Recently a senior politician alluded to rape survivors as Zinda Laash (Living Corpse). Social media and activists went ballistic about the comment.
Yet, I wonder if folks understand how such a comment reveals plain ignorance on how survivors cope and transform and how it belittles their efforts.
My intention in this post is to showcase how women cope and how they transform through the pain.
“As she peels, she weeps slowly at the releasing, and she hears the drums beat, her heart beat, she hears a voice singing in the distance, calling her, and her tears well up the world. Tears of recognition, for her spirit, the spirit of all life, the spirit of love for the universe. The voice she hears singing is her own.”
- Inéa Hernandez-Avila
Without a doubt, the best women I have met are women who have suffered.
Suffering is a fire that melts and moulds the heart. Yes, sometimes there are phases of extreme bitterness and anger due to suffering but I have seen many, too many, walk out of that phase to enter into a phase of incredible love for all.
If a woman is in and out beautiful, I smile—I know my sister.
In this world of incredible pain, I watch many such beautiful women tumble out of the furnace to make this world a better place for all of us to live in.
This post is based on their stories which were recounted to me during various research projects as well as in personal conversations.
True to the ethics of the project, their names will always remain anonymous but the stories celebrate the lives.
A woman who encounters sexual violence responds in many ways.
Note that this post is specific to the women who I talked to. There are many more ways by which women cope and transform.
You may add yours to this bouquet.
One woman held her femininity, her female body as the reason for the violence to have occurred in the first place.
She began to underplay her girliness and assumed a masculine look and conduct.
Healing happened when she came to terms with her body and her femininity, which was a long drawn process of acceptance and integration.
One woman developed a severe eating disorder. She binge ate. Eating is often a method used by those who suffer from depression to create good mood, albeit temporary.
She suffered from obesity and her anger and helplessness at what happened made her a hypersensitive woman, further isolating her.
But at a certain point in her life she realized the root cause of the problems, radically accepted the moments, welcomed love into her life, subdued her eating habits, lost weight and moved on.
Another women did just the opposite. She became extremely picky of what she ate and utterly obsessive of her routine and schedules.
She held onto these routines as a way to maintain a grip on reality.
Another woman also held onto certain identities like that of an ultra efficient housekeeper as a way to find a space for herself in this world.
While the former came to terms with the unresolved pain in her heart and her path opened up to love and deep seated compassion, I am not sure where the later is in her life.
Number of women turned to alcohol and drugs to fudge memories of betrayal and pain. This is a dangerous cycle in itself and these women found themselves in a rough place not only emotionally, but physically and financially.
Whilst there are many women who are almost irretrievably lost in this cycle, the women I talked to had joined recovery groups, met other like-minded folks and emerged out as a community of survivors.
Some women become promiscuous. Sexual violence distorts the way the world is received and how women interact with thesociety. It damages self esteem and suddenly sex is a way to seek companionship.
It is also a way of reliving sexual violence—which may appear weird for bystanders, but it is a cycle that one begins to repeat.
One woman recognized this aspect and began to learn the art of self-love and self-care.
Most women suffered in interpersonal relationships—they were either moody or harsh or detached or clingy or irritable or bossy.
They often suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder which differed from person to person—sometimes freezing, sometime panic attacks, inability to visit certain places or see certain kinds of movies or tv series, hypersensitive to certain sounds, sights, smells, and touch.
Intensity of the attacks differ from woman to woman and is also dependent on the nature of violation.
If violation happened again later in life,as it did for some women, the result was often disastrous.
Complete inability to stay put at a workplace, execute a work schedule, or complete a project. They also found it difficult to sustain interpersonal relationships.
And yet, I remain witness, that most women I spoke to did eventually recover and emerged whole and more loving than ever.
(to be continued)
WRITTEN BY – Bhavana Nissima