Magazine article New Internationalist

To a Place of Healing

Magazine article New Internationalist

To a Place of Healing

Article excerpt

Twenty-five years ago, there was great consternation in the village I live in, Bambous, when a young woman neighbour, Santa, was abandoned by her fiancé after he had tricked her into accompanying him into an empty house and then raped her. The consternation was around how to pressure the man to make amends for the rape by forcing him to go ahead and marry her. This was done by a band of Santa's male relatives going over to his village and threatening to castrate him. The Criminal Code, as the band of men knew, specifies that castration is 'excusable' (meaning has lesser penalties) if carried out in direct response to an attack on a woman's 'chastity'.

Santa had acquiesced in the original marriage proposal. 'I'm already 25,' she had explained to me, 'and my mother is a poor widow. She's so pleased she's found a suitable boy for me, because he owns a plot of land.' But from the beginning Santa found the man repugnant. The rape obviously disgusted her further.

However, a shotgun marriage went ahead. Such was the attitude to rape, only 25 years ago.

I was among the women who had tried to give Santa the courage to refuse the marriage. But, after failing, and with the wedding preparations going ahead, I still had to face a serious moral dilemma when Santa asked, 'Will you help me? Will you type a few wedding invitations?'

Anyway, the marriage lasted no more than three months. 'I'm back!' Santa announced one day. She got a job in a factory, made lots of friends, and lived happily ever after with her mother.

In those days rape within a marriage was not only not illegal, but was generally deemed impossible, a contradiction in terms. Marriage entitled a man to his wife, so how could he rape her? In the District Court in Bambous, I heard a barrister for the defence in a rape case get away with openly deriding two women who had been raped by police officers inside a police station.

It was against this baseline view of rape that, when my novel The Rape of Sita came out in 1994 and I came under death threats from some religious fundamentalists and under attack from the Government, a long debate ensued. It was something of a turning point in attitudes towards rape. Rape, once perceived as being 'the woman's crime' could not go on being so. …

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