Shivangi Rudra, Research Scholar, NIMS University.
Dr.J.P.Aggarwal, Assistant Professor, LPU, Punjab.
The female body is the basis for the distinction between the sexes. A culture that sexually objectifies the female body makes girls and women victims of sexual oppression. It increases women’s opportunities for shame and anxiety. In the traditional debate between biologists and sociologists, the female body has often been explored in terms of its anatomical, hormonal influences on personality, experience and behavior. Feminists and socio-cultural perspectives illuminate gender differences. Women who suffer objectification encounter mental health risks, depression, alienation and sexual violence. The common thread running through all forms of sexual objectification is the experience of being treated as a body. The fiction of Bapsi Sidhwa, Monica Ali and Khaled Hosseini deal with such themes of sexualities, objectification of female body and its consequences, subjugation of women and brutal violence resulting from the partition holocaust. The issue of woman violence is the main concern as all the major novels of these writers are packed with the scenes of rapes, physical and psychological violence suffered by the women protagonists. The present paper is an attempt to explore such possible relationship between mental illness and violence.
Keywords: Objectification of female body, sexual violence, subjugation, brutality, disempowerment, rape.
The majority of the feminists such as Julia Kristeva, Luce Irigary and Michkle Le Doeuff, Irigary have explored the consequences of being female in a culture that sexually objectifies the female body. Objectification theory posits that girls and women become the victims of sexual oppression. This perspective on self leads to habitual body monitoring. It can increase women’s opportunities for shame and anxiety. The female body is the basis for the distinction between the sexes. Interestingly, in the traditional debate between biologists and sociologists, the female body has often been explored in terms of its anatomical, hormonal influences on personality, experience and behavior. Feminists and socio-cultural perspectives illuminate gender differences. Feminists have explored the multiple ways that the body conveys social meaning and how these meanings shape gendered experience. In this respect Bordo, Foucault in philosophy, E. Martin in cultural anthropology and Shilling in sociology and Ussher in psychology have explored gender psychology and the impact of objectification of women. Women who suffer objectification encounter mental health risks, depression, alienation and sexual violence. The common thread running through all forms of sexual objectification is the experience of being treated as a body.
The contemporary culture is saturated with heterosexuality as Karen Horney observed: “it is the socially sanctioned right of all males to sexualize all females, regardless of age or status.” Women’s bodies are always looked at, evaluated and potentially objectified. This sexualization occurs in many forms, ranging from sexual violence to sexualized evaluation. Bartky observes that a woman’s body parts are singled out and separated from her as a person and she is viewed as a physical object of female sexual desire. Elizabeth Grosz in her book Sexual Subversions observes that “Freud also raised for the first time the question of sexual difference, “the Preface question of the (social) meaning of sexual specificity. Indeed, given the link between the Oedipus complex and the formation of the unconscious through the constitution of the superego, Freud linked the question of the subject’s incapacity to know itself to the repression of the idea of sexual difference.” (1x) Fredrickson and Roberts postulated that self-objectification can increase women’s anxiety about physical appearance and increase women’s anxiety about their physical safety (e.g., fears about being raped). Bartky in her essay Psychological Oppression observes: “A person is sexually objectified when her sexual parts or sexual functions are separated out from the rest of her personality and reduced to the status of mere instruments or else regarded as if they were capable of representing her” (28).
The fiction of Bapsi Sidhwa, Monica Ali and Khaled Hosseini deal with the themes of sexualities, objectification of female body and its consequences, subjugation of women and brutal violence resulting from the partition holocaust.
Foucault observes that new concept of political liberty invaded the female body:
What was then being formed was a policy of coercions that act upon the body, a calculated manipulation of its elements, its gestures, its behavior. The human body was entering a machinery of power that explores it, breaks it down and rearranges it.(138).
Karl Marx discussed his theory of alienation, capitalist production breaks up the cultural process and man no longer enjoys freedom, Bartky argues that people don’t merely produce objects: they also produce culture and produce themselves, their identities. And when freedom of cultural production is disrupted by cultural domination, when freedom is disrupted by stereotyping and sexual objectification, the women suffer dissolution of identity. In the post-colonial era, identity formation became a subtle process. The issue of woman violence is the main concern of Bapsi Sidhwa, Monica Ali and Khaled Hosseini as all the major novels of these writers are packed with the scenes of rapes, physical and psychological violence suffered by the women protagonists. The present paper is an attempt to explore the possible relationship between mental illness and violence.
Sigmund Freud thought that human behaviour was the product of “unconscious” forces operating within a person’s mind. Freud believed that conflicts that occur at various psychosexual stages of development might impact an individual’s ability to operate normally as an adult (Bartol). For Freud, aggression was thus a basic (Id based) human impulse. Violence and aggression was a natural impulse in human beings. It is interesting to note that August Aichorn theorizes about crime or violence. Aichorn felt that stress only produced crime in those who had a particular mental state known as latent delinquency. Psychodynamic theories depict the violent offender as an impulsive, easily frustrated person who is dominated by events or issues that occurred in early childhood. Bapsi Sidhwa published her Ice Candy Man in 1988 depicting the themes of violence, sexuality; and cultural displacement of the people affected by the partition holocaust. The world of Lahore is presented through the eyes of child narrator, Lenny. She witnesses how Lahore turns into a world of trivial realities, sterile theologies, and dogmatic beliefs during post-partition period. There are innumerable women like Ayah who dwindle into ‘fallen women’ in the apocalyptic year of 1947.The novel is both a political as well as feminist allegory Sidhwa was shocked to witness the brutal killings, rapes and trading of women as commodities, She observed thus:
As a writer, as a human being, one just does not tolerate injustice; I felt whatever little I could do to correct an injustice I would like to do. I have just let facts speak for themselves, and through my research I found out what the facts were. (Montenegro 36)
The plot of the novel revolves around partition of India, a subject as harrowing as the holocaust. Sidhwa performs the remarkable feat of bringing together the ribald farce of Parsee family, life and the stark drama and the horror of the riots and massacres of 1947.At the centre of this world is Lenny, she bears the bitter burden of history on her shoulders. The scenes are typical of the fate that awaits women and children in any evil and political turmoil. Women are the worst victims of atrocities. It is the women who bear the brunt of violence that accompanies these disputes. Women are rooted in the soil and they are not interested in politics but suddenly they find that their bodies are being brutalized. Through the character of Lenny, Sidhwa explores a female universe hemmed in by the restricting and reductive forces of patriarchy and colonialism. Women are the targets of sexual violence and brutality of every form.
There are three novels which depict massive social change and systematic brutality. Gil Courtemanche’s A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali, J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India deal with the themes of violence and rapes as the background is the period of intense violence. Courtmanche’s novel describes the Rwandan genocide and Coetzee’s Disgrace describes the post-apartheid South Africa. Sidhwa and Coetzee differ significantly in their treatment of sexual violence. Courtemanche decries physical violence but fails to acknowledge more subtle forms of abuse, constraining the voice of the raped female character. Examining Partition from a child’s perspective, Sidhwa exposes some of the injustices faced by a survivor of rape, yet this survivor never talks about her experience. Coetzee’s protagonist suppresses the voice of the woman he abuses, but insists that his daughter speak up when she is assaulted. Lynin A. Higgins and Brenda R, Silver have discussed the causes, symptoms and effects of rape in the lives of women and their volume Rape and Representation explores the conviction that in patriarchal societies people repress the realities of rape. Gaytri Spivak in her essay Can the Subaltern Speak? outlines the marginalized status of woman in a society who is subjected to sexual violence and rapes. Woman becomes a victim and she remains silent being suppressed by the male dominated society. Higgins and Silver propose that we “listen […] to silences” in order to find survivors’ perspectives (4).Survivor is one who has been subjected to sexual brutalities. Hassina of Brick Lane is an example of a survivor. Susan Brownmiller Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975) is a landmark text in theorizing about sexual assault, which, was born out of growing discussion about sexual violence in U.S. feminist circles. Her central thesis is often summarized as “rape is violence, not sex,” a position that was popular amongst liberal, Western feminists throughout the 1970s and ’80s. Susan argues that men have used rape to coerce women into a subjugated social position: fear of rape leads women voluntarily to limit their independence in various ways, from avoiding being out alone at night to getting married. Susan claims that rape is enacted not out of desire but out of “hatred” (185) and constitutes a “deliberate, hostile, violent act of degradation and possession” (391). The symbolic nature of women in respect to the motherland is a central message conveyed through metaphor in Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel, Cracking India. The novel recounts the rising tensions that lead to the partition of India from the eyes of a young Parsee girl, Lenny who lives in Lahore. By utilizing a female narrator, Sidhwa presents a uniquely gendered perspective of Partition.
In Cracking India, the body is indispensable in the representation of the Partition; it is the object which primarily bears the suffering. In The Pakistani Bride and Cracking India female bodies are given away in marriage transactions, secluded and hidden in the female quarters, beaten into submission and subjected to rape and prostitution. Men in these novels assert their power over women and, hence, over female bodies. Sidhwa shows the contrast between the outside, ‘male’, world and the inside, ‘female’, world, and she lets the women speak of their private thoughts and feelings. Female sexuality is the main focus of the novelist.
In the Partition narratives, the body is taken as the medium of violence to demonstrate power. In Chapter 16, Sidhwa describes a macabre scene of human brutality, in the demonstration of the Sikh mobs, a child is poked by and hung on a spear, “waved like a flag” (144). A flag is one of the most common symbols that we use to represent a group. Lifted high in the air, the flag demonstrates the power of the group. This frightening scene of a child being turned into a “flag” expresses something more than meaningless cruelty. Her body is utilized to display the power of the Sikhs and their fervor for the re-ordering of communities. After the child is struck by a spear, Lenny sees another bloody deed. She narrates:
My eyes focus on an emaciated Banya wearing a white Gandhi cap. The man is knocked down. His lips are drawn away from rotting, paan-stained teeth in a scream. The men [the Muslim mobs] move back and in the small clearing I see his legs sticking out of his dhoti right up to the groin—each thin, brown leg tied to a jeep. […] There is the roar of a hundred throats: „Allah-o-Akbar!‟ and beneath it the growl of revving motors. (145)
Bodily mutilation is commonly seen in the violence of the Partition. This scene has deep psychological impact on the sensitive psyche of Lenny performs the same action on her doll: “she pulls the legs of a doll apart. She is frightened by the result, crying, and her brother is confused and infuriated by Lenny’s “pointless brutality” (148). Lenny’s action is a response to the mutilation of the man. Being a child, she does not understand the mutilation is the exemplification of the people’s furious call for the partition and independence. The mutilation of the body echoes the disintegration of the colonial regime; the man’s mutilated body is sacrificed and politicized. The action of dismembering the man foresees the separation of India and Pakistan in the future and the beginning of the era of hatred and mutual distrust. In Chapter 18, Ice-Candy-Man comes to announce the terrible news to the group of his friends: “A train from Gurdaspur has just come in. […] Everyone in it is dead. Butchered. They are all Muslim” (159). The victims are killed and left in the train on purpose. Not disposed where they are killed, the bodies of the victims are transported by the train to bring messages. In his book, Discipline and Punishment, Michel Foucault emphasizes the significance of the body and writes: “Rather than seeing soul as the reactivated remnants of an ideology, one would see it as the present correlative of a certain technology of power over body” (29). The body is actually the battle field in which the powers interrelate. It serves as the locale where the violence is performed and also where the meaning is engraved. Ice-Candy-Man continues his report: “there are no young women among the dead! Only two gunny-sacks full of women’s breasts!” (159)
Menon and Bhasin in Borders and Boundries: Women in India’s Partition (2007) restate Sudhir Kakar’s point: “the castration of males and the amputation of a woman’s breasts „incorporate the wish to wipe the enemy off the face of the earth‟ (44).
The amputation of a woman’s breasts implicates more symbolism than barbarity, for amputating her breasts at once desexualizes a woman and negates her as wife and mother Without her breasts, a woman is no longer a nurturer; her reproductive power is appropriated. The breasts in the gunny-sacks suggest the prevention of the future generations of the victims (44)
Cracking India‘s Ayah is subjected to sustained sexual abuse and forced prostitution, but her suffering occurs during her prolonged absence from the narrative. Seen through the eyes of the eight-year-old Lenny, the fate of the “fallen woman” is indeterminate, mysterious and unspoken. The structure of Disgrace hinges upon an explosive dramatization of a violent gang-rape. Bapsi Sidhwa deals with the themes of sexualities, rapes, prostitution and objectification of women. Her Crow Eaters (1980), Pakistani Bride (1993), Cracking India brought immense fame to the author for her free and frank but realistic portrayal of the women who suffered all forms of sexual violence during and after Partition. Writings about Partition often portray the massacre, mutilation, abduction, and rape of female bodies. Manju Jaidka observes that Bapsi Sidhwa chose to focus on the marginalization and victimization of women because they served as “symbols of the community to be subjugated; their bodies became sites of contested power” (48). As Jaidka points out that women of Sidhwa function as “objects of oppression” in her novels. Their utter disempowerment often becomes “the focal point of the narrative, highlighting the impact of history on the meek and powerless” (46). Rosemary George observes that the novels of Sidhwa depict women as “communal sufferers, familial victims, and second-class citizens” (138), while men are more often portrayed as dominant and powerful. Partition reduces both men and women to “perfect binaries—rapists and raped, protectors and protected, villains and victims, buyers and bought, sellers and sold” (142). In Modern South Asian Literature in English, Paul Brians declares that Cracking India is characterized by a “pattern of oppression that haunts all women in the novel, from highest to lowest” (107) The lame Lenny is looked after by her Ayah Shanti, a Hindu woman. Her Ayah is the formative influence on Lenny. Ayah is a flame of sensuousness and female vitality around which the male moths hover constantly and hanker for the sexual warmth she radiates. All men notice Ayah: “hawkers, cart-drivers, cooks, coolies and cyclists” alike “turn their heads as she passes” (12), and Lenny is sure that the Englishman who tries to coax her out of her pram also notices Ayah’s “rolling bouncy walk that agitates the globules of her buttocks” (13). Crucially, the shared desire for Ayah causes both beggars and holy men to reveal themselves; exposing their “poses” of incapacity and “pretences” of piety as “masks.” From the start of the novel, Sidhwa constructs Ayah’s sexual attractiveness as a thing of power. And the power is Ayah’s. She is not glanced at, but “draws glances” (12,); she controls the gaze of which she is the object.
Ayah negotiates her desirability with apparent ease. Attracting lustful gazes from all around, she continues pushing Lenny’s pram “with unconcern” (12). She dusts off “with impartial nonchalance” (28-9) the things that “love to crawl beneath [her] sari. Ladybirds, glow-worms, Ice-candy-man’s toes” (28). Undoubtedly, the dynamic between Ayah and her various suitors is one in which she is the object of pursuit. Ayah is not only sexually desired but sexually desiring, involved in intimate relationships with a number of men.
Ayah’s sexual body has an intense effect on Lenny, who feels that she can “intuit the meaning and purpose of things … The essence of truth and beauty” (28). Sidhwa depicts the power of sexuality through the character and personality of Ayah. Cahill suggests that “in acquiring the bodily habits” of femininity, women become radically alienated from their bodies, which they learn “constantly pose … the possibility of threat” (161). Sidhwa writes against this division between self and body: portraying Ayah’s sexually which becomes a threat in the novel. Sidhwa’s portrait of Ayah and her female sexuality as “a thing to be stolen, sold, bought, bartered, or exchanged by others [which] women never own or possess” (MacKinnon 172). MacKinnon contends that men are active traders and women’s sexualities inanimate goods. There is a suggestion of this marketplace in Sidhwa’s description of the “subtle exchange of signals and … complex rites by which Ayah’s admirers coexist,” but Ayah’s influence over these rites is considerable. Far from being passive, Ayah has the last word, and her suitors respect her “favor” (29). Sidhwa has described Ayah’s natural beauty and sensuality creating an intriguing source of power Lenny details how “stub-handed twisted beggars…drop their poses and stare at Ayah with hard, alert eyes. Holy men, masked in piety, shove aside their pretenses to ogle her with lust. Hawkers, cart-drivers, cooks, coolies, and cyclists turn their heads as she passes” (12). Ayah goes on changing her suitors, at one moment she enjoys Ice-candy-man’s advances; at another rejects them with “goddess-like calm” (83). While Sharbat Khan is away in the mountains, Ayah develops affection for Masseur. Upon Sharbat Khan’s return, she signals her newfound indifference to him from “calm and bemused eyes” (161), her “face reflect[ing] an answer” to his silent advances. He “honorably concedes the round” of this competition, in which Ayah is judge, not prize (162). Men of all economic and social backgrounds are captivated by Ayah’s appearance and sexual appeal. Her effect is not limited to Indian and Pakistani men; a British man is also intrigued by Ayah’s “stunning looks” and “rolling bouncy walk that agitates the globules of her buttocks…and the half-spheres beneath her short sari-blouses” (13). Ayah’s effect on men is so strong that Lenny compares it to “the tyranny magnets exercise over metals” (29), which “galvanizes men to mad sprints in the noon heat” (41).
Ayah acts like the queen bee that controls the actions and emotions of her male admirers – the Fallatis Hotel cook, the Government House gardener, the butcher, the muscled- masseur and the Ice Candy Man. Sidhwa depicts the traumatic experience of the Ayah thus:
They drag Ayah out…The men drag her in grotesque strides to the cart and their harsh hands, supporting her with careless intimacy, lift her into it. Four men stand pressed against her, proper her body upright, their lips stretched in triumphant grimaces (195).
Thus the violence inflicted upon women during the genocide was not incidentally but fundamentally sexual. The Partition of India saw a systemic campaign of sexual violence. Sudhir Kakar the prominent psychoanalyst in India has noted the connection between social mores and sexual violence in his book The Colours of Violence:
Cracking India contains some graphic and brutal descriptions: Lenny sees “a naked child, twitching on a spear struck between her shoulders […] waved like a flag” (144); discovers Masseur’s body “neatly hacked” (185) in a gunnysack; and learns of the attempted scalping by which her friend Ranna acquired his “grisly scar” (206). When the house next door to Lenny’s becomes a camp for survivors of rape, Sidhwa examines another risk of representing survivors of violence. Lenny’s desire to see is stalled by the guard who “glowers furiously” (201) at her. However, she manages to “peer between the rafters into the dim, smoke-filled cubicles” (201-2) below. Lenny’s views about sexuality are quite ambiguous, she expresses her opinions and disgust when her cousin tries to coax her into new sexual relationship: “I like Cousin. I’ve even thought of marrying him when we grow up, but this is a side of him I’m becoming aware of for the first time, and I don’t like it” (172)
The Pakistani Bride is a novel of women in marriage, women and sexuality, women as objects of male control. All through the novel, the focus is on female bodies. Whether looked at by men or experienced by women, the female body is the most important image of the novel, and this image links with women’s conditions of life in Pakistan. The image of the bride, both in the title and in the novel, is a more specific image than the female body in general. The bride becomes a symbol of men’s power over women’s lives and women’s bodies. In The Pakistani Bride, marriage is described as a kind of contract or transaction that takes place between male heads who use the bodies of women to further their economic gains. When a man wants to merry, he must pay money to the father of the bride. The cultural transaction of marriage turns the bodies of women into highly valuable commodities which are sold to the highest bidder. Afshan’s father Resham Khan is in debt to Qasim’s father. Resham wants to end the old enmity and decides to offer his daughter to Qasim’s father. His beautiful Afshan is a valuable cheque for the rival who is very happy to get it. Marriage becomes a transaction of body rather than a relationship based on mutual understanding. When Afshan is married to Qasim, it is not she who accepts him verbally rather an old aunt: “Thrice she was asked if she would accept Qasim … as her husband and thrice an old aunt murmured ‘Yes’ on her behalf” (8). Similarly when Zaitoon turns ten, Mirriam is of the opinion that “She’ll be safe only at her mother-in-law’s … A girl is never too young to marry” (53). Qasim’s father knows that Resham Khan’s virginal daughter is far more valuable than any amount that Resham Khan owes him:
Resham Khan has promised us his daughter! The sturdy, middle-aged tribesman knew just how gorgeous the offer was. Any girl- and he made sure that this one was able-bodied-was worth more than the loan due.(7)
The tribal people lived in very harsh environment; the able bodied woman was considered a prized commodity with her ability to produce and to give birth to more working hands. The age-old role of woman as a child-bearing machine is seen as the most important role and the questions of her education as secondary rather of least importance: “What will she do with more reading and writing – boil and drink it? … No Allah willing, she’ll get married and have children”(52).
By presenting three married couples, Afshan and Qasim; Zaitoon and Sakhi; and Carol and Farukh in the novel., Sidhwa interrogates the institution of marriage. How the institution of marriage is manipulated and exploited to give legal sanctions to the appropriation and abrogation of women’s personal freedom and body. In this social structure the status of a woman is not greater than other valuable goods owned by the tribal man like a herd of cows, or a stock of sheep. Afshan’s body is thus sold and traded like animals. In tribal areas, the swera tradition is also very common. Generally, girls are given in swera marriage as compensation for murder, adultery and kidnapping committed by men of the family. Women are compelled to sacrifice by their father, brother or uncle for the crime they have committed. Woman is shown as a territory to be conquered by men. The relationship becomes one of colonizer-colonized type wherein the colonizer tries to use and abuse this occupied territory.
Zaitoon had a horrible dream anticipating of an unpleasant future, she cries in a frightened mood, “Abba, take me to the plains. If I must marry, marry me to someone from the plains … I will die rather than live here” (157). Qasim threatens Zaitoon of dire consequences instead of consoling her with parental love and affection. Zaitoon is treated as a salable entity and a commodity of gratifying her husband’s animal instinct. On the very first day of her marriage she undergoes an experience of sexploitation. Sakhi behaves like a beast: “Sakhi surveyed his diffident bride with mounting excitement. Here was a woman all his own, he thought with proprietorial lust and pride” (159).Sidhwa has described the traumatic life of Zaitoon in a lyrical language thus:
He tore the ghoongat from her head and holding her arms in a cruel grip he panted inarticulate hatred into her face….He tugged at the cord of her shalwar and the silk fell to her ankles. Before she could raise her trousers Sakhi flung her back….She screamed and screamed. ‘Abba, save me’, she shrieked. Why didn’t Qasim come? Or any of the others?” (160).
Qasim doesn’t know love sympathy and compassion. He uses these tools to domesticate Zaitoon. He inflicts pain on Zaitoon – physically, psychologically and sexually:
He struck her on her thighs, on her head, shouting, “You are my woman! I’ll teach you to obey me! Sakhi is blind to the feminine feelings. When Zaitoon waves her hand on a far-off vehicle, Sakhi drags her along the crag and inflicts infinite hatred on her: “You whore, he hissed,…He cleared his throat and spat full in her face. (186).
Zaitoon cannot tolerate the physical and psychological torture. One day she decides to run away from this concentration camp. “She knew that in flight lay her only hope of survival”(186). Her struggle for survival continues endlessly as Sakhi and his clansmen hunt for her. Zaitoon has become a criminal in the eyes of tribal laws as she has broken the tribal code of conduct.
To conclude, female body is treated as an item, a tradable commodity in the rigid male dominated patriarchal society of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The entire contemporary writers such as Bapsi Sidhwa, Monica Ali and Khaled Hossein depict the themes of sex, sexuality and gender discrimination. Monica Ali depicts the plight of Nazneen and Hasina. Hassina is mercilessly beaten by her husband. Then she comes in contact with, Mr Chowdhury, who crosses all limits to treat Hassina. She becomes a a prostitute, marries one of her customers. Her body and sex are misused, traded in the market. Monica Ali has given her perception of sex and sexuality in this novel. In this chapter the text is examined and investigated from a fresh perspective. Khaled Hosseini depicts the traumatic experiences of Laila and Mariam in A Thousand Splendid Suns.
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