The need to BREAK our SILENCE!


Recently we had two powerful personalities breaking their silence on the sexual abuse they had to face in life. They were influential educated people but still they had to or rather due to social pressure had to maintain their silence and suffer quietly. Let’s see their stories

Burkha Dutt, a famous Indian Journalist in her autobiography “Unquiet Land” talks about how she was abused as a child by her own family member. She didn’t talk about it, in her own words “when something like this happens you bury it and try to forget about it.” Later  she was physically abused by a man who she was dating in college, she decided not to be quiet and file charges but her lawyer advised against it. So she decided to leave the case which she regrets even now.

Padma Lakshmi, a famous model, actor and chef and ex-wife of Salman Rushdie came out with similar revelations  in her Memoir “Love Loss and What We Ate” explaining  her life beyond the stardom. She too was molested by a relative of her step father as a child, she too didn’t talk about it then and her mother found the distress signs which put an end to the abuse. She also writes that Rushdie was ever demanding and needed constant care and feeding. He was also insensitive to her medical condition which made intercourse painful to her.

“Both these women say that keeping quiet about the abuse they had to go through was very detrimental, and that if women like them don’t speak nobody will.”

They also enunciate the idea that breaking silence on abuse gives more empowerment and help more women to be articulate about the topic. This creates a platform for discussion on the topic. The Nirbhaya gang rape  was a pivotal point in fighting sexual abuse in the country. Many people came forward against  the atrocity  particularly the young and since then sensitivity has increased. We can see this as a revolution. Indeed it is, voicing out our opinion against violence that is often silenced brings the struggle to a whole new dimension. Only a continuance of this with more vigor can bring the desired change to the society and the way we see the problem.

So what are the reasons that lead to silencing of the sexual abuse? Firstly in our culture the survivor is often blamed. Survivors are always judged for their dressing, or some behavior that provoked someone to rape or abuse a person. This idea has its roots in the patriarchal nature of our society, in which the good values are always in favor of men which in this case automatically shames the survivor and the perpetrator is not harmed and his actions justified.

In most countries the law and order system is infamous for being impermeable to women’s rights. To begin with the survivor has to recount the trauma over and over. It means dealing with the law and order officials who are or who have been conditioned to believe in the myths about rape and sexual  abuse. This process is more of humiliation.

Famous singer Madonna when asked about why she didn’t complain about the abuse that she faced replied that “I was already violated and didn’t want to face more humiliation.”

And most important of all after going through all this taxing process in most of the cases the abuser won’t even see a jail term. RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network) an organization base in the US state’s that only 2% of the abusers in sexual violence cases gets a jail term.  This creates the situation of losing a lot for gaining too little. In all these cases the time taken for the legal procedures transcends any agreeable time frame often forcing the victim to give up or go for settlements outside the court.

So to sum up we have a complex culture in which the dynamics are always in favor of the perpetrator of sexual violence. The patriarchal values are so deeply extensive and entrenched in our minds that it is often invisible. This invisibility itself creates institutional violence against women which is the reason why we face barricades in justice system, in economic equality and so and so. Women too are conditioned by the misogynistic values. These notions are always fed to us in the form of obedience and the good life values which automatically we tend to agree upon. The crux of our fight lies in challenging these notions and bringing a cultural transformation. It is here that the relevance of breaking our silence lies. We need to be more articulate and vocal against these values thus continuing the revolution till we reach the success point.


Contributed By – Manju Theresa Mathew

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