing that women’s re­sponses to rape are dif­fer­ent and var­ied. The one cer­tainty that she of­fers us in terms of our own re­ac­tions to rape is that we must lis­ten, we must cre­ate a space of safety where women can talk, in what­ever way they like and when­ever they like, about what hap­pened.

Ab­du­lali writes in a per­sonal voice that, in the main, avoids cold data and sta­tis­tics. She re­places th­ese so­ci­o­log­i­cal tools with tes­ti­monies from other women around the world. As a re­sult, this be­comes a book of pain and tri­umph, of sol­i­dar­ity and com­fort, of hope and prayer. Ab­du­lali sug­gests ways in which women who have been vi­o­lated could recog­nise bet­ter the con­tours of the weight they carry and step out into the world again: we might be ten­ta­tive in the steps that we take, we might look over our shoul­ders con­stantly, we might con­vulse at an­other ac­count of sex­ual vi­o­lence, but with Ab­du­lali, we are hold­ing hands and talk­ing, gain­ing and giv­ing so­lace. Th­ese fluid com­mu­ni­ties of ac­knowl­edge­ment and sup­port are both real and vir­tual. In ei­ther case, they shel­ter us and em­power us.

Ab­du­lali’s book could not be more timely as the #MeToo move­ment sweeps through the me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­tries in In­dia. The ac­counts of in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments and ver­bal over­tures, sex­ual as­saults and rape by men in power that women are re­veal­ing are lead­ing to con­ver­sa­tions not only about how to deal with per­pe­tra­tors of sex­ual vi­o­lence and sys­temic pa­tri­archy but also con­ver­sa­tions about how to help and heal the women who have been at­tacked and, in many cases, have re­mained si­lent and of­ten alone, for years. This book can pro­vide us, both men and women, with a road map for real and ef­fec­tive change as we go for­ward with new ex­pec­ta­tions from each other and, hope­fully, with newly forged sol­i­dar­i­ties.

Ab­du­lali re­places so­ci­o­log­i­cal tools with tes­ti­monies. As a re­sult, this be­comes a book of pain and tri­umph, of sol­i­dar­ity and com­fort, of hope and prayer

WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT RAPE By So­haila Ab­du­laliVik­ing Pen­guin 228 pages, `499

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