Guwahati's shame: Why the victim should speak up now

by Vembu  Jul 14, 2012 09:03 IST

#CultureDecoder   #Guwahati   #molestation   #Sexual harassment  

All too quickly, the media attention has turned from the beasts who molested a young woman in full public glare in Guwahati on Monday — to the victim. And to project her as not quite the innocent victim that she comes across as.

Local Guwahati television channels are now insinuating that the victim of the molestation isn't a minor schoolgirl as she had claimed in the moments after her traumatic experience, but a married woman with a daughter. (More on that here.)

Silence is not golden in these circumstances.

On social media platforms too, self-appointed guardians of public morality have given expression to censorious criticism of her conduct. "Bitch deserved it", says one here (here). "If she was decent, she wudn't be out in a night club drunk and loose."

And even the editor of the television news  that aired the footage of the molestation said: "Prostitutes form a major chunk of girls who visit bars and night clubs."

All of which may account for why the victim has clammed up, and refuses to speak up about her experience.

The Indian Express reports, citing sources in the Assam State Commission for Women, that the victim has refused to speak to them on the incident, and has turned down repeated requests by its members to reach out to her.

At one level, it is easy to empathise with the victim's predicament. If she is indeed a minor, all she wanted when she went to the Guwahati bar on Monday was to have a bit of harmless fun (even if was illicit: if she was underaged, should never have been served alcohol). But things took a nasty turn: evidently she entered into an argument with one of the young men in her group over paying for the drinks, and all of them were ejected from the bar. (More here.)

The argument with the boy from her own group, spilled over onto the street, and from the account of the State Director-General of Police JN Choudhury, it descended into a physical fight. But what was at worst an indecorous argument among friends or acquaintances over a petty matter soon acquired ominous proportions. A group of  men who were  hanging about on the streets took advantage of the situation and began to molest and beat her up.

As the video footage of the molestation shows, she was severely traumatised by her experience, as anyone in her situation would have been.

She probably feels physically and emotionally violated, both by the initial experience of the molestation and by the fact that she's been thrust into the public glare in an unflattering way, and have insinuations floating around about her character.

But even if she wasn't who she claimed she was, nothing about the overall narrative has changed. A woman was molested and beaten up by a gang of hooligans outside a bar in full public glare.

But by remaining silent, and by refusing to narrate her experience to the women's group members who have reached out to her, she is only reinforcing regressive notions of 'shame' and 'loss of honour' - and giving the space for wild insinuations about her. And for similar cruel actions to be perpetrated in the future.

As Firstpost had note earlier, in the context of an incident of rape in Gurgaon, in cases like these, where insinuations about the victim tumble out with every news cycle, it's come to a stage where "it’s always the woman who first has to prove that she is indeed a victim – and one worthy of sympathy and support. And each such case that makes the headlines sends a clear message to all future... victims: the only guarantee of anonymity is silence."

But silence is not golden in these circumstances.

It doesn't matter whether the person who was molested on a Guwahati street was a schoolgirl, a young mother, or an old hag.

The fact was that a woman was molested in full public glare.  And nothing can justify that bestiality - or the ex-post facto innuendoes trotted out by pathetic apologists who defend the indefensible.