She Reads South Asia


Tuesday, January 17, 2006


by Simran

The following accounts are not for the faint at heart but their stories NEED to be told.

“A 22-year-old widowed teacher in India is forced to climb upon her husband’s funeral pyre and burn alive. Not far from where this is taking place, a young woman is found, still alive but blinded, eardrums perforated and her nipples and genitals torn away with a pair of pliers.”

These bone-chilling words constitute the opening of a new novel “The Ashram” authored by the novice Indian writer Sattar Memon. The book came highly recommended by abused women’s group “Saheli”. It exposes, I was told, stark women’s abuse and through the protagonist Dr. Jonathan Kingsley, leads to the emancipation of abused women. The book lived up to its image.

Seeta; the young school teacher in a village of India is about to sit atop a blazing pyre and hold her deceased husband’s head in her lap, wants to become suttee so that her soul can join her beloved in heaven. As I read, I broke out in a cold sweat and began panting. To be fair to the author, I won’t divulge this page-turner’s mind boggling and vivid scenarios, but you’ll be relieved to know that no new suttee has taken place in India since 1989 when a young woman named Roopkumar actually burnt to death in the regal state of Rajasthan. But the way some unfortunate women are still undergoing a variety of abuse and feeling its pain, shame and damage to the psyche, some wish they as well might be burnt to death to escape the pain.

The same pain I know all to well, as I too was an abused woman.

Suttee aside, let me share with you the depth and magnitude of women’s abuse that is going on in every corner of the world. But first, mind you, when it comes to the abuse of women, the United States of America is no exception.

A one-month pregnant woman in the USA is stabbed to death by her son, while nearby a woman is doused with gasoline, thrown inside a cab and set on fire by her husband. Her screams for help are not answered in time and she burns to death.

A young woman in Africa succumbs to infection and dies after being subjected to the “harmless practice” of female circumcision.

A 29-year-old wife and mother lay in a Saudi Arabia hospital bed after having been practically beaten to death by her husband. Their young son watches as his mother’s head is repeatedly slammed into a marble floor and then into a wall, leaving her unrecognizable.

A 13-year old Parisian girl reports that for years her own father has been sexually molesting her.

Girls and women in Bangladesh and Pakistan have acid thrown on their faces and bodies leaving them horribly disfigured when their spurned husbands or would-be suitors.

In South Korea a pregnant woman has her torso prodded with a kitchen knife over and over by her husband, who then throws her to the ground and hits her on the head a coffee canister so hard that she needed 10 stitches. When her scalp heals, he smashes it again. Same spot. More stitches.

A little girl of just 6 years old in Afghanistan, who should be thinking of playing with her friends, is instead being married off to an adult male in return for bride money. In the same country, a 27 year old women languishes in prison and is charged with adultery because she has run away from her husband’s home and beating rituals. Others still remain prisoners in their own homes.

Bride-burning, wife-beating, widow burning, female mutilation and infanticide, rape, mental, verbal and physical torture, public humiliation and acid attacks; they happen everywhere, Russia, Iran, Switzerland, Brazil, Canada, and Dubai. In all countries and all walks of life, mothers, daughters, sisters, girlfriends and wives are suffering what is termed as “unspeakable crimes” against them.

The idea, which this term “unspeakable” implies is exactly what adds to the reason why it continues. Unspeakable? In this day and age, it can no longer be something we hide or only speak of only in hushed whispers. It is a “social cancer” and needs to be eradicated!

The Statistics

The reports and statistics we will mention are staggering enough but many attacks and abusive situations are never reported, leaving the numbers inconclusive and much worse than we think. Please take a serious look at the following incidents from the International fact sheet on gender violence, published by the UN Non-Governmental Agency, UNIFEM.


It is estimated that more than 7,000 women in India will be murdered by their families and in-laws in disputes over dowries. 160,000 Nepalese women are held in India's brothels. Discrimination against girls are so strong in the Punjab state of India that those aged 2 to 4 die at twice the rate of boys. Statistics from 2000 showed that on average a woman is raped every hour in India. This is a very conservative number due to the fact that victims are often reluctant to report rape. Why? In an open court victims must prove that the rapist sexually penetrated them in order to get a conviction. This can be especially damaging. After proving that she has been raped, a victim is often ostracized from her family and community. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that rape laws are inadequate and definitions so narrow that prosecution is made difficult. Protected by powerful lobbies, landlords and men in uniform continue to rape.


While it has been said that here in America the rate for such heinous crimes has decreased in recent years, here’s what we know - About 1 in 3 American women have been physically or sexually assaulted by a husband or boyfriend at some point in their lives. A woman is raped every 6 minutes, battered every 15 seconds. 683,000 women are raped each year, according to the National Women's Study. This translates to 1 every 3 minutes, 78 per hour, 1,871 per day. 9 out of 10 women murdered are killed by men; most are at the hands of a male partner. 10-14% of all married women in the US and at least 40% of battered wives have been raped by their husbands.


More than 15,000 women have been sold into sexual slavery in China.

Assassination of women in Bangladesh by their husbands accounts for 50% of all murders.

In Papua, New Guinea, 67% of rural women and 56% of urban women have been victims of wife abuse.

In the Maternity Hospital of Lima, Peru, 90% of young mothers aged 12 to 16 have been raped by their father, stepfather or a close relative.

A survey of women in Barbados revealed that nearly 1/3 has been sexually abused during childhood or adolescence.

Every 1 1/2 minutes a woman is raped in South Africa, that’s approximately 386,000 women each year. In North Africa, 6,000 women are genitally mutilated each day. Half of Kenya's maternal mortality rate of 170 per 100,000 live births is due to circumcision's infibulations and/or other harmful traditional practices.

Among the Vietnamese boat people, 39% of women are abducted and raped while at sea. Again due to unreported incidents, this number is very likely underestimated.

One study of 33 infibulated Somali women, all had to have extensive episiotomies (cutting) during childbirth, and their second stage labor was five times longer than normal; five of their babies died, and 21 suffered oxygen deprivation due to the long and obstructed labor.

The Feelings

Fear, shame, worthlessness, pain, denial, loneliness, depression, despair and suicide, are some of the feelings experienced by the victims. Many are led to believe that the abuse is a direct result of something they did to “deserve it”, turning them from victim to the cause of the abuse.

Some learn at an early age to cope by blocking out the abuse, others have constant horrifying memories, which replay over and over again in their mind even when they’re not being abused at that particular moment. The pattern of going from one abusive relationship to another is played out all too often, as the abused feel they aren’t worthy of anything better.

Many victims have taken to the unhealthy practice commonly known as “cutting” or self-inflicting wounds by a sharp object, (i.e. razor, knife, scissors, or even the sharp edge of the tab on a soda can) enough to break the skin and make it bleed, on their wrists, arms, legs and/or stomach. It is used sometimes as a “wake up” from the numbness experienced after a traumatic episode of abuse. Some say it gives them a sense of relief, expresses their pain or helps them try and gain control over a situation. Although it starts out as an impulse, it can very quickly become a compulsive behavior, an addiction, which tricks the mind into thinking that this false sense of security is necessary, leaving it to crave it the next time the tension from abuse builds up. This constitutes only an existence and not a life for those who suffer.

The Healing Process

The first step to gaining victory over the violence is the realization that you are not only a victim but also a survivor. Whatever you do, don’t give up! Remember, suicide is not the answer. It is instead a permanent solution to a temporary problem. You are not alone! There are those who understand what you are going through and are willing to help. Search out those who can help you get out of the situation. Talk with them and others in similar situations. Find a creative outlet for all the feelings that have built up inside i.e. painting, writing, music. Share your story with others, helping them as well as yourself. Work towards gaining a positive attitude on life and erase the negativity. In time, you will see yourself transform from a tiny seed to a beautiful blossoming flower.

There are many organizations both internationally and locally (see entire list below) who are tirelessly working to STOP THE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN! Organizations like Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), Saheli Boston, who have recently launched a campaign called ‘Men Speaking Out to Stop Violence Against Women’, The Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by television star Mariska Hargitay (of SVU fame) who uses dolphin therapy to help the many victims she encounters.

Remember, healing takes time. Give yourself the time you need to do so.

Wouldn’t it be nice, as in Sattar Memon’s ‘The Ashram’ that a kindhearted widowed man would put his life and career at risk to save and protect abused women? Where are those brave men? We need them and mostly we need each other. But until such real men, real heroes, the knights in shining armor of our dreams come to our rescue, we’ll just have to stand up on our own, join hands high in the air and scream as loudly as we can: “We will not take this abuse anymore!”

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