A thought crossed my mind while I busied myself the past couple of weeks reading up on the case of Brock Turner, a former student athlete at Stanford who was convicted (or half-heartedly scolded, rather) for raping an anonymous young woman behind a dumpster.
Well, many thoughts raced through my head and none of them pleasant, but this one uneasy feeling that was only vaguely related to the case nagged at the back of my head like an itch I couldn’t scratch, until I finally touched upon it.
Reading the victim’s court statement in an article posted by Buzzfeed earlier this week sent waves of sorrow through my body as I stepped into the woman’s shoes. Her words, at once empowering and yet full of despair, shed light upon the case in a way that Turner’s feeble statement had nothing on. She relays in great detail the impact of what he had done to her–her physical and emotional state be damned, she had become a shadow of her former self during the last year. Her anguish at Turner’s laughable punishment, a mere three months, and his steadfast refusal to acknowledge the wrong he had done, struck chords of fury within me that I didn’t realize existed. Such a detailed account that reverberated among millions around the country; I am proud of her for boldly speaking out.
One beacon of light the woman pointed out–and I say woman, because she is an individual before she is defined as a victim–is the amount of support she received from her family and friends. The ever-present shoulder to cry on, being able to yield such emotion onto one’s immediate family, no questions asked, is, in my opinion, a tremendous and unrivaled source of comfort.
But what if a victim is unable to convey the horrors weakening their spirit due to cultural boundaries? What if it had been a victim from my own background?
Before I go on, I’d like to preface this by saying that no, I am not insinuating that all, or even most, South Asian families are frigid to such an extent. I speak only from my own experiences growing up in an immigrant Bengali, Muslim household, and nothing more.
Sexuality has always been and still is an oppressed topic in the South Asian community. There is no “birds and bees” talk to sit through in discomfort, no discussion of birth control for young woman or safe sex practices for young men. Despite the fact that our populace expands at an alarming rate every year, many Bengali parents refuse to touch upon such a taboo topic.
As such, us Western-influenced kids are left to our own devices when it comes to exploring sex. Whereas a white, American girl could come to her family in terror of having been a victim of rape and look for support, many South Asians like myself would never be able to entertain such a thing, for a variety of reasons.
First, victim blaming. If you think Turner sympathizers are bad enough, it’s nothing compared to immigrant communities in Western nations who harbor outdated, traditional schools of thought. I’d like to turn your attention to the well-publicized and horrific rape and brutal murder of Jyoti Singh, the victim of gang-rape and torture on a public bus in India. Her crime? Being an unmarried young woman who was taking public transportation with a male after the sun set. An event that would hardly raise eyebrows in the US, but was apparently an act that rendered a group of inhumane individuals so thunderstruck that they decided it was up to them to dole out punishment.
When the case spread like wildfire across international media, people were doubly outraged–not only because of this terrible crime committed upon unsuspecting woman, but also by the response of several Indian officials and one of the rapists himself, all of whom found the audacity to express the idea that Jyoti had it coming.
Describing the killing as an “accident”, [the rapist] said: “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy.”
Second, her attire. It is a widely-known fact that one of the most invasive questions a woman is asked during police interviews after rape is what she was wearing that day. No doubt that a woman’s ensemble is reason enough to commit such a heinous crime. Should’ve known better than to prance around scantily clad in a….wait, Jyoti was wearing a salwar? Turner’s victim was wearing a Grandma cardigan? Something doesn’t fit this tired monologue. Because even if a rape victim who happened to be a Bengali, Muslim person was wearing a mini skirt, part of the fear that might prevent her from reaching out for help would likely lie in her family discovering what she had been wearing that night.
Third, the shame it would bring upon the family and community. I have witnessed time and again, within my family, friends and other Bengali people where individuals have gone great lengths to cover up horrible occurrences, tragedies, lies and drama in the name of saving face. The amount of publicity the woman in the Turner case received would not have been met with warm reception had this happened to a brown girl. Family and reputation is highly regarded in South Asian culture, for it alludes to potential well-being, good marriages, wealth, etc. Any potential threats are often shut down immediately, even if is at the expense of a family member.
To end, I implore Bangladeshis to do their part in destroying these cultural boundaries and start putting our people first. It does not do well to save face for reputation, to point fingers, to make nasty remarks, because the aforementioned serve only one purpose–to destroy our otherwise beautiful heritage.