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‘I feel an open crater inside’

Priyanka Dubey | Updated on February 01, 2019 Published on February 01, 2019

Unsafe bet “Based on reports in local newspapers and other leads on gender crimes around India, I picked the stories that moved me enough to find out more”   -  tzahiV

Priyanka Dubey describes the writing of No Nation for Women, her exhaustively reported book on gender and caste violence in India, and how it changed her life

There was much incredulity when a Thomson Reuters Foundation survey last year rated India as the world’s most dangerous country for women, ahead of war-torn Syria and conservative Saudi Arabia, and many dismissed it as a matter of perception. Within a few months, author Priyanka Dubey weighed in expertly on the debate through her book No Nation for Women, based on her six-year travel around the country to track down some of the most bone-chilling cases of sexual violence, custodial rape, caste atrocities and human trafficking that escaped the radar of mainstream media. Dubey describes the writing of the book and how the experience changed her.

People write books for different reasons. In my case, it was for self-preservation. Six years ago, I was facing intense pressure from my parents to get married. I was in my early 20s and had no interest in marrying then. To buy some time, I started to work on a book.

By then, I had already worked for about three years on gender-based stories. Whenever I looked for non-fiction books on rape and sexual violence for reference reading, all I could find in libraries and online bookstores were works dating back to the Partition, and none from contemporary India; so I decided to write one.

The reporting part of it took more than four years. Based on reports in local newspapers and other leads on gender crimes around India, I picked the stories that moved me enough to find out more. I rather feel that the stories chose me.

The writing of it took close to another three years. Even as I began to piece together the stories, I could see how dark this book was going to be. There were times I doubted whether such a grim work would attract any readers at all. But slowly I realised that given the dark times we are living in, it was inevitable for that darkness to slip into the documentation of our lives and times.

Now I feel that the darkness of this book is its biggest strength — its ugly stories make us uncomfortable, but we cannot, and should not, look away from them.

Those scenes of violence came back to haunt me in unexpected ways. Once when I was with a friend at a coffee bar in a Delhi suburb, my mind was suddenly filled with visuals of a water canal I had seen three years earlier in Bardhaman district of West Bengal. The body of a young girl had been found in this canal in October 2013. She had been gang-raped and her body brutally slashed with a razor-like object, much like “we peel the skin of an onion”, the girl’s mother told me when I interviewed her in December 2014.

“She wanted to become something and drag us — her family — out of the trap of poverty. She was the only one in our area who could speak in Hindi, English and Bangla. She was talented, beautiful, and hard-working. Maybe that is why they singled her out. But I will not kneel. We will fight for justice.”

I remember going through the girl’s belongings later. A trophy given by the Bengal division of NCC (National Cadet Corps), notebooks in which she had written small poems on freedom, photos of her clicked in school with friends, her marksheets, birth certificate and, finally, her devastating postmortem report. A full circle of life and death lay in front of my eyes.

When I revisited the mother a year later, I learnt to my horror that all the eight accused men had been let off by a special court for “lack of evidence”. The mother was not even given a copy of the judgment. On being told it was her legal right to get a copy, she finally got one from the public prosecutor.

At other times, the sight of a random woman on the street would trigger memories of the many mothers and daughters I met during my reporting trips. Over several afternoons, they gradually opened up to share their story with me.

Many of them are fighting long, painful legal battles against all odds — including witnesses turning hostile, pressure to compromise, social stigma, financial strain and threat to life. Despite the trauma, these women spoke with utmost compassion and courage.

No Nation For Women: Reportage On Rape from India, the World’s Largest Democracy Priyanka Dubey Simon & Schuster Non-fiction ₹699

 

The six years that I took to work on this book were undoubtedly the loneliest and most exhausting period of my life. I used to fall sick often while writing and would cry a lot. There were many breakdowns in between, when I lost all hopes of finishing the book. Then I began setting a modest per-day target and just aimed to meet that.

While working on the book, all I wanted was to complete it and I thought I would be happy after that. But now that it’s done, I feel an open crater inside me. I am numb. Moreover, I think that my natural ability to feel happiness has been altered. I don’t think anyone ever recovers completely from in-depth conflict and crisis reporting.

(As told to Shriya Mohan)

Priyanka Dubey is a Bilingual Correspondent at BBC India

Published on February 01, 2019
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