RALLYING CRY FOR RAPE SURVIVORS
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