When the place of work is a police station

Police Inspector Sujata Patil's poem

When the public heard that the victim of the Delhi gangrape had wanted the accused to be burned alive, they understood. Many of the furious mob agreed and wanted her wish to come true. Others ignored. Even the vocal opponents of death penalty were subdued, out of understanding at the frustrated rage driving such emotion. Most certainly, no one blamed the victim for wanting such a thing. To file a court case against her over it was out of the realm of reality.

Countless women are violated all the time. They each know that frustrated fury. That burning wish to retaliate against violation with violation. We are trying to get women to be vocal. If commenters on rapes are routinely calling for the death penalty, imagine what the victims are going to voice, if they really start talking, as they should. This, in my view is an expression of pain hidden by curtains of shame over the ages, finding voice, perhaps after the supportive tide after the Delhi gangrape.

There is a subdued deliberation of violence against women at the workplace, where chauvinism and office politics merges to create a toxic gag. It is common for women complaining about sexual harassment at the workplace to end up paying for it instead of finding justice. It is unjust, yes. It is fact, yes.

It is in this context that I want to look at a poem penned by Sujata Patil, one of the policewomen who got molested during the riots at the protest by Muslims against the violence in Assam. The poem is a wail of frustration. Here is a woman, armed with a stick, with a gun, surrounded by similarly armed companions getting violated and unable to do anything about it.

Sujata Patil's poem

She is violated, her companions are violated, a memorial for the warriors of her country (she is present as its law enforcement) is violated and she is unable to do anything about it. We know from news reports later that the police women did not file a complaint. Why is anyone’s guess, but this is a warrior woman cowed down by her own. Forced to act with restraint against her own abusers. Waiting for a signal that does not come. What could she do if she were free to act? Chop off hands of violators. She calls them traitors.

All things considered, this is a fairly reasonable wish. Whether it should be fulfilled is a different matter, but I dare say I would be thinking along same lines if someone violated me. This is what she has suffered at work, and the expression of her suffering is published in a newsletter circulated among those she works with, many of whom shared her frustration on that occasion or perhaps others like it.

In my view, this poem is a work of art. And it is a work of a woman’s voice. It speaks of her trust in her companions for her to give voice to her pain like that. In a notoriously chauvinistic police force, where much of the public believed the women did not file complaints against own molesters because of prevailing humiliating attitudes toward women, this poem is a ringing endorsement of trust in her people, her organization, the police. I think it is a landmark in terms of acceptance for women and their reality that she could trust deeply enough to submit it and the editors respected the words enough to publish it.

Instead of seeing this, it seems brave Muslim organizations are complaining against her. Unless Islam is about molesting women, I fail to see what the business is of a Muslim organization to be objecting to gory visualizations of a woman’s revenge against her molesters. What had their wishes been for molsters and rapists in Gujarat? I know I had wanted some fairly extreme stuff. Babu Bajrangi being thrashed in jail is still one of the sweetest memories on this ugly episode for me – yes, thrashing him was “illegal”. Is this woman’s pain different, just because the molesters were Muslim? Does it hurt less if a Muslim molests someone? Is it specially wrong to vent frustration by visualizing a gory punishment for their atrocity? For that matter, what would Islam itself want for men who molest women? What is the business of a religious organization to attack this woman?

What use is a religion if it cannot understand pain and continues to demand respect from the victim of one of their own who is not even attacking it intentionally? How does “They forgot Ramzan, they forgot humanity” become an insult? It is clear she speaks of the molesters as those who left behind religion and humanity with their actions!

In my view, it is clearly about those who rioted and molested and vandalized. It speaks of her pain and humiliation and frustration with being helpless.

I had said this on the rapes in Kashmir. “Unless the job description in the Army includes rapes, there is no reason why the soldiers should not be tried in a civil court for the crimes they did as men and of their own will without being ordered to. Why should they be tried by the Army when the crimes are against people and not a part of their job in the Army?” And the same logic applies here. There is no reason for Muslims or Muslim organizations to be offended on behalf of molesters unless they are endorsing that behavior and seeing an attack on it as an attack on themselves.

If they are outraged by the words used, it will be useful to ask their followers to not molest instead of silencing the pain of their victims. This goes for every religion, every organization.

High time that women were allowed to express their pain.

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