South Asian Women Writers Breaking the Tradition of Silence: An analysis of selected narratives on violence against women in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh
©2013 Textbook 77 Pages
This study analyses the exceptional narratives of five South Asian women writers who uncover hidden manifestations of male violence against women. Their vehement struggle for the attention on gender-based violence is transferred into literary representations that give the impression of an avalanche of feelings impatiently waiting to be transformed into words after a long-endured silence.<br>In analysing the possibilities and consequences of disrupting the silence on male violence, this study discusses the costs and the chances of success of such a non-conformist endeavour.
1. Introduction ... 11
2. Violence ... 13
2.1. Violence against women ... 14
2.2. Sexual abuse of the girl child ... 17
2.3. Rape ... 22
2.4. Intimate partner violence ... 27
2.5. Consequences of violence against women ... 41
3. Silence ... 50
3.1. Silence - a cultural construction? ... 50
3.2. Agents of silence ... 58
3.3. Speaking and its consequences ... 64
4. Conclusion ... 67
References ... 69
Appendix ... 72
The phenomenon of gender-based violence has become a too-frequent and ubiquitous issue
nowadays. Manifested through various forms and supported by an overwhelming number of
, male violence against women is not always perceived as a violation of human rights
In these circumstances, its victims become each day more numerous
, also due to the fact that
they are prevented from reporting the crimes and the perpetrators remain unknown and
Many social systems around the world are confronted with the phenomenon in
discussion but few have shown their willingness to attempt to sanction the abusers and protect
the victims. Gender-based violence has reached outrageous proportions
due to an encourag-
ing gender-biased social system, which has endorsed the construction of a tradition of
silencing the issue and the victims with the help of a series of agents involved in propagating
this tradition. Nevertheless, it is exactly the tradition of silence, which proves that the wit-
nesses and the victims of male violence are prevented from revealing their victimization.
More precisely, the fact that the number of the authors who have approached this delicate
question is insignificant in relation to the number of crimes (reported or unreported), suggests
that speaking about gender-based violence represents an exception.
The present paper aims at approaching the exceptional cases of five South Asian
women writers who grapple in their novels with different manifestations of male violence
against women. What will be examined is their aesthetic perspective and representation of the
given topic, as well as their significant contribution to the effort of breaking the silence on
gender-based violence by transforming it into a speakable subject.
In doing this, the paper will serve as an attempt to answer the following questions: do
the literary texts try and succeed in mirroring a social gender-biased reality? How do they
approach and illustrate the phenomenon of gender-based violence and its implications?
Despite the fact that the present topic is imbedded in a controversial political debate,
the present paper will be limited to analyse its aesthetic engagements by focusing on the
One of the agents propagating gender-based violence is represented by the mass-media, as Lashgari notes -
`paradoxically, the violence permeating the media television, movies, newspapers- makes it more difficult,
rather than easier, for us to hear. Packaged and sanitized, `violence as entertainment' can have an anaesthetising
effect that prevents us from feeling or acting.' (See Lashgari, Deirdre (ed.), Violence, Silence, and Anger.
Women's Writing as Transgression, Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995: 2).
See Appendix: 1.
`There are no signs of crimes against women declining so far.' (See Rustagi, Preet, Gender biases and
discrimination against women, New Delhi: Centre for Women's Development Studies (& UNIFEM), 2003: 73).
See Appendix: 1-2.
following fictional works: Manju Kapur (India) Home, Taslima Nasrin (Bangladesh) My
Bengali Girlhood, Mukhtar Mai (Pakistan) - In the Name of Honor, Tehmina Durrani (Paki-
stan) - My Feudal Lord, and Anita Nair (India) - Ladies Coupé. The visible interest in the
literary writing is legitimized by the writers' argument that the social systems
referred to in the texts display a visible predisposition to protect the male abusers and silence
the victims. In an attempt to explore their indictments, it is relevant to introduce theories and
empirical results from the area of sociology and psychology, as well as pertinent statements of
literary critics, Indian and Pakistani writers and journalists.
The present paper will contextualize and thematize the issue of gender-based violence
and the silence camouflaging it on the basis of the following structural outline: the next
chapter will provide a brief view on the phenomenon of violence and it will particularize its
focus on a gendered area, namely violence against women. Further, the paper will provide the
reader an introductive outlook on gender-based violence, its various implications and the
objectives of the three sub-chapters on child sexual abuse, rape, and intimate partner violence.
The third chapter will be dedicated to the question of silence on male violence against
women; the purpose of this chapter will be to investigate the causes of this particular type of
silence, its mechanisms and the factors that contribute to its propagation. Also, in focusing on
the possibilities and consequences of disrupting the silence on male violence, the paper will
seek to discover what are the costs and chances of success of such a non-conformist endeav-
Finally, the last section of the thesis will be concerned with the review of the main
ideas developed along the two main chapters in order to verify the substantially and relevance
of the arguments.
I will use the term `South Asian' in a restrictive sense, namely in reference to three social and cultural spaces
India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Also, I will keep in mind the fictional references to these spaces and the way
the protagonists and writers identify themselves in relation to them.
The multiplicity of implications and meanings of the concept and phenomenon of violence
has fascinated various scholars of political science, psychology, sociology, or philosophy. In
an attempt to explore its significance and purpose, Hannah Arendt opens up new perspectives
on violence, thus challenging simplistic and limiting definitions of the term that only engage
with its physical manifestations.
Therefore, the political theorist argues that
Violence, finally, as I have said, is distinguished by its instrumental character. Phenomenologi-
cally, it is close to strength, since the implements of violence, like all other tools, are designed
and used for the purpose of multiplying natural strength.
However, what Arendt does not incorporate in her discourse on violence is the idea of
vehemence, damage, and impetuosity suggested by the Latin etymology of the concept
`violentia'. It may be argued that in mentioning that violence's purpose is `of multiplying
natural strength' the theorist leaves space for the reader to reflect on the possibilities of
increasing one's natural strength. In this sense, innumerable conceptualizations of violence
have been developed, either by exposing it as an instrument of political manoeuvres (coloni-
zation), of historical figures (Vlad Tepes as `Dracula'), and of social issues (revolutions), or
by envisioning it as a goal, a cause or an effect. Violence has also been approached from
different literary angles when speaking of the rights of minorities in terms of class, gender,
race, ethnos, or religion. At the heart of all these thematizations on violence resides the
pervasive concern with the desire for power, be it legitimized or not. As noted by the Indian
The aim of both physical and psychological violence is the same: the disempowerment of per-
sons which ensures domination over them.
Meenakhsi's perspective on violence, as a way of achieving (more) power in order to domi-
nate other individuals, foregrounds the idea of abuse as a further central concept lying at the
basis of the present paper.
A prerequisite for the examination of the literary representations of abuse and violence
is to define the two terms. Therefore, both concepts will be employed and analysed in the
following sub-chapters based on the fact that not only violence but also `the term abuse
A case in point is the definition of violence as a `behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage,
or kill.' <http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/violence?view=uk>
See Arendt, Hannah, On Violence, New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1970: 46.
See Thapan, Meenakshi, Images of the body and sexuality in women's narratives on oppression in the home,
New Delhi: Centre for Contemporary Studies, 1996: 8.
includes physical as well as non-physical acts'
. Moreover, it should be mentioned that in the
context of the chosen narratives all forms of violence and abuse are regarded as a deliberate
means of inflicting verbal, physical, and emotional (or psychological) injuries on an individu-
al in order to achieve different goals.
The following section of the paper aims at introducing a specific form of violence and
at addressing its central implications and aspects.
2.1. Violence against women
What numerous statistics and sociological studies on male violence against women strive to
communicate is the pervasiveness and high frequency of this phenomenon that cuts across all
categories of female victims and male abusers. At the heart of these researches lies the
assumption that violence against women represents a strategic device employed by men
within male-dominated social systems in order to maintain women's low position. As Fran-
cine Pickup remarks,
The violence to which women are subject is not random, or abnormal, or defined by specific
circumstances alone. It is used as a weapon to punish women for stepping beyond the gendered
boundaries set for them, and to instil in them the fear of even considering doing so. It is a sys-
tematic strategy to maintain women's subordination to men.
Seen thus as a widespread commonality rather than various isolated cases, the present issue
implies the idea that female victims experience a twofold torment: the act of violence per se
and the lack of legal and social norms that fail to sanction the abusive act, hence discouraging
the victims to report the crime.
Whereas sociological and psychological studies approach the issue of male violence
against women from an objective perspective, their theories being supported by empirical
evidence, literary texts engage in presenting the subjective aspect of the problem. Unlike
scientific researches, which provide wide ranges of numbers and theoretical arguments,
writers strive to particularize extensive series of ciphers and thus envision the story of only
one case of gender-based violence at a time. In doing so, they intend to present the reader
what figures cannot, namely the situational factors leading to the violent act, the abuser's
gestures, the victim's reactions, her thoughts and feelings.
Saravanan, Sheela, ``Violence Against Women in India'', Institute of Social Studies Trust, (2000): 27. 20
Jan. 2009 <http://www.idrc.ca/uploads/user-S/10286562430Violence_Against_Women_in_India_By_Sheela
See Pickup, Francine, Ending violence against women: A challenge for development and humanitarian work,
Oxfam: Oxford, 2001: 303 (my emphasis).
Numbers cannot voice the devastating experience of having been abused, nor can they
provide an image of the victims or the offenders. By contrast, literature enables one to express
how `a woman endures an invasion of self, the intrusion of inner space, a violation of her
sexual and physical autonomy.
Moreover, since few of the women who experience male violence find the courage to
press charges against the assailant, a high percentage of abusive cases are not included in the
official statistics. Nevertheless, Tehmina Durrani, Taslima Nasrin and Mukhtar Mai have
discovered a different method of inscribing their experience; as they argue, the three authors
have disclosed their victimization to the readers, thus formulating a literary testimony.
However, despite their real experience, the three textual representations of gender-based
violence will be primarily analysed as fictional texts, together with Manju Kapur and Anita
Nair's stories that raise no pretension to real events.
At this point, it is imperative to clarify the meaning of the concept of gender-based
violence, whose significance is essential for the present thesis. Therefore, this notion will be
operationalized as bearing the meaning of `male violence against women' and defined as `any
attack directed against a (usually female) person due, at least in part, to a disadvantaged
position within male-dominated social systems.'
The phenomenon of gender-based violence may take diverse forms of manifestation.
Nevertheless, the purpose of this paper is to analyse only three of them, namely female child
sexual abuse (narrated by Nasrin and Kapur), rape (Mukhtar Mai), and intimate partner
violence (Nair, Durrani, Nasrin). In examining these discourses on male violence against
women, the following aspects will be taken into consideration: the circumstances of the violent
act, the assailant's pretext to use violence, his behaviour towards the victim, the detailed
description of the act, the woman's reaction to the male violent behaviour, her strategy of
resisting and fighting back, as well as the stylistic techniques employed by the authors. A
further interesting element to be approached is the idea of the authorial intention, which
implies the question as to whether the narrator's voice and perspective juxtaposes the one of
When speaking about male violence against women, it is useful to specify which
methodological approach will be employed. In this sense, starting from Margaret Abraham's
See Stanko, Elizabeth A., Intimate Intrusions: Women's Experience of Male Violence, London: Routledge &
Kegan Paul, 1985: 9.
See Kilmartin, Ch./ Allison, J., Men's Violence against Women, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2007: 5.
dichotomist pattern of analysis of domestic violence
, it should be noticed that since the
present paper is primarily concerned with the representation of diverse forms of violence
against women, approaching the `feminist perspective', which focuses on `the abused wom-
an', represents the best option.
Additionally, it is worth remarking that the analysis of the above-mentioned issues will
be complemented by scientific arguments from the field of psychology and sociology. The
present paper will seek to demonstrate that since not all of these theories are rooted and refer to
the South Asian area and yet support and reinforce the ideas formulated in the South Asian
literary works, gender-based violence is a phenomenon that transgresses cultural or ethnical
Taking this idea a stage further, it should be pointed out that in exploring the question
of the power structures at the level of each of the seven given relations `victim assailant', it
is important to consider a particular thesis. More precisely, the paper will verify the validity
of the widespread idea about the role of patriarchy in legitimizing the phenomenon of gender-
based violence, expressed by researchers from India, Pakistan, and U.S.A. as it follows:
The patriarchy must be emphasised as the institutional source of violence against women and
contextualised with other realities of class, caste and race.
Women in Pakistan continue to be victims of this senseless violence. Though patriarchal family
and tribal traditions exacerbate violence against women, it is ultimately the responsibility of the
Pakistani government to protect these women and to prosecute those who commit these horrible
Gender-based violence is only partly centered in the individual psychology the beliefs, deci-
sions, and personality characteristics of the attacker. It is also woven into the cultural fabric of
a society that grants disproportionate power to men. [...] Within these cultural conditions, vio-
lence-prone men feel entitled to wield that power irresponsibly, and social systems often fail to
hold them accountable for their violence.
This having been said, the following three sections of the thesis are dedicated to the detailed
analysis of female child sexual abuse, rape, and intimate partner violence. It is significant to
mention that the asymmetrical proportions of the sub chapters is legitimized by the fact that
`Two main theoretical approaches have so far dominated the study of domestic violence; these are the `family
violence perspective' and the 'feminist perspective'. In the former perspective the family is considered to be the
basic unit of analysis, whereas in the feminist perspective the abused woman is taken as the unit of analysis.'
(See Abraham, Margaret, ``Speaking the Unspeakable: Marital Violence against South Asian Immigrant Women
in the United States'', Indian Journal of Gender Studies, (1998): 5. 14 Jan. 2009
See Jesani, Amar, ``Violence Against Women: Health Issues Review of Selected Works'', (1998): 12. 10 Jan.
See Bettencourt, Alice, ``Violence Against Women in Pakistan'', (2000): 6. 18 Jan. 2009
Kilmartin, Ch./ Allison, J. 2007: 61-62.
the majority of the present narratives addresses the question of intimate partner violence
whereas only two of them grapple with the topic of child sexual abuse and one with that of
2.2. Sexual abuse of the girl child
The present subchapter on child sexual abuse is mainly based on literary representations of
sexual violence against female children, namely Manju Kapur's novel Home and Taslima
Nasrin's autobiographical text My Bengali Girlhood. The fact that these narratives differ in
terms of their writers' geographical (Indian, respectively Bengali) and religious (Hindu,
respectively Muslim) background, as well as the fact that one is fictional (Kapur's) and the
other inspired by events experienced by the authoress (Nasrin), provides us with the oppor-
tunity to examine comparatively how the two writers have transposed this delicate and too
often unspoken issue from the area of male violence against women into words.
In the case of Nisha (Kapur's character) and Nasrin as protagonist, one may remark a
first similarity: both characters have been sexually abused
by male characters from their
familial circle at an early age. Sandra Butler, a sociologist concerned with the traumatic
effects of incestuous assaults, emphasizes the crucial role of the early stage of psychological
development of children who are sexually abused by a male relative. Therefore, at a literary
level, both Nasrin and Kapur reflect in their writings how the young victim `has not yet
developed an understanding of sexuality that allows him or her to make a free and fully
conscious response to the adult's behaviour.'
The omniscient narrator in Home clearly alludes to the fact that the young female
victim's reaction to the first signs of sexual abuse indicates her lack of maturity and her
childish behaviour as she starts crying and seeks for her mother's protection.
Another argument may be read in Appendix: 2.
I will employ the following definition of child sexual abuse `any sexual activity between a child and a closed
related family member (incest) or between a child and an adult or other child from outside the family. It involves
either explicit force or coercion or, in case where consent cannot be given by the victim because of his or her
young age, implied force.' (See Ernst, Lisa (ed.), broken bodies, broken dreams. Violence against women
exposed, Malta: Progress, 2005: 19).
See Butler, Sandra, The Conspiracy of Silence, New York: Bantam, 1979: 2.
Entranced, he put his hand on the inside of her beckoning thigh and whispered, `How soft you
An intent look came on his face, his gentle fingers kept up a steady stroking. He began to trace
the elastic of her panties all around the leg. `What are you doing? Chee, that's dirty, take your
hand away,' she cried, but Vicky was in no state to hear her. [...]
He put those fingers against his mouth. `Give me your hand,' he went on. `I want to show you
`I don't want to see.' Nisha was crying.
`Of course you do.'
`No, I want to go to Mummy. Leave me.'
`See, another secret.' And quickly, so quickly that she didn't know how it happened, he intro-
duced it to her. Terror-stricken, she looked at the black thing sticking up, and then quickly
looked away. [...]
Vicky gripped her wrist so hard and painfully that her fingers opened around the big dark thing.
[...] When she tried to struggle, he increased the pressure of his hand. [...]
`It's our secret. If you tell anyone, they will beat you and me.' He gripped her arm. `No one
must ever know. No one. You understand.'
Nisha nodded wordlessly.
It is important to notice how the narrator constructs the scene by introducing to the reader
an `entranced' Vicky whose gestures are initially rather seducing than violent he `whis-
pered, `How soft you are, Nisha'' and `his gentle fingers'. Moreover, it seems that the first
phrases of the passage indicate the assailant's point of view, since Vicky feels `entranced'
and touches Nisha's `beckoning thigh'.
Furthermore, the narrator shifts the attention from
the perspective of the abuser to that of the child victim, followed by a gradually increasing
tempo of replicas between the two protagonists. One might presume that the authorial
intention is to create the impression of a crescendo rhythm in order to allude to the idea of
an abusive sexual act.
Taking a closer look at this episode, one may remark that Nisha's attitude reveals a
series of interesting ideas. First, if at the beginning of the scene the young female protago-
nist appears to be strong enough to withstand Vicky's assault and express her repugnance,
she rapidly loses control over her body when he uses violence to make her surrender to his
plans. Therefore, the narrator skilfully underlines the significance of violence, may it be
verbal or physical, in the case of a sexual assault with the help of expressions like
`gripped', `painfully', `increased the pressure'.
Secondly, the quotation emphasizes Nisha's reactions her evident disgust and high
discomfort `Chee, that's dirty, take your hand away', her fragile emotional state - `terror-
stricken', as well as her powerlessness and confusion caused by her lack of experience and
her physical weakness in comparison to her abuser's scrupulousness and physical strength.
See Kapur, Manju, Home, London: Faber &Faber, 2006: 58-59.
The argument is supported by the idea that only an `entranced' male protagonist could refer to a child's leg
by means of the expression `beckoning thigh', which suggests seductiveness.
Once the perpetrator assures himself of his victim's silence and submission, he sees no
reason why he should not repeat the experience. Thus, he denies her the right to choose, by
refusing or accepting his intentions; it seems that he does not consider it necessary to ask
for her consent. Furthermore, the narrator underlines the fact that Vicky develops a
distorted image of Nisha, reducing her to the role of a sexual object designed to fulfil his
Meanwhile Vicky's preoccupation with Nisha increased, his eyes fixed on the small white hand
that had caressed him [...] Just thinking of the excitement and the release made him long for it
Not surprisingly, Nisha becomes Vicky's victim once more, the phenomenon of revictimi-
zation being easily predictable in this situation.
A similar prediction could be reached when reading Nasrin's story on the same
topic; like Nisha, the seven-year old girl protagonist Taslima experiences feelings of
powerlessness, confusion and humiliation as two of her uncles sexually abuse her. Howev-
er, their attitude towards the victim displays different strategies of manipulation and
silencing. Uncle Sharaf's behaviour resembles that of Vicky; both characters impose their
will on their victims by force and threaten them with a fierce punishment unless they keep
silent. Additionally, they both ignore the physical harm they cause their younger female
relatives during the sexual assault, apart from the obvious emotional injuries. More
precisely, Vicky `was in no state to hear her', he disregards Nisha's recurring refusal and
`increases the pressure' when she tries to escape from his grip. At her turn, Nasrin the
narrator presents an unscrupulous Sharaf who is amused to take advantage of his younger
niece and shows no sign of compassion.
Uncle Sharaf laughed and threw him self down on me. Then, with one hand he removed my
shorts once more, and with the other took off his own, pressing his willie hard against my body.
My chest felt heavy; I could not breathe. I tried to push him away. `What are you doing, Uncle
Sharaf? Let me go!' I shrieked, pushing with all my might. But I could not move him an inch.
[...] Uncle Sharaf pushed himself harder against me. It looked so ugly to me, I covered my eyes
with my hands.
Suddenly, a rat scurried across the floor. The noise made Uncle Sharaf jump off the cot. I did
not lose a second. Pulling my shorts up I ran out of the room as fast as I could, with not a
thought to spare about the snakes in the bushes. My heart thudded crazily, as if a hundred rats
were jumping in my chest.
Uncle Sharaf called after me in a threatening voice: `Don't tell anyone about this. If you do, I
will kill you!'
See Kapur 2006: 60.
`Once a person has suffered an attack, she is at greater risk of being targeted by a perpetrator in the future.'
(See Kilmartin, Ch./ Allison, J. 2007: 79).
See Nasrin, Taslima, My Bengali Girlhood. Vermont: Steerforth, 2002: 71-72.
Significantly, the two female children attempt to defend themselves and escape their male
oppressors' entanglement; although they are confused and too inexperienced to understand
the implications of the event, both naively asking `What are you doing?', they feel that it is
something that should not happen and strive to return to a safer environment.
Nisha and Taslima comprehend that their abusers are stronger than they are and that they are
trapped. Hence, both seek to evade the distressing scene by looking away or covering their
eyes. The traumatic feelings triggered by these violent acts are textually mirrored by highly
suggestive phrases like `terror-stricken' or by means of comparison - `a hundred rats jumping
in my chest'. Furthermore, Taslima's second sexual victimization (quoted below) is narrated
with the help of phrases like `horror', `went numb with fear', or `totally petrified'.
To get my hands on the matchbox I moved nearer to Uncle Aman. He pulled me to him. Then,
instead of giving me the matches, he started tickling me [...] I shrank like a snail. He picked up
my tense, curled-up body and threw it in the air. He caught me as I fell, his hand sliding down
my body, stopping at my panties. Then he began pulling my panties down. I tried to roll off the
bed. My feet were on the floor, my back still on the bed, my panties near my knees, my knees
neither on the floor nor on the bed. [...]
Uncle lifted his lungi. I saw a big snake raise its head between his legs, poised for attack. I went
numb with fear, but to my greater horror, the snake did attack, in that little place between my
thighs once, twice, thrice. I remained totally petrified. Staring into my wide eyes, Uncle said,
`Would you like a candy'? Tomorrow, I will buy you candy. Look, here's the matchbox. Take
it. And listen, sweetheart, don't tell anyone that you have seen my cock and I have seen your
little sweet pussy. It's bad to talk about such things. You must tell no one.' [...]
Uncle Aman had told me not to tell anyone else. I started to think he was right. It was not some-
thing one talked about. Suddenly, at the age of seven, I was filled with a new awareness. What-
ever had happened was shameful, and it would not be right to talk about it. It had to be kept a
Unlike Nisha, Taslima becomes the victim of two male abusers, both being her uncles, each
of them expressing themselves differently. Whereas Sharaf threatens to kill her if she fails to
remain silent, Aman, more experienced, treats Taslima according to her young age. In this
sense, he seeks to trick her by promising to buy her candies, calling her `sweetheart', and then
typically impel the victim to preserve the secret. When employing the term `typically', what is
meant is the common strategy used by the offender to persuade the victim that she will also
suffer severe consequences in case the abuse is disclosed. Nisha and Taslima perceive the
gravity of the threats more acutely than other victims of sexual assault whose abusers are
unfamiliar to them. In other words, `the female child is powerless: her position in the family
An explanation for their reaction is provided by Saravanan - `Children are not given proper answers when they
ask questions about sexual organs. They get the messages that certain body parts are dirty and they should never
be talked about. So, when a child is abused, there is total silence. The child knows that there is something wrong
going on, yet the child does not have the language or the words to express it.' (See Saravanan 2000: 33, my
See Nasrin 2002: 94.
structure, her lack of life experience do not often give her the structural or emotional power to
fend off sexual advances.'
Returning to the remark mentioned at the beginning of this subchapter concerning the
dissimilarities between the two literary illustrations of child sexual abuse, it is noteworthy that
Nasrin's autobiographical writing slightly differs from Kapur's fictional narrative mainly due
to the unequal textual representation of the emotional and psychological effects of the abuse.
The poignancy of being the victim of such a violent act determines Nasrin to seek refuge in
writing about her unspoken experience; the vehemence of her long hidden feelings, the tumult
of her memories, and the need to disclose the crime in detail offer her the necessary tools to
fabricate a reliable and authentic storyline. Moreover, the Bengali writer Nasrin strives to
generate the impression that the abuse is narrated from the perspective of her self as a child.
Hence, she suggests that the tone and the linguistic repertoire of the fragment are instruments
employed by a female child narrator, whose naivety hinders her to comprehend that her
descriptive speech on the sexual abuse involves taboo issues concerning language and
behaviour. The advantage in opting for a first person narrator's perspective confers her story a
plus of authenticity and veracity, attributes that lack in Kapur's third person narrative.
Moreover, it is easily noticeable that Kapur creates a skilful description of Nisha's experience
but does not elaborate on the victim's inner discourse.
The protagonist Taslima, despite her youth and naivety, is affected by the violent
events that suddenly generate the seven-years-old girl's untimely psychological maturity,
manifested in her reflection on the implications of the experience. Analysing the threats of her
abusers and internalizing the feelings of shame and humiliation, Taslima herself feels guilty
for what has happened to her.
At the end of this section, it should be mentioned, in relation to the last two distinc-
tions between Nasrin and Kapur's stories, that neither the religious, nor the territorial factor
seems to play a decisive role in the question of child sexual abuse.
See Stanko 1985: 23.
E. Stanko explains how in the case of a young victim of sexual violence, `by the time she is old enough to
understand or at least to know that something is seriously wrong, the feelings of guilt, self-blame and humilia-
tion may be well entrenched.' (25)
``Rape is a man's right. If a woman doesn't want to give it, the
man should take it. Women have no right to say no. Women are
made to have sex. It's all they're good for. Some women would
rather take a beating, but they always give in.''
The pungent and misogynist tone emanating from the fragment above, which quotes a sexual
aggressor's perspective on rape, represents only one example out of many that have influ-
enced researchers of gender-based violence towards a certain direction of thought. Therefore,
the feminist political activist S. Brownmiller argues that in the case of rape `the intent is not
merely to `take', but to humiliate and degrade'.
Moreover, `sexual violence is less the
expression of an individual man's unrestrained sex drive than it is a reiteration of patriarchal
social structures and norms. Rape is primarily motivated by power, not sex.'
When speaking about rape, a wide series of issues of ethical, legal, psychological, or
social nature comes into question. Nevertheless, the interest of this section is to explore the
moral, emotional and psychological implications of such an act from a literary perspective,
namely Mukhtar Mai's illustrative novel In the Name of Honor.
Unlike any of the other four narratives that are in discussion in the present paper and
which engage to some extent with the question of violence against women, Mai's piece of
writing deals exclusively with the most severe form of sexual assault, namely rape. Like
Nasrin and Durrani, Mai also avows that her literary discourse emerges out of her own
experience; therefore, she suggests that she embodies the voice behind the lines of In the
Name of Honor and is at the same time the female victim protagonist.
According to Mukhtar Mai's story, an ever-lasting game of power between the clans
of the same caste in the Pakistani village Meerwala has led to a gang rape dictated by unwrit-
ten rules applicable in the case of a question `of honour'
. The narrator mentions that the
Mastoi clan has manipulated the tribal council responsible for solving internal conflicts and
thus had Mai's family punished by raping one of their female members. As a result, Mukhtar
Mai becomes the victim of a group rape (four male aggressors) despite the fact that Mai
herself, as she is arguing, was not directly involved in the presumed divergence. Nonetheless,
This is a rapist's statement about rape, for further details see Ernst 2005: 153.
See Brownmiller, Susan, Against Our Will, New York: Penguin, 1975: 378.
See Anderson, I./ Swainson, V., ``Perceived Motivation for Rape: Gender Differences in Beliefs About
Female and Male Rape'', Current Research in Social Psychology Vol. 6 No. 8 (2001), in Ernst 2005: 153.
`According to Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of Unicef, in 1997 at least 300 women were killed by men in
the family for so-called reasons of `honour' in a single province in Pakistan.' (See Romito, Patrizia, A Deafening
Silence. Hidden violence against women and children, Bristol: Policy, 2008: 18)
the female narrator clearly avows that her experience is strongly suggestive of women's
condition in the village Meerwala where tribal rules dictate women's lives, her argument
being supported by a researcher on women's rights in Pakistan
. Furthermore, according to
Mai's argumentative line, the fact that a woman has been gang-raped as an aftermath of a
disagreement between two clans proves that women('s bodies) are used as weapons in
tribal war for power and prestige.
For them, a woman is simply an object of possession, honour, or revenge. They marry or rape
them according to their conception of tribal pride. They know that a woman humiliated in that
way has no other recourse except suicide. They don't even need to use their weapons. Rape
kills her. Rape is the ultimate weapon: it shames the other clan forever.
However, the female protagonist fails to carry out the expectations of a conventional commu-
nity, namely to commit suicide; instead, she finds enough strength to fight against the tribal
conventions. Hence, she seeks revenge by embarking on the mission to struggle to prove in
front of a legal commission that she has been raped and that her aggressors should be pun-
ished. In Brownmiller's formulation, women like Mai eagerly struggle to make `rape a
speakable crime, not a matter of shame.'
Mukhtar Mai finally succeeds in publicly disclosing the crime, her abusers and the
exact order and details implied by the act in front of the judiciary. Nonetheless, what is
noteworthy about the process of transposing her statement into a literary form is that, unlike
Nasrin and Kapur
, her narrative does not provide precise information on how the crime has
been committed, but it chiefly focuses on the victim's emotional and physical reactions.
I am there, true, but it isn't me anymore: this petrified body, these collapsing legs no longer
belong to me. I am about to faint, to fall to the ground, but I never get the chance they drag
me away like a goat led to slaughter. Men's arms have seized mine, pulling at my clothes, my
shawl, my hair.
``In the name of the Koran, release me!'' I scream. ``In the name of God, let me go!''
I pass from one night to another, taken from the darkness outside to the darkness inside an en-
closed place where I can distinguish those four men only by the moonlight filtering through a
tiny window. Four walls and a door, guarded by an armed silhouette.
Escape is impossible. Prayer is impossible.
That is where they rape me, on the beaten earth of an empty stable. Four men [...] I don't know
how long that vicious torture lasts. An hour? All night?
Taking the comparison a stage further, it is remarkable that Mai displays a tendency to
conceal shameful (in her view) details of the `vicious torture' as she calls it, whereas on the
`Strict family, tribal and traditional Pakistani Islamic values dictate that women are considered property of
male family members. Pakistani society essentially views a woman as being owned by her father or brothers
before marriage, and her husband after marriage' (See Bettencourt 2000: 3).
The writer suggests that women play no role in decision-making issues.
See Mai, Mukhtar, In the Name of Honour, New York: Atria, 2006: 10.
See Brownmiller 1975: 396.
See previous section on child sexual abuse.
See Mai 2006: 9.