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Sohaila Abdulali: Being #Raped Was Terrible, But Being Alive Is More Important

August 24, 2013

sohailaSohaila 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 backIndeed, 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?

sohaila abdulali

Sohaila at the time of the incident

  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


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

20 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2013 6:19 pm

    My sympathy and salute to you. Humanity is hurt more by the inaction of good people than the action of the evils. We need to put our collective effort to change things for batter. God bless you.

  2. August 25, 2013 5:15 pm

    Reblogged this on The Sex and Power Discussion Blog and commented:

    Most rapes being reported in India now are gang rapes. How can women protect themselves when confronted by a group of men who are armed? Do we believe we are Michelle Yeoh in Crouching Tiger. I was horrified when yesterday in response to the gang rape of the photojournalist in Bombay, a few TV channels advised women on using some very basic self-defense moves to stop the rape, and fight back. One channel had an ‘expert’ who told women that she knows one woman in a village who took on 10 men successfully! Not of the programs told the women, that they have to prioritize their survival over their rape. That they should not attempt anything that would endanger their lives. That they need to know that even more than the rape it is their life that they need to worry about.

    • August 25, 2013 8:12 pm

      The only way to protect yourself when confronted by a gang is: Always carry a gun!…Shoot them down like dogs!!

    • J. Metaneira permalink
      September 1, 2013 10:50 pm

      I disagree. I appreciate your perspective but I just can’t agree with it.

      I don’t blame women who feel they’d rather die than be raped. Rape-induced PTSD sucks. I know at least one woman who still has it TWENTY WHOLE YEARS after the actual rape. It is not unreasonable that someone would rather die than suffer from that trauma for possibly their lifetime.

  3. August 25, 2013 8:09 pm

    Suggestions must start to appear..of: What to do with these RAPISTS?….I have a whole list of suggestions..BUT, ACTION speaks louder than words!…Indian-lawyers start implementing the law against these HORROR DEEDS enacted in your country!!
    If the LAW does nothing …My voice goes out to the MALES of India…Organise groups, get hold of these Rapists….and ACT against them eg.. dis-member them on a public square!…for the world to see!! …..leave them bleeding in pain….!!!

  4. August 25, 2013 8:13 pm

    The collective effort is taking too long!!……

  5. Leslie permalink
    August 26, 2013 9:32 pm

    I too was violently gang raped but here in the United States. Never reported it due to shame as it was 1980 and rape was considered to be the fault of the woman. I lived for years being retraumatized by the same men. Just seeing them and them me brang such rage I new I could have shot them in cold blood. This experience altered the rest of my life and my ability to feel . I had to stop feeling to survive but that coping skill only lasted 20 years until I self destructed. This self destruction which sank me to the deepest levels of emotional bankruptcy in truth became a rebirth. A chance to go back in time and heal my emotional wounds and all that i had trampled over along the way. The new journey has taken over 10 years. I would love to tell my story , it is an incredible one, to help other victims like myself. To breath out into the world compassion for all victims of rape and violence. And to insure that we have a voice. . .

    • August 29, 2013 11:10 am

      Dear Leslie, Please do tell your story. We want Indian women to hear from women outside telling how important it is to break the silence, because it is something never discussed even by women’s platforms in India. You can post it in another comment box here. And don’t worry about it’s length. We’ll be very glad to hear from you.

  6. Samir Chatterjee permalink
    August 27, 2013 9:04 am

    Of course life is much more important and worth saving than some mythical notion of virginity. There is too much hypocrisy in India. Behind all the concepts of Mother India and umpteen female goddesses lies sexual violence, predatory men and indifferent and sometimes scornful police!

  7. Lisa jordan permalink
    August 29, 2013 1:49 pm

    Are women allowed to carry fire arms in India ? I never leave home without my hand gun.I feel so horrible for women in these countries ,I think it’s time for a revolt because it sounds like talking is not working at this point.We need a worldwide women’s army.

    • September 1, 2013 3:04 pm

      Lisa, There is gun control in India. But if that’s lifted then there are more chances of violence on women. Most rapes outside the homes in India are gang rapes, and even with a gun, there is very little a woman can do if she were to face a gang of men themselves armed with guns!

  8. September 2, 2013 12:55 pm

    Reblogged this on Social Awareness.

  9. September 2, 2013 4:14 pm

    Government also should make a campaign awareness about Safety products like pepper spray so many thing, it will help minimum protection to avoid Terrible Situations.

    • September 2, 2013 6:13 pm

      But pepper spray is not going to help when a you are confronted with a gang. Our question is the one Sohaila Abdulali raises: Do women understand it is more important to do everything to stay alive instead of trying to prevent rape?

    • Purva permalink
      September 2, 2013 9:20 pm

      Pepper spray works when one is in a crowded place and able to assure that there would be help available. When one is confronted by a group of violent men and is outnumbered there is no sense in acting the Bollywood heroine, it is better to cooperate with the assailants and ensure that one survives. Survival at all times is the key.

      Wish more women had the presence of mind that Sohaila did when trying to befriend the rapists, we would have far fewer of “rape and murder” victims. There is no point acting the HERO and tell the rapists that you are going to report them the first chance you get.First priority is to get out alive from the place with as little physical harm as possible.

  10. Donald D'Haene permalink
    September 3, 2013 3:07 pm

    Dear Ms. Absulali…just read your amazingly horrific, honest, brave story here then went to your web site.

    When I finished all I could think was, “Of course, and Thank God – I am a Feminist!”

    I share the feeling “no matter what has happened thank god I am alive”…

    I went public with my story 30 years ago, wrote a book, blah blah blah but my most important column is this one: Take Care of Yourself and Your Soul link below. Your story reminded me of it so I thought I would share…Thank YOU for sharing your story! Donald Canada

  11. January 29, 2014 6:38 pm

    Skirt do not cause Rape – Sick Mentality Does

  12. April 9, 2014 12:42 pm

    Rape is culture which is increasing at an alarming rate and its time to take a step and stop it .
    Rape should ultimately be avoided by people not raping and not taking advantage of another. However, if the situation arises, others can and should step in.
    Let’s step up and look out for each other.
    Please watch this video,share and comment on it. we really need your support.


  1. Sohaila Abdulali: #Vergewaltigt zu werden war furchtbar, aber am Leben zu sein ist wichtiger | The 50 Million Missing Campaign: "50 Millionen verschwunden"
  2. Sohaila Abdulali Story After Being Raped

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