Damyanti Biswas – Talking about Rape

February 28, 2014 | By | 29 Replies More

I agree, he says, as all men must, that a woman should not be raped.  He nods his head in that way he has, of a sleepy, white-wigged judge from a Bollywood movie.

But women need to be careful too.

I want to bitch-slap that head till it swings from one side to another. I want that wig to fall on the floor, so I can stamp on it, do my heavy-footed dance, shred its false-white, male hair.

Careful, women need to be careful? I sit up on the sofa, straighter. I feel the cup of tea grow cold in my hands. I grow cold.

Yes, of course. These things happen, he says,  (Like the ‘things’ are an outbreak of explosions on the surface of Mars, and not women’s bodies torn apart, burned, sliced, buried, melted in acid, you name it) because women go to places they should not go, wear what they should not wear.


See, if you bring a candle to a flame, it will burn.

And the woman is the flame? I look at him, put my cup down.

This is the fault of the times, he adjusts the starched, pointy collar of his shirt, women want too many things.

I watch him gulp. He gulped that word you. He had started off saying ‘you’ women want too many things, but stopped. Must be the look on my face.

Is that wrong?

Not wrong, he clears his throat, not wrong, exactly. But you know what I mean.

I want to pick up the cup and slosh the tea at him, toss the cup on that knowing face, throw the table, the room at him. But the tea has grown cold, and hot tea might make his skin go red, but it is no sulphuric acid.

Don’t look at me like that! He picks up his phone (As if he could call Ma now. She had long gone beyond the reach of calls, thank God), What did I do?

I remember the times Ma passed him the bowl a second time, the times I had to iron his school shirt and pants along with my uniform, the pocket money he got while I begged the school fees from my father, the number of times I had to put down my school books to make him snacks, dinner, breakfast, tea.

He puts the phone back in his pocket, sits back on the chair usually occupied by the parents of my students. He steeples his fingers, his elbows resting on the arms of the chair. He has finished his coffee. He now looks at me, silent, willing me to get his cup refilled.

My peon had brought in our cups by the time he’d begun to talk about my nephew. How the boy had done well at school but not so well at the Board exams, and now, all he needed was a good college—a chance to prove himself.

He hasn’t begged for his son, not yet, merely pointed out that our father had done so well for us siblings, that we must make sure to do the same for the next generation. Our father left all the money to him, even the house. I’m not married, and have no kids.

He’s a small-time businessman now, and I’m the principal of the best college in this state.

Let’s get back to the point, he says, no use talking about rape.

I lean back, resisting the temptation to close my eyes. I have all the time in the world to hear him out. And no, I’m not going to order him another coffee.

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Category: Power, Prose, When Women Waken Literary Journal

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  1. Jane says:

    Gosh! you can feel the anger of the injustice! Strong writing. Congratulations

  2. Peter Nena says:

    Rape is savagery. It’s one of the subjects that morbidly depress me to read or hear about. All the reasons given for it are usually nothing but outrageous excuses. Including those given by the character in this story. Congratulations, Damyanti. Definitely shared.

  3. Peter Nena says:

    A concise piece. Cleverly written. I like your approach. I saw in one of your posts that it might offend some people, but I didn’t find anything offensive in it. You use words carefully, almost too carefully. But the subject is keenly tackled.

  4. Sharukh Bamboat says:

    I like the way you write your thoughts. To be honest, men can say that they are really sorry and that we can feel your pain, but the honest confession is that we cannot. In fact, even other women cannot feel it at times. After many rape news, I have seen women blaming the victim that she was wearing the wrong clothes and was at the wrong place at the wrong time. The society blames the victim for the event rather than taking harsh steps to get rid of this menace.

  5. Great writing Damyanti. Strong voice.
    I like the manner in which you convey her underlying rage and barely concealed restraint… really effective.

  6. Paul Ruddock says:

    This is a very poignant piece, and one that needs much further attention and discussion. The sad thing is, we do all know what is meant when a man suggests that, ‘women need to be careful,’ and ‘go to places they shouldn’t’ and ‘wear what they shouldn’t.’ And I say ‘sad’ because we also know that it’s plain and simply wrong! I could use exactly the same logic to suggest that I’ve less chance of being knocked down by a car if I never leave my house, or that my children are more likely to reach adulthood if I never let them play or explore or make their own mistakes. But at what cost to quality of life would that be? Woman have, or rather should have, every right to as full and opportunity filled life as men, unhindered by social and cultural prejudices and traditions. The very notion that a man might not be entirely to blame if he rapes a woman simply because she dresses a certain way or ventures some place where young single men might congregate is almost as offensive as the crime of rape itself. In a lot of cases, men simply rape woman because they believe they can get away it, and because of the out-dated and absurd tradition of valuing men above women. Well done to Damyanti of high-lighting this issue…

  7. I’m disgusted to think men still think like this. Maybe they just don’t tell me because they know I’d run them down with a chainsaw.

  8. Mary Orovan says:

    Well done. It could have been all polemic, but you interdispersed the points beteen incisive observations of your life and the daily discrimination: way less for you, much more, in this case. for your brother…and make the leap from there to the large societal observation about rape, unstated, but obvious. Something that stood out for me in addition to women’s condition, is that other women are also the enforcers of patriarchy. The mother was taught to make you the servant to your brother, and it goes on. Yes, women were economically dependent on their sons later in many cultures. But even today, in many households, who serves who, still goes on. The essay makes many points. Brava.

    • Damyanti says:

      Hi Mary, thanks for your comment. Thankfully, this is fictional and not an essay– my only sibling is a sister. All the other points you make I did have in mind when I wrote this piece and I know many women for whom this is a reality.

      Thank you once again,

  9. This is a powerfully written piece showing–not telling–of the deeply imbedded gender beliefs that continue to keep women down. Congrats on a job well done!

  10. Nora Neill says:

    This conversation is so familiar, yet you share it in a fresh way.

  11. Very powerful, well-crafted piece.

  12. Holly Rose says:

    Well written. You have dared to discuss something with a taboo surrounding it, but yet it’s a conversation that like some others have noticed is all too familiar. Silence is betrayal in this case and good that you had the courage to write about this. That itself is power.

    • Damyanti says:

      Thank you, Holly. Through this piece, I’ve tried to give voice to all the unvoiced feelings of many women worldwide, and I’m glad it reached you.

      As a writer, I have to tell it like it is. I make no judgement, leaving it to the readers.

  13. It is a poignant, moving, heart-touching story. Your finely crafted words carry so much of anguish against our caustic societal perceptions regarding women’s bodies, their desires and their existence in the still male-dominated world. It is sickening to feel how much of sexual objectification still remains in our society, in the garb of polished words. Your work encompasses all of this in this short piece, and that is where the strength of your piece lies.

    • Damyanti says:

      Lopa, thank you. The whole impetus of this piece is to make readers think, to see beneath the surface of things, and I’m heartened you think it has succeeded in that.

  14. What I love about this piece is that it manages to be gradual even though it is compressed. It’s sometimes difficult to reveal things gradually, to really unpack details, and you do it quite well here.

  15. Pamela Martin says:

    “Let’s get back to the point, he says, no use talking about rape.”

    Love the irony of this, and how this line comes at nearly the very end of the poem–a discussion about rape, of course, that well illustrates the use of talking about it.

    And then, the narrator’s leaning back, her composure, her patience–“all the time in the world to hear him out”–now, after her withheld, stifled rage expressed early in the poem. Something has changed for the narrator. What? She has, I believe, gotten over her shock and surprise at what she is hearing, has reminded herself (and us) of her background, her family, and her current position, her current status, and what she has achieved. She is no longer raging, but in control, ready and willing to hear him out, and, impliedly, give him serious debate.

    I would not want to be in this man’s shoes!

    Also like much the poem’s extensive use of dialogue and narration. Not often used, and a surprise.

    Thank you!

  16. Anjali says:

    God Damayanti, I wanted to throw that cup of tea at him even though you didn’t! And you know what’s even more awful, sometimes even women themselves voice those sort of views, meaning – what was she doing, going to a market, disco, movies, blah blah blah at ‘that’ time of the day/night, wearing ‘that’ type of dress – meaning – she is a ‘bad’ girl who had it coming to her!
    Great piece of writing Damayanti, that struck at the heart of the matter.

  17. Doris Emmett says:

    How sad that there are places where women are defiled and treated no better than livestock…an awakening must happen or these places where women are covered, bartered, raped, sold and enslaved…will be the end of all. Interesting that these self same “places” are impoverished and war torn…? Women are a vital force and when they are held down…men suffer…children suffer. Yes…an awakening before the end…must happen.

  18. Damyanti says:

    Yes, Doris. Half the human race, its women, are dis-empowered, no matter where they come from. Things become worse in war-torn and impoverished nations, but women in richer nations face their own set of troubles, as well.

  19. Leslie Moon says:

    No fiction in this piece. Women around the globe have this conversation to closed ears.

    I heard this one a few years ago “It’s not rape if she’s not a virgin.”
    “I see women were created to spread their legs for a D***”

    Excellent write!

  20. Carmel Mawle says:

    I am impressed with the careful construction of the piece, the way the background is folded in so we understand the history and the ways the relationship has shifted. The anger is universal, as is (unfortunately) the dismissal, but I thought what was really unique and brave about the depiction of the protagonist was the way she herself relished the power of her position. It went beyond the ability to make her brother grovel; she now commands her own “peon”. The piece asks if the desire to subjugate others is more than a male trait, it asks if this is a human trait. Or is it a result of a lifetime of accumulated wounds, something most women understand well. Really brave piece, well-written. Thank you.

  21. Florentina Staigers says:

    Anger can be so transformative, and I think you capture a lot of nuances of it in this piece.

  22. Tiare Snow says:

    My anxiety was building with every sentence. Well done. Never have I been a victim or Rape yet as a woman I feel as though it is ingrained in me to forever watch my back. As the mother of a newborn son, I often ask myself how will I ensure to raise a man that understands the true worth of a Woman, without the distractions of our tainted rape culture. Once again, nice work.

  23. We need to acknowledge that there is evil in the world and no amount of wishing and protesting and social media awareness campaigns will make it go away. Ridding the world of the worst of the worst requires an active participation in tracking bad people (face the fact, not all of the bad people are men) who prey on vulnerable women, boys, and girls. It’s ugly.

    I highly recommend you read the novel I’m reading now: Trafficked, by Peg Brantley. Brantley presents quotes from important reports and documents at the beginning of each chapter to back up her story.

    On the news last night, I saw there was another big police/FBI action in Colorado to save stolen/trafficked kids. A lot of them were little boys. That breaks my heart.

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