The massive rise in gender-based violence in India reveals how the country is largely affected by patriarchy and its regressive practices. What’s worse is the manner in which we deal with the aftermath of such incidents. Acknowledgment of where we are going wrong in the first place is what will lead us to a better understanding, and Delhi-based investigative journalist Priyanka Dubey’s book, No Nation For Women, enables us to do just that.
Dubey, through the course of writing this book, has travelled to some of the most remote corners of India to report on stories of women who have faced rape, assault, mutilation and brutal deaths.
With every case that comes in the limelight, there are hundreds of others which go unreported. Dubey, in this journey of six years, has travelled across the country to uncover accounts of women crippled by patriarchy – the women who nobody talks about. SheThePeople.TV spoke with Priyanka Dubey about No Nation For Women, how the country handles rape incidents, gender violence, and more.
With No Nation For Women, you’re tackling some really barbed questions about rape – questions which are usually termed delicate and avoided. What led you to write this particular book?
I wrote this book because I believe reportage-based non-fiction documentation of any problem leads to wider understanding of the subject. For example, the non-fiction work of Svetlana Alexievich on lives of people in post-war Russia or the work of Ryszard Kapuscinski on Africa or our very own P Sainath’s work on agricultural distress – have all immensely added to public understanding of the complex situation they have reported on. As far as ‘No Nation for Women’ is concerned, I believe reportage based non-fiction will push for wider acknowledgment of the discriminatory behaviour happening to women. This acknowledgment is the first step towards the long road of course correction.
Looking back, I also feel that this book took birth from the environment I grew up in. I grew up in small town India where female lives are still controlled by males to a large extent. I was also raised in a reasonably controlled environment. Questions around discrimination and gender equality started bothering me from a very young age. I came into journalism because I thought of it as a tool to understand and see the world. And when I joined reporting, stories around violence against women pricked me. Continuous work on rapes and violence against women then gradually lead to this book.
As far as ‘No Nation for Women’ is concerned, I believe reportage based non-fiction will push for wider acknowledgment of the discriminatory behaviour happening to women. This acknowledgment is the first step toward the long road of course correction
Do we talk enough about violence against women?
I think the conversation around violence against women started after the December 2012 gang rape happened. Even #MeToo hit India roughly one year after emerging in the West. So, we are just starting and we have a long way to go. Until our morning newspapers continue to be filled with stories on gender violence as they are now, conversations around gender violence will never be enough.
Until our morning newspapers continue to be filled with stories on gender violence as they are now, conversations around gender violence will never be enough
What difference do you see in the way the Indian society values a survivor’s word? Has there been more acceptance to survivors’ stories?
In my limited reporting experience, I have seen that survivor stories are not trusted by and large. Ideally trusting the survivor’s account should be the starting point of conversation and investigation in such cases. But the society, as well as investigative agencies, begin by doubting the survivor.
How long did it take for you to write it? Who do you most hope the book should reach out to?
It took me six years to finish the reporting and writing of this book. I hope that it reaches everyone – people of all genders and age groups. Because, if we are aiming for long-term comprehensive social changes, then involvement of all segments of society is necessary. I hope that #nonationforwomen plays its humble part in this long-term change.
The book chronicles your journey, interactions and conversations with survivors and people from across the country – their personal accounts tell the larger story of what rape means and the aftermath of incidents. Personally, how has this writing process been for you?
Working on this book has been a life-altering experience for me. Sure, it was moving, overwhelming and traumatic. Initially, I used to feel devastated while reporting. But these very stories and my reporting hand-held me towards healing also. While feeling emotionally bruised on one hand, I never lose sight of the hope and energy that the lives of people I wrote about – gave me. I am full of gratitude towards everyone I met in this journey.
The book coincides with the rising tide of the #MeToo campaign in India. How do you think this movement and the current course of events can help in dismantling a system that has been normalised since ages?
I have not reported on #MeToo but I have followed the movement as a journalist. I believe, this movement has started to disrupt the age-old patriarchal system by giving voice to the survivors. In this context, the act of speaking up against sexual violence is revolutionary.
I believe, the #MeToo movement has started to disrupt the age-old patriarchal system by giving voice to the survivors
You have zoned into deep patriarchal spaces to investigate and report. Please tell us about your personal experience both as a woman and journalist over these years?
My experiences as a reporter have been varied. Sometimes my gender helped me in gaining a certain comfort level with women I was interviewing while during some instances, it became a hurdle in reaching out to people. But one thing which has remained a constant throughout is the situation of women across country. The only thing that shocks me is how an ironic sense of normalisation has started creeping in about the increasing levels of violence against women in India. And keeps getting worse with every passing day. Every mornin,g newspapers are flooded with cases of rape which are more brutal than the previous day. From stories about rape of children as young as two years to sexual abuse going on for months in government shelter homes (Bihar), nothing moves us in the jolting way in which it actually should.
The only thing that shocks me is how an ironic sense of normalisation has started creeping in about the increasing levels of violence against women in India
Do you think gender-related crimes are also perceived differently when it comes to the urban-rural divide in India?
In urban areas, there is slightly more awareness, so the situation is slightly better, but callousness in the attitude of investigative agencies and victim-blaming and shaming attitude is largely the same in both urban and rural milieus.
What were the roadblocks that came your way while venturing into this reportage on your own?
My biggest battles have always stretched out inside family spaces. It was difficult to convince them about my life and work choices in the beginning. Everything else, I managed on my own. It was a process of working and improvising yourself on the go. My reading habit really helped me in many ways.
We recently interviewed Sohaila Abdulali, a gang rape survivor, and now author of the book What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape. She shared how the society’s understanding and conversation surrounding rape is the same as it was during her incident 30 years back, and that, even today, “the survivor is the least important person even in the aftermath”. What do you have to say about the gap we face in this understanding of rape in India?
I think Sohaila is absolutely right. A couple of new laws might have cropped on paper in the name of change in the last 30 years, but the social mindset of people has not changed. Victim blaming is a truth. Society wants rape survivors to behave in a certain way and they are judged if they do not fit in the ‘always distraught and crying’ image of rape survivors. And this kind of regressive anti-women behaviour is nurtured by patriarchy.
While we have to collectively start believing people when they come forward with credible allegations of having been sexually assaulted, it’s also important to put a system in place. How can we work towards creating a more meaningful dialogue in place?
I think any meaningful dialogue will start by addressing core issues related to this problem. Like – low conviction rate in rape cases in the biggest elephant in the room. Low conviction rate in cases of crime against women in India is a blindspot which is often ignored in the larger discourse around rape. In my reporting experience, I found that while a court case does not hinder the social and public life of the accused, the survivor is literally forced to live a caged anonymous life. I have seen accused getting bail, getting married, having children and picking up new jobs during an ongoing trial while the survivor’s life comes to a full stop — literally. She struggles under the social stigma associated with rape and her biggest concern becomes retaining her anonymity. Ensuring justice often turns out to be the first step towards a conversation.
In my reporting experience, I found that while a court case does not hinder the social and public life of the accused, the survivor is literally forced to live a caged anonymous life
Lastly, is India worthy of its women?
I think as a society and country — we are a work in progress. Even amidst utter hopelessness, millions of people are working everyday to make this country a less patriarchal and safer place for women. But we have a long road ahead.
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