‘No Nation for Women: Reportage on Rape from India, the World’s Largest Democracy’ by journalist Priyanka Dubey is a startling, true-life, across-the-board and featurized narrative relating to rape in India. In the course of a dozen chapters, each part of this book is a sordid tale of the despicable and monstrous social offense, spread out across almost every state. The first-person account ranges from the counteractive rapes of Bundelkhand to the continual abuse of tribal and low-caste women by upper-caste men mostly in the Hindi heartland.
As the blurb says, ‘No Nation for Women’ takes a hard and close look at what makes India unsafe for its women – from custodial rapes and honor killings to rapes of minors and trafficking – the author uncovers many unpalatable truths behind what we are familiar with as newspaper headlines only’.
Numbers certainly speak why India is referred to as one of world’s rape capitals. If on an average one woman is raped every fifteen minutes, there has been a shocking rise of 873 per cent in sexual crimes against girls in India in the past fifty years. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Beyond figures, there are stories of women, often unreported, for example in Damoh, Madhya Pradesh, who are routinely raped if they spurn the advances of men. Elsewhere, among de-notified tribes in central India, unmarried girls have no recourse to justice if sexually violated. Then, there are also stories of custodial rape, non‑consensual incest and trafficking. The book tells all this and a lot more.
Well-Known for investigative reporting on social justice and human rights, Priyanka Dubey has won quite a number of international and national recognitions – the 2015 Knight International Journalism Award, the 2014 Kurt Schork Award in International Journalism, the 2013 Red Ink Award for Excellence in Indian Journalism, the 2012 Press Council of India’s Award for Excellence in Investigative Journalism and the 2011 Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Indian Journalism – and a couple of other honors too. But more than these recognitions, her mission itself is exigent.
What make the book authentic are her travels through the length and breadth of India in search of victims over half a dozen years. The result is a veritable account of hapless women who are caught in the clench of patriarchy. She writes in the Introduction, ‘my own journeys across the country have taught me that the roots of this victim-shaming lies in patriarchy .The imposed concept of body purity for women turns into a monster of unbearable shame and stigma in the case sexual assault.’
If the public outcry following Nirbhaya was a watershed moment in the world’s largest democracy, it generated widespread public and political support for strengthening legal provisions to punish sex offenders. How far the legal provisions post-Nirbhaya have been an useful deterrent against this heinous crime is yet to be known, but women continue to suffer due to deep-rooted social prejudices that make them vulnerable to violence and discrimination. After Nirbhaya, India’s gender narrative has positively shifted and there is more responsiveness and reaction in rape -crimes today than it was earlier.
The last chapter of the book deals with rehabilitative measures for rape survivors and policy guidelines or the line of attack so that India becomes precious for women to live.Somewhat reflexive, the concluding lines of the book are agile: ‘In search of a world where women feel safe and are treated as equal citizens; a world which a fairer and a better place to live in for all human beings.’
Priyanka Dubey’s book on rape in India is inimitable first because of the subject and then the genre.
No Nation for Women
Simon & Schuster India
818, Indraprakash building
21, Barakhamba road
New Delhi -110001
(The reviewer is a senior journalist and Consulting Editor OdishaLIVE)