Tahmina Shafique The Complete Portfolio

9Nov/070

‘The King can do no wrong’

New Age: Why is there a norm of silence among women who are sexually abused at some point of their lives?

Sultana Kamal: Our society has been shaped in such a way that every time a woman is abused or sexually harassed, she feels that she has instigated that incident in some way or the other. In fact, our culture has taught women to look at life like that- it is their fault that they have been abused. The question of honour, the need for respect and honour is so pronounced as well, that women also chose to remain silent.

We also have numerous examples of women who have been taught to believe that their body is their own enemy. The irony is that instead of blaming the perpetrator, it is the victim who is, invariably blamed. So, the woman who has been abused is not only living with a scar that will last a life time but also deal with the numerous blames and mental trauma that comes after she has gone through something that horrific. Moreover, the society, the state and the law are shaped by the patriarchy and it is almost a given fact that women are ought to remain silent.

NA: What would you say about the preconceived notion that most people have about the fact that sexual abuse is less prevalent in middle class families than the poor?

SK: Sexual abuse is prevalent in middle class families to a horrific rate. It is also important to mention that, be it a woman from middle class family or a poor family- the extent of damage and torment after being sexually harassed is the same. There is no difference in the way it hits them. But, ironically the norm of silence is more prevalent among the middle class families. A woman from the middle class family has a lot more to lose, because she is so much more dependent on the society and her position in it. Hence, she strives more, to restore that statement of identity. For a woman, who comes from a less fortunate and poor background, the case is different. Even though she is not educated and confident, she is more vocal about it and most of the time they do speak of their own experiences more easily.

NA: What role does the law and the state play in these cases? Are they supportive in any way?

SK: We live in a patriarchal society, where the law and the norms are set by the dominant group. Men have been given the sole power to set out the laws, but they do not have the responsibilities to abide with them. The laws hence have been set out from a male perspective and they are rather crude.

Because of the long struggles and the woman’s movement, the world has come to an understanding that sexual abuse is wrong. But, what remains to be a finer contradiction is that the law and the state do not seem to enforce laws strongly. While women have been consistently struggling to gain a certain position, the more dominant group remains to be the men and they remain to be the decision makers. The fact that the power and control is not distributed equally and justly- remains a challenge. Moreover, for the state, such issues, especially, domestic abuse, remains a private matter and there is no intervention.

NA: Why would you say incest is so prevalent?

SK: There is once again a strong denial to deal with such a serious issue. In general, every individual’s right ought to be fulfilled by the state. Now, there are also certain maxims- the greatest being “The King can do no wrong” and if the King does anything wrong it is not wrong.

Now, let’s look at the political arena- the doctrines of the political practices are the ones that set out the rest of the society. If the attitude of the state and the law makers reflect ignorance, then so will the families, and thus the prevalence of things such as incest. It is a whole cycle- the family, society and the state. Inside the family, there is a certain discourse used between men and women. There is a question of unequal inheritance and men remain to be the decision makers. When a healthy standard of democratisation is ensured and the state policy is just, only then will it show through in the families.

NA: Do we see any glint of hope?

SK: Yes we do. In the last ten years, we have seen significant amount of improvement. We have in fact come a long way. The number of horrific cases has significantly gone down. But, it is true that we have not been able to achieve any success in the domestic level.

It is a matter of culture and how the social norms have been shaped and hence, it can only be enforced by the law and change in the attitude of the state. Given that the state policy is unbiased and the laws are more friendly, and the conscious of people is changed, things can certainly change.

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