A Rape In My Backyard

15/07/2015 8:08 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Meriel Jane Waissman

Last night I noticed unusual action at the main gate of our housing society. The usually quiet entrance of the apartment complex had been busy through the evening: there were men walking in and out of the gate, the office was still open and the security guards seemed far too alert. Looking from my 9th-floor balcony, I could tell something was happening, but what?

I got to know what when my husband returned from work late at night. He told me that a resident of our society had been accused of raping his teenaged live-in maid, and that policemen in plain clothes had been waiting for him at the gate since evening. It was already midnight and there was no sign of him yet. From what my husband had gathered, the alleged perpetrator's wife, mother and five-year-old son were at home while the police had taken the girl away to ensure she was safe.

It took me some time to take the news in: a rape right next to our house? It couldn't be true.

"What do we do when [rape] happens in our backyard to the people we know? Should we shut the door or simply look away?"

Every now and then we read about such occurrences in the newspapers and turn the page; we watch reports on the news and turn the TV off; we hear accounts from people and turn a deaf ear, perhaps comforted by the thought that these things happen to other people in other places. But what do we do when it happens in our backyard to the people we know? Should we shut the door or simply look away?

The accused happened to be an educated man who has an educated wife. He lives in a decent area, in a decent house, makes decent money, and in all probability works in a decent office. Why would he then rape a housemaid, that too a child? Does education or social standing play no role in a man's psyche? What motivates a rape anyway -- desire, desperation, domination? That question, though, is not something I'll address here.

What I'm concerned about is the wife. In such a situation, what would she have done? Would she have called the husband to warn him about the police? Or would she have helped the maid go to the police? Does she believe the maid or the husband? (I am assuming the husband will plead innocence as in most cases.) Is it possible that she was a party to it too? After all, some women can go to any length to keep their man happy. Or was she caught off-guard too, just like the others?

And what could any wife do in such a situation? If she goes to the police, supports the victim and gets the husband punished, what happens to her and her child? If she helps her husband, trusts that he is innocent, blames the maid for framing him, what happens then? Does she live with the doubt all her life or abandon the husband? It is a tough question, and as a wife I don't even want to think about it -- as a woman, though, I would like to.

What would I do if something like this happened with me? I am an educated and independent woman who has been brought up to be at par with men. I know I can take care of my children and myself should the need arise and yet there is an insecurity -- about what I cannot say. Perhaps because like millions of other women, I also attach my worth to my husband.

"[W]e -- the women, and the wives -- need to value ourselves a little more and not attach our worth to anyone, not even our men."

The moment a woman gets married, it becomes her responsibility to prove how happy she is in the marriage, how wonderful her husband is, and how grateful she is to have him. Such women also hold themselves responsible for the husband's faults, taking the blame upon themselves: surely they must've done something wrong to upset/instigate him. I have hardly seen husbands do that. The ones who praise their wives are dismissed as henpecked and are a butt of jokes not only among other men but also among women. And the ones who hold themselves responsible for their woman's faults --- umm, I don't think such men even exist.

I still haven't gotten my head around all of this, but what I do know is that we -- the women, and the wives -- need to value ourselves a little more and not attach our worth to anyone, not even our men. We need to stop taking the responsibility for all that goes wrong in the lives of our family members and bask in the glory of what we help them set right.

Meanwhile, I wonder what the wife must be going through. I am assuming she is not a party to the crime. I am also assuming there is some truth in the maid's charge, and I pray she lives happily ever after. Somehow.

A version of this post first appeared in New Beginning.

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