“Published in Gender, Society and Mental Health, Bhargavi Davar ed, Sage, 2001.
A central paradox that characterizes a woman subject to sexual violence in many cultures, including India, is that of the “guilty victim”, both with society declaring her guilty of a moral flaw, and with the woman herself feeling guilty of complicity or even provocation.
The mechanisms of both, this external imposition of guilt, and the internalization of it become clearer if we see them in the light of a woman’s identity. Jaqueline Rose, in her essay “Femininity and its Discontents”, argues that
The unconscious constantly reveals the “failure” of identity. Because there is no continuity of psychic life, so there is no stability of sexual identity, no position for women (or men) which is ever simply achieved. Nor does psychoanalysis see such `failure’ as a special-case inability or an individual deviancy from the norm…there is a resistance to identity that lies at the heart of all psychic life. Viewed in this way, psychoanalysis is no longer best understood as an account of how women are best fitted into place…. Instead, psychoanalysis becomes one of the few places in culture where it is recognized as more than a fact of individual pathology that most women do not painlessly slip into their roles as women, if indeed they do at all. (232)
Rose helps us to open up the space between different notions of identity – “between the idea of a political identity for feminism (what women require) and that of a feminine identity for women (what women should be).” (240) The social demands of the latter, the social construction of what a feminine identity should be, make women vulnerable to internalizing guilt, whereas the former, the feminist identity that addresses the needs of women, makes it possible for them to deal with both the superimposed and the internalized guilt.
Thus therapy, if it is to be genuinely effective, has to set up a sensitive dialectic between the two forces shaping identity: the social demands on women, and their internal needs that require fulfilment in order for them to lead a healthy psychic life.
This is however, not always the case, because the emphasis within our mental health profession is largely on the normative approach. And in therapy that is founded on the function of normalizing, in contexts that are dominated by patriarchal norms, the focus on the functional integration of women with a patriarchal society often deflects the possibility of a genuine healing based on women’s reason and values, and their sense of morality, which might be different from men’s. Hence it becomes crucial to address the dialectic of identity, in turn, through a genuine dialectic set up between the cognitive and the normative approaches in therapy, without emphasizing the latter.
Further, therapy is usually viewed in terms of treatment or curing, rather than healing and empowerment. Here I would like to emphasize the importance of healing as the goal of therapy rather than treatment or curing; for while curing can also mean (according to Webster’s Dictionary), “to free from something objectionable or harmful”, or “to restore to normality”, healing goes much deeper. It is more than mere relief from that which is harmful, and cuts beyond the restrictions that the demands of normality impose upon character; it is empowerment in the sense that it restores a person to a sense of her integrity and power, and to a sense of wholeness based on the validation of her reason.
One has to also take into account that violence is a sign of a power struggle for the maintenance of a certain kind of social order. And sexual violence against women is not so much a question of sexuality as it is of political power, both patriarchal and other, ranging from domestic violence to the violence of state power, that often appropriate the existing patriarchal ideology to control women’s minds, bodies, and psyches.
Thus therapy, for women who have been subject to gender violence, cannot be based on the deployment of sexuality alone. A healing process that can restore to women their sense of wholeness, integrity and power would have to take into account the nature of the nexus between patriarchy, the family, other forms of politics, and sexuality in the enactment of gender violence. Therapy has to address sexuality and its outside, that is, the socio-political contexts within which it is deployed.Gender Violence: Problematic Social and Psychological Approaches
Taking to task psychological theories of violence that are built up as an axiom of human biology, and the claim that “men aggress, and men aggress sexually because they are made that way”, Bhargavi Davar asserts that
This theoretical privileging of aggression and sexuality as the primal instincts gives an important mileage to cultural domination by patriarchy, vindicating the use of violence …. This view of violence and sexuality as instinctual validates the large scale sexual violence against women. (13)
Violence, which is viewed as instinctual, in fact works at two levels, that of the instinct, and that of the idea, and there is no rational or causal connection between the two. This becomes clearer if we take as example the popular perception of rape as “victory” over the raped woman. It is important to recognize here that bodies in themselves do not give knowledge of victory or defeat, and there is nothing in the biological act of the penetration of the woman’s body that designates it as victory. As Freud stated in “The Unconscious”,
An instinct can never become an object of consciousness – only the idea that represents the instinct can. Even in the unconscious, moreover, an instinct cannot be represented otherwise than by an idea….(177)And as Mitchell emphasizes, “There is never a causal relationship between the biological urge and its representative” (198) [italics mine]. The subjective notion of victory in this case is a social construction of a sexual act, and it is a construction grounded in unreason. And far from being designated as madness, or even abnormal, this construction of unreason i.e. raping:victory :: being raped:defeat unambiguously reveals the systematization and regulation of sexuality towards patriarchal ends from the very moment in which knowledge begins to take shape.
Three of the common responses women have to rape are guilt based on the possible complicity or even provocation on her part, a sense of social shame, and powerlessness. The sense of social shame is difficult to do away with in therapy because it has as much to do with society’s perception of the act, if not more, as with the woman’s own perception of it. The sense of guilt and powerlessness, however, can and should be transformed through a self-enabling comprehension of the situation. This comprehension of the situation, the motivation behind the rape, and a critique of the patriarchal politics of rape, are crucial factors in helping restore the woman’s sense of integrity, self-worth, and confidence; in helping restore her power of agency.
The notion of the guilty woman derives from the popular perceptions such as “she desired to be raped” or “she enjoyed it”. What is dangerous is that instead of working towards erasing this sense of guilt, some analysts too actually evade the issue of violence and power and advocate a “domestication of rape” as “not that different from ordinary sex”. (Forrester, 83) Beginning with the token gesture of acknowledging the issue of consent and hence power, Forrester then proceeds to completely wipe it out of his proposal for healing by reducing the act of rape to seduction:Wherever there is desire, there will be doubts as to rape… we now see why psychoanalysis speaks to seduction and love rather than rape : in the Freudian universe there is no zero state of desire, there is always some desire (even if it manifests itself as horror) … A rape victim might well wish to take the chance offered by psychoanalysis of thinking her way into the unthinkable… But the risk will always be that the rape will turn into seduction as she discovers that, to quote one rape victim trying to come to terms with her experience, “it’s not that different from ordinary sex”. The domestication of rape, like the domestication of mourning, may well lead to a healing in which the moment of non-consent is filled in, in a reassertion of omnipotence… (83)[this argument may work in many cases of violence – a few days ago Veena Das too demonstrated ways in which domestication of violence is one of the modes of recovery. But I argue that it cannot lead to a genuine recovery in cases of sexual violence such as rape]
The danger of a position such as Forresters – “it’s not that different from ordinary sex” – is that it denies the powerplay inherent in seduction and then virtually suggests the equating of rape with seduction, hence circumventing the issue of power altogether. Moreover in such an approach rape again becomes an issue of desire, of “normal sex”, rather than one of consent. In fact it goes back right to the suggestion that “she desired it”, thus insidiously placing all responsibility on the women, and completely absolving the rapist of all culpability. Such a process could only reinforce guilt rather than assert omnipotence. Thus there is a need for establishing not just a gender sensitive approach, but a fundamental reorientation which disallows analyses such as Forrester’s that twist cognitive responses from a woman’s perspective (non-consent) into normative patriarchal stereotypes (a woman’s desire to be raped).
In the context of confronting guilt, Davar suggests that Nietzsche’s notion of learning `forgetfulness of guilt’ has important therapeutic implications from the perspepctive of gender. (19) I would take her argument further to emphasize that it is not forgetfulness of guilt but the refusal or the erasure of guilt that is at stake in therapy for women. This is because forgetfulness of guilt is predicated on the acceptance and confirmation of guilt, and also that deliberate forgetfulness can only be based on repression, causing incomplete healing, if at all.
Moreover, guilt is also an issue of morality. And what we have been discussing so far in the context of gender violence is the question of moralities from the standpoint of women as they are located in specific contexts, versus a patriarchal society. So the confirmation of guilt imposed by patriarchal norms could amount to a woman’s undermining of her own sense of morality. Hence, what is at stake is the erasure of guilt, and a feminist sense of morality, reason and agency that can make this possible.The Tyranny of Reason
Any genuine healing process would have to cut through the thick layers of established norms, to reach that constitutive division between Reason and Madness that Foucault has drawn our attention to in Madness and Civilization. In his radical investigation of the construction of madness, he points out that it is reason’s suppression of non-reason that is at the basis of this construction.
Speaking about the construction of madness, Foucault asserts that:
What is originative is the caesura that establishes the distance between reason and non-reason; reason’s subjugation of non-reason, wresting from it its truth as madness, crime, or disease, derives explicitly from this point (Foucault, 1965:x-xi)
We need to explore these issues in the context of gender politics. What is crucial here is reason’s suppression of non-reason, and the acknowledgement of only those aspects of non-reason that can be categorized as madness, crime, or disease. The first question is what constitutes the “truth” of non-reason, apart from madness, crime, or disease? In the eighteenth century, certain aspects of experience and relationship that inform women’s values, such as the “ethic of care” (Carol Gilligan), or “intersubjectivity” (Jessica Benjamin), fell prey to the category of disease: “From now on one fell ill from too much feeling; one suffered from an excessive solidarity with all the beings around one.” (Foucault, 157) The issue of course is that this measure of “too much” or “excess” was decided according to the psychological norms of a patriarchal society that had begun to privilege individuation, separation and achievement over connecting and relationships.
An even more fundamental question here is that of the suppression of reason and specially women’s reason by an a-priori notion of a universal Reason . As Satya Mohanty claims,… it would be seriously debilitating for critical analysis to confuse a minimum notion of rationality [reason] as a cognitive and practical human capacity with the grand a-priori foundational structure that has traditionally been called Reason. (Mohanty, 117)
The Enlightenment’s privileging of the notion of a universal and given Reason that underlies all human capacities and grounds all human knowledge, has already been acknowledged as a failed dream. I would also argue that it is based on eighteenth century eurocentric patriarchal epistemologies. Yet it still continues to exercise its monolithic tyranny and displace or elide the basic everyday pragmatic sense of reason as an individual’s capacity to comprehend and order her life. Given that all human beings possess a capacity to understand their actions and evaluate them, and that systems of understanding are contextualized forms of life (Mohanty, 133), it is crucial that therapy recognize and validate women’s context-specific reason, rather than imposing the pre-conceived notion of Reason as norm.
Further, we need to examine why there is a selective subjugation of non-reason by Reason. We need to investigate how and why certain aspects of non-reason are assigned to the category of abnormality of madness, while others are not.Learning from Narratives of Women in Political Struggle
In this section I examine women’s responses to gender violence in situations of political crisis as articulated in Indian and Latin American women’s political testimonies and fictions. I deliberately focus on extraordinary conditions of crisis, because in such times everyday power relations, that normally operate in an implicit and diffuse manner, become explicit and come sharply into focus with an intensification that elicits, or even demands, responses. Thus, analysing women’s responses to incest, forced abortion and rape, I explore their notions of reason, identity and morality that enable them to transform feelings of shame into self-respect, guilt into confidence, and victimhood into protest. Engaging with such responses has important bearings on therapy as it helps us develop an understanding of gender specific notions of identity, morality and reason, which, when validated, would be instrumental in effecting a genuine healing of women subjected to gender violence in everyday situations as well.
Women are often denounced as mad for acts which are grounded in a certain capacity for reason. Jaya Mitra, in Hannaman, her prison testimony of her imprisonment during the Naxalite era in Bengal, writes of women who had murdered their daughters to prevent them from being repeatedly raped by their fathers, categorized as “madwomen”. In cases of such women, who have no way of surviving beyond the dependence on their husbands, though the murder of their daughters cannot be justified, it can be understood. The “reason” of such an extreme act lies in the need to protect a daughter from one of the most cruel forms of physical and psychological torture. What is ironic here is that it is the woman who is designated as “immoral”, and the causes of such “criminal madness” are rarely investigated. This categorizing of the woman as insane or immoral elides or conveniently deflects from the original immorality of gender violence that the child is subject to by her father.
As Foucault asserts in Madness and Reason, this confrontation beneath the language of reason takes us into “a realm where no doubt what is in question is the limits rather than the identity of a culture”(italics mine). (13) Our culture, like most others, limits us from acknowledging the reason underlying a woman’s murder of her daughter that prevents the latter from leading a life of painful incest; but it allows the non-reason of the equation rape=victory to flourish unquestioned by the rationality test. Hence, gender sensitive therapy may well have to challenge these patriarchal limits of our culture, and push at them in an effort to make genuine healing possible for women.
Bunster Burroto, exploring the nature of torture in the military state of Argentina in the seventies, asserts that “We can only describe these patterns of state torture, we cannot make them rational.” (307) Examining the military ideology underlying the torture of female political activists, she asserts that “One of the essential ideas behind the sexual slavery of woman in torture is to teach her that she must retreat into the house and fulfil the traditional role of wife and mother.” (307) Bunster-Burroto’s research reveals the irrationality of the modes of torturing female political activists who have dared to violate this stereotype, for in “the method of the `lesson'”, a contradictory logic of inversion “force[s] a return to the… ideal [even as it] simultaneously violates that possibility.” (307)
Such torture takes various forms: violating the “chastity” of a woman through rape; abusing a woman’s nurturing role by raping/torturing her in front of her children, causing irreparable damage to both; and attacking a woman’s sense of motherhood, by torturing her into aborting, or by appropriating newborn children. Consequently, such torture not only shatters a woman’s self-respect, sense of dignity and physical integrity, but also effects what Bunster-Burrotto terms a “cruel double disorientation”, firstly by forcing upon her a stereotype of “ideal womanhood”, then by making it impossible for her to achieve it.
I have shown elsewhere (Panjabi, 1986), how Hannaman too highlights this “double disorientation” brought about through the gendered violence of the state under the guise of safeguarding “morality”. Both cases reveal that such “morality”, privileged by the state and society, far from being an ontological concern, is a socio-political construct designed to legitimate patriarchy and perpetuate control over women’s lives and bodies.
As I have discused earlier, women’s lives are characterized by a tension in identity between what women require and what women ought to be, giving rise to what psychoanalysis terms the “failure of identity”. And political regimes (and sometimes even the woman’s own revolutionary party) take advantage of this tension, this “failure of identity” to create the paradox of the “guilty victim” and push her to the borderlines between reason and madness. What is at stake is clearly the safeguarding of patriarchal and political power.
On the other hand, Carol Gilligan has demonstrated on the basis of interviews, that women define morality as an ethic of responsibility and care based on interdependence, and privileging a relationship of care, whereas men view it in terms of an ethic of rights based on individuation and separation, privileging individual achievement. She criticizes psychological texts for tending to make independence and separation the goal of development and depict women’s emphasis on relationships as a lack, as an incompleteness of separation. (155-6)
The testimonies of women who fought in the Telengana People’s Struggle criticize the patriarchal morality of their male comrades within the party who blamed the women when men and women got involved, or when women became pregnant. They also frequently forced women into abortions even in the absence of their partners, or impelled them to give away new-born babies, lest the presence of infants hamper the course of political struggle.
In their narratives of the movement, the Telengana women argue for the need for men to shoulder equally the responsibility of personal attachments. They further enact a powerful critique of the privileging of the political over the personal, at the cost of the latter. They emphasize, simply, yet critically, that “the personal is the political”, and the shelving of personal responsibilities by the men is a politically regressive act.
Developing the critique of the notion of sacrifice for the greater good, Jessica Benjamin points out that
This notion of sacrifice is inextricably associated with the idea that one is responsible only for one’s self and that one can consider the web of immediate personal connections as less important than, for example… the liberation of the oppressed. It should be obvious that the reason women began to question this conception of struggle and sacrifice, to claim that the personal was also the political, came from their inability to detach themselves from such personal ties, specially from their responsibilities to children. (78-79)
Thus the assertion that the “personal is political” emphasizes that personal responsibilities are as political, and as important, as the ideological ones for the greater good.
In Sandino’s Daughters, a collection of the testimonies of Nicaraguan women in political struggle, there is a narrative of a Sandinista woman who had been raped by an enemy guard, a Somozan, and is faced with the choice of aborting or choosing to deliver the child of this rape. She decides to deliver the child and raise it on her sense of values and her political ideology as a Sandinista, thus gaining a moral victory over the rapist. She denies the “shame” of this experience by privileging the value of personal attachment, and transforms it into an act of political will and an assertion of her identity and values. Her example demonstrates how an affirmation of this perspective of the “personal is political” can help a woman come to terms with the violence and the sense of violation that rape causes.Therapy and the Problem of Articulation
Therapy for women subject to gender violence poses some crucial problems that have to be addressed before one can venture to deal with questions of reason, morality, identity and empowerment. The immediate condition of trauma is often accompanied by a resistance to disclosure, specially in the context of the premium on privacy and the taboos associated with the violation of women in our culture. And should the woman be willing to articulate her experience, the equally daunting problem is that of finding a language for it. This is because sexed identity is founded in terms of a verbal language shaped by patriarchy that allows only a selective articulation of sexual experience. And complex aspects of women’s experience of sexual violence remain suppressed in the originary realms of verbal language, with no access to verbal articulation. Like certain aspects of women’s reason, they too find no place within the limits of culture. As Terry Lovell asserts,The bottom line in feminist resistance to Lacanian psychoanalysis is this : if women’s oppression is rooted in the very founding of sexed identity in terms which are inescapable for language-speaking human beings, then feminist demands for the lifting of oppression are deeply compromised. (191) [italics mine]
Since sexed identity is structured through verbal language, and since verbal disclosure often poses a problem initially, then the way of dealing with this impasse, I suggest, is to begin with a) exploring the possibility of engaging with the sexed identity outside the realm of spoken language too; b) deconstructing the patriarchal structures of this sexed identity either through the same verbal language, or through the actions of non-verbal language.
Therapy: Non-verbal Activity, Comprehension, Deconstruction and Relocation
a) Engaging with sexual identity: non-verbal activity and verbal articulation
After dealing with the immediate trauma of sexual violence (if a woman does come in for therapy at such an early stage), the healing process could continue on the level of individual or group therapy, or involve a combination of both. In this context workshops on sexual violence designed by some women’s organizations within the Indian context, with the help of professionals from various areas such as music, dance, yoga, theatre and mental health could prove to be a useful resource.
Many therapists have already begun to use breathing exercises and music in combination with a sympathetic attitude and other techniques to create a calming influence in the initial stages. Then, since many women experience a splitting of the senses of body and self as a consequence of being subject to sexual violence, it becomes important early on to help such a woman re-integrate her sense of body and self. Here, exercises that help create a relaxed state, and then gently urge a woman to begin sensing different parts of her body, from head to toe, and articulate her responses, initially of lightness or heaviness, and then of pleasure, fear, disgust, or indifference to each part, are often effective in putting the self back into contact with the body.
In the context of the resistance to disclosure and the even more complex problem of the inadequacies of verbal language, some therapists are already encouraging, very creatively, non-verbal forms of expression, such as drawing, painting, creating a collage, mime or dance. These help release feelings of hurt, depression, anger, fury, horror, entrapment, persecution, shame, and of other experiences which the woman is unable to articulate at this, or maybe even at a later stage.
All these activities can be conducted at the individual level, or in groups of women, depending upon the therapist’s discretion in each case. However, another common reaction to sexual violation is one of withdrawal, mental or physical, or both, from all people in general, and men in particular. Thus connecting with an other/others becomes an important first step in urging a woman back into meaningful interaction with the world. This process is best initiated between pairs of women at the non-physical level such as that of eye-contact, mirroring gestures etc; the action can gradually shift to physical contact between the pair such as the holding of hands, and then graduate to the collective level, evolving from holding hands in a circle to the theatre exercises which involve mutual trust building physical exercises within the members of a group. At a later stage such exercises could also be conducted in mixed groups of women and men, if and when the women undergoing therapy are ready for it.
Learning to develop non-verbal contact, both non-physical and physical, with others, could become a crucial factor in the healing process, especially because these are the forms of expression one takes resort to when language fails one.
In Ambai’s narrative “Black Horse Square” Abhilasha, a writer for a women’s journal, who has come to meet her sister-in law Rosa after Rosa has been raped in prison, had started her letters to her theoretician husband Lenin (Rosa’s brother) with “I cannot give you the objective reality”. This was because the experiences she was trying to communicate were located in a realm beyond the reaches of such “objectivity”. She had said: “You must make that silence that comes from her [your sister Rosa] your own. And burn in it.” What Abhilasha suggests to Lenin involves both a critique of the male emphasis on individuation and a feminist emphasis on connectedness and care. “Black Horse Square” posits the importance of non-verbal language that communicates this perspective of care and intersubjectivity, and ultimately helps Rosa to come to terms with her experience of being violated.
The women of “Black Horse Square” begin pushing through the boundaries of verbal language to communicate and establish their perspectives. Abhilasha finally finds herself on the verge of a new language, one that enables her to reach out to Rosa, who has been raped in prison, and in turn forces Rosa to confront the emotions of her own alienated self:
Rosa had gone inside, behind the partition, to change her clothes. Abhilasha went in after her, suddenly remembering something she had to say. Rosa’s clothes lay in heaps at her feet. Upon her breasts were those scattered scars, covered in shrivelled and blackened skin. Without her clothes she was like an arrow not yet fitted to the bow. Abhilasha flew towards Rosa, and putting her arms around her, pressed her face against her stomach. She slid down to the floor cradling her against her breast. The tears began to gather under Rosa’s closed eyelids. (136)It is this body language that finally breaks through the boundaries of the exclusionary semantics of a patriarchal language to set Rosa on the path to comprehension and healing.
Ultimately however, therapy mostly does require verbal articulation in order to prepare the woman to understand, face and relocate herself within a world in which both community and identity are founded on verbal-language. Eliciting verbal expression that is displaced through fictionalization, or distanced through aestheticization, as in poems and stories often paves the way towards personal verbal disclosure. While this too is a mode some therapists do use in the mental health profession, less common is that of preparing the ground for articulation by having a woman hear other women’s narratives of similar experiences, thus creating a situation, at the individual or group level, in which she can feel comfortable narrating her own.
b) Comprehension, Deconstruction and Relocation:
After the articualtion of the experience, one of the crucial factors in helping a woman regain her self-confidence and power of agency is a comprehension of the situation. A constructive approach would be to get the victim to focus on the possible reasons for the rape within the particular context, and/or the pathology of rape, to help her erase her sense of guilt and regain a sense of her own power through some comprehension of the situation, and the validation of a just sense of values. As Levi-Strauss has pointed out in his study of shamanism, the shaman helps the patient enact a psychological healing by facilitating a comprehension of the situation, and by making available to her a language through which to order her feelings and emotions.
Regarding the pathology of rape, Sanday offers us, from the anthropological perspective, one of the ways in which to comprehend the impetus to rape. Gilligan has shown how power and separation secure man in an identity achieved through work, but leave him at a distance from others. (163) Sanday locates the origins of male aggression in such psychological distancing. She argues that the cultural construction of maleness is based on silencing the “feminine”, i.e., the feelings of dependence and vulnerability and suggests that rape is a “form of silencing or concealing male vulnerability and maternal dependency”. According to Sanday, the distancing from others and undermining the emotions plays a crucial part in the psychology of rape. Basing her analysis on Susan Griffin’s work she observes that
… pornographic images remake the feminine in a safe image by placing knowledge of the body beyond a man’s emotional reach at the same time that the experience of the objectified female body satisfies sexual desire. In the murder of the natural feminine… feeling is sacrificed to an image of the self as invulnerable. The male body punishes that which he imagines holds him and entraps him: he punishes the female body. (86)
A comprehension of the act of rape based on such analyses, and the violent and debilitating effects of extreme separation and distancing in a man would, in turn enable the woman to reassert her own values of connectedness and caring and find a language in which to assert them.
The next critical stage in enabling a woman to take an active stand against the injustice done to her is that of deconstructing patriarchal notions prevalent in society and validating the values of mutual respect and justice from the woman’s perspective.
Mahasweta Devi’s story “Draupadi” deconstructs the established conception of rape=victory, denies the rapist the power over a woman that this equation constructs, and develops a rhetoric for retaliation. What is significant is that this rhetoric stems from the concrete experience of the raped woman, and comprises a re-presentation of the very act of rape itself, establishing a feminist perspective based on an alternative knowledge of the act.
Mahasweta Devi shows “Draupadi” who has been gang raped deconstructing the very premise of her oppressor, Senanayak, when she approaches him naked and bleeding and he asks his men to clothe her. Her response is “You can strip me, but how can you clothe me again ? Are you a man ?” (402). With this move, the story deconstructs the patriarchal notion of “man”, and reveals the contradictory reason of any manhood that sexually abuses women and then demands they be clothed.
Draupadi relocates herself conceptually viv-a-vis this meaning system and sets up an alternate framework. She inverts the equation of being raped=shame to one of raping=shame :Draupadi pushes Senanayak with her two mangled breasts, and for the first time Senanayak is afraid to stand before an unarmed target, terribly afraid. (402)
Somewhere along the line the concept of arms changes.
Further, the politics of identity emerges as strategically crucial. Draupadi’s rejection of Senanayak’s value system is from a point of relocation. She recognizes the fact that his power over her was almost effective because of her insertion into a triply “inferior” location at the intersection of the political class/ caste axis and the equally political gender axis, as a peasant, a Santhal, and a woman. It is her rejection of the very framework of hierarchy associated with these axes, and her relocation outside of it, that makes him powerless over her, and that instead gives her the power to deconstruct the notions of his manhood.
The fundamental source of Draupadi’s strength, first, to refuse to betray her people, and then to retaliate, stems from her sense of belonging and loyalty to her community of Santhal tribals. That is the sense of connectedness with her community, and its values of solidarity that give her this courage is represented by the echo in her head “Crow would eat crow’s flesh before Santhal would eat Santhal”. Thus rootedness and pride in her tribal identity provides the stable base from which she challenges Senanayak’s patriarchal oppression, and establishes her humanitarian perspectives of “manhood”.
In a similar vein, the Sandinista woman’s rootedness in her political community and its political beliefs provided the base for the confidence with which she deconstructed the semantics of rape by the enemy and replaced it with her privileging of personal attachment for the child within her.
The point I am trying to make is that a woman needs a sense of connectedness with a community of shared beliefs that validates her sense of herself vis-a-vis patriarchal power, when she is subject to any form of gender violence, and specially sexual violence.
An emphasis on her ethnic or communal identity however, could prove to be either fruitless in the context of patriarchal communities, or dangerous in terms of intensifying strife between communities. Neither would this help deal with situations such as those of everyday domestic violence when the oppressor is not just a person of the same community, but of the same family.
What is needed therefore, whether a woman continues to inhabit her original family and community physically or not, is an anti-patriarchal community of shared beliefs in human rights and egalitarian principles that a woman can belong to, and relocate herself within, conceptually. Such a community could be that of a progressive workplace, a community action group, or even a therapy group that continues, transformed post-therapy, into a citizen’s community action organization or a human rights cell. Only then will therapy be able to address sexuality and its outside, that is, the socio-political contexts within which it is deployed, and effect a genuine healing.
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