Sohaila Abdulali: Being #Raped Was Terrible, But Being Alive Is More Important
Sohaila Abdulali is an Indian born author and journalist who currently lives in the U.S. In 1980, at the age of 17 she survived a violent gang rape in India. Three years later she wrote about her experience in the Indian magazine, Manushi. Below is an excerpt from her article.
Sohaila’s first-hand account is courageous beyond words! Women in India, even in the educated middle classes, won’t report rape nor go public because of the associated notion of “shame!”
But there is another issue that Sohaila discusses that media and women’s forums in India even today, in the face of horrendously escalating violence on women, shy away from. Faced with a gang of violent men, Sohaila makes a choice to survive. From the accounts of the Delhi gang rape victim it appears that the violence on her escalated as she bit one of them and tried to fight back. Indeed, the five men who just this week gang raped a female photojournalist, also in Mumbai, now reveal that they had plans of murdering her and her colleague if they had tried to resist or fight back. The question Sohaila poses is why a woman faced with a gang of violent men shouldn’t, do whatever it takes to survive?
This is what we need to ask: Why aren’t women’s forums and media talking about this instead of promoting self-defense and pepper spray tactics as effective means to fight off gangs of armed rapists!! Why is there more admiration in India for a woman who dies trying to protect irrational and misogynistic social notions of “honor?” The mother of a woman lawyer who was attacked in her flat in Mumbai in 2012 by the security guard, and killed when she fought off his attempts to rape her, categorically and with a certain pride told millions of viewers on a TV program that she wants India to know that her daughter was not raped. That she had died fighting for her “honor!”
How many women in India faced with rapists worry more about the so-called “shame” of rape than about saving their lives?
by Sohaila Abdulali
I was gang raped [in 1980], when I was 17 years old. That was the year women’s groups [in India] were beginning to demand improved legislation on rape.
I was with my friend Rashid. We had gone for a walk and about 1½ mile from my home in the suburb of Bombay. We were attacked by four men, who were armed with a sickle. We were separated, screaming, and they raped me, keeping Rashid hostage. If either of us resisted, the other would get hurt. This was an effective tactic.
They could not decide whether or not to kill us. We did everything in our power to stay alive. My goal was to live and that was more important than anything else. I fought the attackers physically at first, and with words after I was pinned down. Anger and shouting had no effect, so I began to babble rather crazily about love and compassion, I spoke of humanity and the fact that I was a human being, and so were they, deep inside. They were gentler after this, at least those who were not raping me at the moment. I told one of them that if he ensured neither Rashid nor I was killed,1 would come back to meet him, the rapist, the next day. Those words cost me more than I can say, but two lives were in the balance. The only way I would ever have gone back there was with a very, very sharp instrument that would ensure that he never raped again.
After what seemed like years of torture(I think I was raped 10 times but I was in so much pain that I lost track of what was going on after a while), we were let go, with a final long lecture on what an immoral whore I was to be alone with a boy. That infuriated them more than anything. They acted the whole time as if they were doing me a favour, teaching me a lesson. Theirs was the most fanatical kind of self righteousness.
They took us down the mountain and followed us for a while, brandishing the sickle. Finally we got home, broken, bruised, shattered. It was such an incredible feeling to let go, to stop bargaining for our lives. [We] collapsed into hysterical howling.
I had earnestly promised the rapists that I would never tell anyone but the minute I got home, told my father to call the police. He was as anxious as I was to get them apprehended. I was willing to do anything to prevent someone else having to go through what I had been through. The police were insensitive, contemptuous, and somehow managed to make me the guilty party. When they asked me what had happened, I told them quite directly, and they were scandalized that I was not a shy, blushing victim. When they said there would be publicity, I said that was all right. It had honestly never occurred to me that Rashid or I could be blamed. When they said I would have to go into a home for juvenile delinquents for my “protection.” I was willing to live with pimps and rapists, in order to be able to bring my attackers to justice.
Soon I realized that justice for women simply does not exist in the legal system. When they asked us what we had been doing on the mountain, 1 began to get indignant. When they asked Rashid why he had been “passive”, I screamed. Didn’t they understand that his resistance meant further torture for me? When they asked questions about what kind of clothes I had been wearing, and why there were no visible marks on Rashid’s body (he had internal bleeding from being repeatedly hit in the stomach with the handle of the sickle), I broke down in complete misery and terror, and my father threw them out of the house after telling them exactly what he thought of them. That was the extent of the support the police gave me. No charges were brought. The police recorded a statement that we had gone for a walk and had been “delayed” on our return.
[Even three years later] there [was] not one day, when I [was] not haunted by what had happened. Insecurity, vulnerability, fear, anger, helplessness—I fight these constantly. Sometimes when I am walking on the road and hear footsteps behind I start to sweat and have to bite my lip to keep from screaming. I flinch at friendly touches, I can’t bear tight scarves that feel like hands round my throat, I flinch at a certain look that comes into men’s eyes—that look is there so often.
[Yet], I have [also] been intensely aware of the misconceptions people have about rape, about those who rape and those who survive rape. I have also been aware of the stigma that attaches to survivors. Time and again, people have hinted that perhaps death would have been better than the loss of that precious “virginity.”
I refuse to accept this. My life is worth too much to me.
I fought for my life, and won. No negative reaction can make me stop feeling that this is positive. Being raped was terrible beyond words, but I think being alive is more important.
When a woman is denied the right to feel this, there is something very wrong in our value system.
Sohaila’s account here is included in The 50 Million Missing Campaign’s Project ‘Freedom’ Series to Stop Violence Against Women. To read personal life accounts by other Indian women and men in our FREEDOM SERIES, CLICK HERE
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sohaila Abdulia is an Indian born author and journalist who currently lives in the U.S. She has researched and given numerous public talks on issues of sexual violence. She’s Senior Editor at Ubuntu Education Fund, an international NGO working with children in South Africa. Her website is www.sohailaink.com