IntersectionalityViolence Aruna Shanbaug and The “Martyrs” We Make

Aruna Shanbaug and The “Martyrs” We Make

The Indian media is frenzied, chaotic and at the same time pretty predictable. After the death of Suzette Jordan, the mother of two, rape survivor, activist, the internet and media went gaga about how awesome she was as a person and how much she had achieved in her short span of life. When Suzette was alive, she was abused, portrayed as a slut, leered at, unjustly talked about and none of the media houses or the internet gave a shit (pardon my French).

Suzette was at a pub on the night in question, she smokes, she is a mother of two and had still ventured out of the house at night; all these things were highlighted in the media. The Chief Minister of Bengal went ahead and called her a liar. Her rapists are still not sentenced. However, her death redeemed her. She was a martyr now. She was an activist who could be put up on the pedestal and then promptly forgotten when the retweets were done and the papers sold. Death sells more papers than live people doing something great.

Aruna Shanbaug died in a hospital in Mumbai after being in a vegetative state for 42 years. She was raped and sodomised by a ward boy by the name of Shohanlal in 1973. While Aruna lived in a coma for the next 42 years, Shohanlal was not even tried for rape. He was convicted of theft and found work after serving a sentence. Pinki Virani, reknowned social campaigner and national award-winning author, had petitioned the court for the euthanization of Aruna, stating that keeping her alive in a vegetative state was against her right to live in dignity. The court had rejected the plea.

The nurses at KEM hospital who kept Aruna alive and looked after her wanted her alive, Aruna’s sister wanted her alive. The Indian media wasn’t as vocal in 2011 when Pinki was trying to get Aruna the relief she needed. Now, when Aruna is dead, the headlines say what should have been said long ago, that Aruna found peace in death, that her life wasn’t worth living. Questions are being raised after 42 years that why was Shohanlal not tried for rape? Why does he get to live while Aruna rotted in a hospital? I have no problems with the questions. I have a problem with the timing. Now that Aruna is dead, is it easier for us to place her on that well dusted mantle we only reserve for martyrs who have fallen by the hands of the oppressor?

India does not know how to deal with victims who are alive and fighting. There is no medal to give, no sympathy to wrap around them. India does not know how to deal with rape victims who have not died, who do not ask for your tears or your tragic expressions. India does not know how to revolt without a victim on the verge of dying or dead. If a victim does not cry enough or talk about her besmirched honor, Indians do not think her suffering is worth mentioning. Even Jyoti Singh Pandey had to be portrayed as the poor, honourable, spotless woman who was trying to follow her dreams, for her to be the ideal victim; a victim India can cry for. India does not know how to cry for independent women who might not get along with their parents. When the rape victim is an upper class woman who smokes, drinks, goes to pubs with men, newspapers or the internet do not know how to portray this victim. She does not fall under any category. How would they get the fists thumping and the keys typing furiously over it? How would they get a hashtag running?

In an India where a tragic victim story is the long and short of a rape, I would like to point out a few things. Women do not need your sympathy. Women do not want to be put up on a pedestal. Victims do not care whether you shed a tear for her, they want justice; they deserve justice. Women do not want stories about rape after it happened; they want rape to not happen. It does not matter how many times you pay homage to a woman after she is dead, what matters is if justice prevailed. The nation as a whole needs change, not glorified role models who can’t say their piece.

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