This interview is special for Bookaholicanonymous, why, because firstly it’s an important work, secondly, because the author Priyanka Dubey is one of the most promising young journalists in India today and thirdly because she has written on a topic that devastates us everytime we read or hear about it in the newspapers or TV news channels.
We feel extremely privileged and proud to bring to you this interview…
About Priyanka Dubey: Priyanka is a journalist based in Delhi. Her investigative reporting on social justice and human rights has won multiple International and National recognitions which include the 2019 Chameli Devi Jain Award for Outstanding Woman Journalist, the 2015 Knight International Journalism Award, the 2014 Kurt Schork Award in International Journalism, the 2013 Red Ink Award for Excellence in Indian Journalism, 2012 Press Council of India’s Award for Excellence in Investigative Journalism and the 2011 Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Indian Journalism. Also, her stories were finalists in the 2014 Thomson Foundation Young Journalist from the Developing World Awards and the 2013 German Development Media Awards. Priyanka is also a three times Laadli Media Award winner and a former Chevening Fellow. She was born in Bhopal. Her first book titled No Nation for Women-Reportage on Rape from India, the World’s Largest Democracy was published by Simon & Schuster India in 2019. It was short-listed for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2019, Tata Literature Live Awards 2019 and the Prabha Khaitan Women’s Voice Award 2019.
About the book: No Nation for Women takes a hard, close look at what makes India unsafe for its women from custodial rapes to rapes by Godmen, from caste rapes to honour killings – the author uncovers many uncomfortable, unsavoury truths in a book that is urgent and important and a must-read for anyone with a conscience. The author travels through large swathes of India, over a period of six years, to uncover the accounts of disenfranchised women who are caught in the grip of patriarchy. She asks if, after the globally reported December 2012 gang‑rape of Nirbhaya in New Delhi, India’s gender narrative has shifted and if it hasn’t, what needs to be done to make this a nation worthy of its intrepid girls.
We see reports of rapes, assault, mutilation and brutal deaths of women in newspapers and electronic media almost every day. As a journalist what do you think- is it because more women are coming forward to report crimes or crimes against women have increased many folds?
The reporting of crime against women (CAW) cases has surely gone up but there is no conclusive evidence to establish that these reported cases of CAW is directly related to ‘more women’ coming out to report. On the contrary, what we can say on the basis of Indian Government’s latest NCRB figures is that CAW has been constantly increasing in India-where a sexual violence case is reported in every fifteen minutes. Victim shaming and stigma still shrouds survivors who try to raise their voice and complain against rape. Due to this kind of regressive social conditioning, coming out and filing a complaint against rape is still very difficult for women in India.
India is called the world's most unsafe country for women. Do you agree? Why? The title of the book is very telling.
The answer to this question is connected to the one answered above. The annual National Crime Records Bureau figures show that one case of sexual violence against women is registered in India in every 15 minutes. This is the situation when filing a complaint is discouraged by families fearing the social stigma associated with rape. A large number of cases of sexual violence do not make it to the police stations because of this same patriarchal social conditioning. These figures speak for themselves – India is one of the most difficult and challenging places to live as a woman. The rampant and widespread patriarchy is at the root of this problem.
You must have covered many more rape crimes as part of your work, what made you select these 13 stories in particular?
I think it’s the other way around. These 13 stories chose me. I never set out on a journey of singling out cases of sexual violence to report because each case as horrific and painful as the other. I went after stories that moved me enough, at the point of time, to get up and report. Also dozens of starts have to align for a story to happen-access, logistics, being at the right place at the right time – are just a few to name.
Every time I read about rape/sexual assault of babies/female children from the age group ranging from 4 months to 9-12 years I am devastated. Why do you think there has been a sudden spurt of sexual attack on children?
There has been a visible spike in the cases of rapes of minors – which is one of the most disturbing aspect of sexual crimes in India now. I shudder with pain and fear and I don’t have any straight answers to this question. Pervert behaviour and easy access to porn because of cheap data are some thick interpretations that initial researches throw up. But this is just a narrow part of the problem. We need sustained work in this area and need to focus on developing policies that can ensure a safer childhood.
Why do you think we have normalised sexual abuse? It has become just another number for us. When do you think we as a nation took up the cause of a rape survivor strongly? Or we still need to wake-up so to say?
I feel the Nirbhaya case was a watershed moment in the history of India’s struggle against rape. It really shook the conscience of common people and in an unprecedented way, bought them together in their shared grief and rage. More than sexual abuse itself, the victim blaming attitude has played huge role in normalizing CAW in India. This patriarchal mind-set needs to continuously challenged. No Nation for Women did exactly this.
The book is a chronicle of your interaction with rape survivors and their families? What was the common thread that you discovered? Or were they all different? ...what can you tell us about their spirit?
Each story is different–but the only common thread that binds these cases together is–perhaps, the courage and determination with which the survivors have been fighting when everything, from the society at large to people in their own inner circles are stacked up against them. But I would also want to caution you against any one dimensional hero-worshiping to these survivors. The battles that they are fighting are much more nuanced, multi-layered, brutal and challenging. What stands outs in their stories for me, perhaps equal to or even more than courage, is their relentless believe in justice and their undying compassion.
What do you think of the policies–drafted and implemented on sexual violence, caste violence and their ground truth?
There is a whole chapter in the book which deals with policies and rehabilitation of rape survivors. Truth is, even after the Justice Verma Committee recommendations, not much has changed for the survivor on ground. The root cause is the society – and this includes large section of people working in the legal and police systems-continues to be drowned in the regressive mind-set of victim shaming the survivor, dismissing her by raising questions on her character. This makes Rape the only crime for which the victim is blamed. The fight for justice lonelier and challenging in rape cases than other crimes. We are running in negative now. We need to first address the existing issues of rampant patriarchy, come to zero and then we can move up towards the conversation of rehabilitation of survivors.
Meeting rape survivors and writing this book. How has it affected you?
The material was very dark to live with for 6 years. And honestly, I don’t think that I have recovered from my experience of working on this book. Can one ever recover from deep experiences like these? By the time of No Nation For Women’s launch, I had earned some wounds, a few scars and slightly altered personality. These scars and wounds – they are the ‘earned remains’ of my relationship with this book-so I keep them in my heart. I always will.
Will you do another book? Because sexual violence is not ending anytime soon?
Well, I will certainly write. But not another book of sexual violence. I have been writing some bad poetry on love and loss. I will write fiction next. Fiction in Hindi first. Most probably a story around longing, love and loss.
In the end we would like to thank Priyanka and also add that it was a delight to know you, be as down-to-earth and accessible as you are inspite of your achievements. Here’s wishing you many more awards, books and successes!
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