Nepali Times
Who owns a woman's body?


BITTERSWEET: In Katha Mitho Sarangiko Phurwa returns home after being rescued from a brothel

A man is kidnapped; he's beaten up, tortured even. He's released. When he returns home, he is welcomed by his family, not least by a tearful and grateful wife.

A woman is abducted. She is forced to work as a sex worker in a brothel in India. Eventually she is rescued and released from her hell. She goes back to Nepal and Öshe is punished all over again. Her family rejects her as tainted; she cannot go back to the village; she cannot find a husband. Her only hope lies in the refuge of an NGO, or in reinventing herself somewhere else.

Let's return to the scene of the crime. The man has a head wound, he may even have sustained a fracture or two. The woman has bruised thighs, her hymen is torn and there are abrasions to her vagina, and maybe she also has an infection incurred through her ordeal in the brothel.

We have two injured people, but the man's physical trauma is seen as an unfortunate by-product of the crime; it's a private condition. The woman's physical trauma, by contrast, stigmatises her for life. It begs the question: who owns a woman's body?

At the BBC World Service Trust, we are making a five-part drama on the trafficking of women, Katha Mitho Sarangiko. The main character is played by a former sex worker Ė a beautiful, sad, tense woman, who gives a heart-rending performance as Phurwa, a victim of trafficking. When producer Khagendra Lamichhane asked her if she was married, she gave him a bleak, bitter look and said: "Who would have me now?"

Why is this so? Part of the answer lies with virginity, the jewel that society prizes. It is a prize few women have control over, as it is often common property, the bargaining chip in a complex web of negotiations involving fathers, brothers and families. The issue of male virginity is largely irrelevant, but a woman's virginity signals moral order in society.

In many societies female sexuality is seen as a hidden, malignant force that needs to be controlled. Fail to keep it in check, and untold harm may ensue. As the Laws of Manu declare: 'It is the very nature of women to corrupt men here on earth; for that reason, circumspect men do not get careless and wanton among wanton women.' (Chapter 2, para 213)

The fear that women will bring misfortune to men though their sexual wiles, or even by their mere presence, is deep-rooted. In Sarangiko Bhalakusari, companion programme to Katha Mitho Sarangiko, Bhanu Bokhim interviews writer Chetnatha Acharya about his experience of marrying a widow deemed culpable when her first marriage ended in tragedy, with a bus accident that killed everyone in the wedding procession except the bride.

Chetnatha navigated the sea of ill will and married this woman, his family welcomed her. But in the village close to where the accident happened, people fabricated their own sequel in which the woman became betrothed to a second man and the same thing happened. It is as if in every woman lurks the witch. The widow is doubly suspect: she is sexually experienced, but has lost her husband, the owner of her body. Who can control her now? She must be ostracised.

A woman's body is flesh and blood, just like a man's. Her wounds are as significant or insignificant as a man's. Her body should be hers to squander or nurture as she pleases. But to accept this has serious implications. It means re-evaluating her crucial position Ė akin to a keystone Ė in the architecture of society's moral order.

Who can share the burden of society's morality with her? We should perhaps ask her gatekeepers: her brothers, father, family, and community, to share that responsibility, and renounce the urge to see a woman as a scapegoat.

In our story this week, Phurwa, a former sex worker, is redeemed by the love of her parents and that of an honest man, Chandre. A fairytale ending, but one that in the real world is all too rare.

Katha Mitho Sarangiko plays on 103 Mhz on Fridays at 8.15pm, and Sarangiko Bhalakusari on Saturdays at 8.15pm, in the Kathmandu Valley.

Phoenix rising, Rupa Joshi
Who's watching?, Indu Nepal
Dishing it out

1. Rajeev
Well written, Fiona.

2. DG

"The Devine Person parted one,s very body into two. thence came husband and wife.,like the two half of a split pea."   -BU.  So one is incomplete without the other i.e. man and woman.  Woman is just half;  so is man  To maintain social order  the cooperation of both is essential.We do not call women the better in the West.  Eve was created from a rib taken from Adam.It is a "dipensible rib ",as man still remained in toto complete even after the removal of the rib.But the inherited  feudal social stagnation still exists in our society.,so is the discrimination. .

In this age of enlightenment ,21st century human trafficking is going on from our land.Of course it goes on from Eastern  Europe also at an unpresidented scale even now.  Sexual mores are differntly practised in our feudal society. It was differen tin the early days of our history  in the Upanishad days as the books say.Women are master of their body;she "should be hers to squander or nurture as she pleases." yes,but in an atmosphere of ignorance our females go for looking  decent  work enticed by pimps and touts, more so females themselves, to Bombay,s Kamatipura or Kolkata,s Sonagachhi or Middle East.Councelling or guidance has been a must in such situation,rather than rescuing afterward  a few victnms.Strong legislation and effective enforcement is necessary and urgent to prevent such disasters.Society should treat such victims with love and care ,not ostracise them.Betty Freidan has changed herself from her  Feminine Mystique days to The Second Stage..Gains have been made;from trapped in the kitchen days  to  personal identity and freedom. Women   are recognised  as persons  of dignity and  status in their own right..

Ther is no real indepenence but inter- dependence for both men and women.It is not competition or conflict but cooperation and joint venture. There is innate divinity in both man and woman

Jesus was confronted  with  the crowd to give verdict  on  a woman charged with adultery , who had  to be stoned,to death, he commanded to desist from the cruel act. We need that type of heart to accept these innocent poor victims.We need the heart of the Buddha full of maha-karuna to accept them.The head of Shankar maha-pragna  only is not enough.

3. Aditi
A great read.
The issue of women sold into prostitution is heartbreaking, but also true (and very very unfair) is how a woman's virginity is so prized, while no one cares about a man's. 

4. Rachana
a very well written article

5. Shruti

The point to be noted here - its female more than male who is trafficked for the same reason. Her body is commodified where a man pays for it and hence buys after a hue of bargaining , negotiation and dicounts! But then after the buyer can return home safe whereas a female 'compelled to be sold' is nastily stigmatised as told in this writeup. Hey! female created from the ribs of men is merely a story in the bible, can be manipulated by any sense. But who really knows how they were created??? so let us not trod into those myths and interpret these sequels accordilngly. let us treat both men and women as a 'human being' rather than subcribing their gender every other time.

6. arun
Thought provoking article indeed!!

7. Dhruba
Trafficking happens because by doing this, the trafficker makes lot of money. Although he is doing illigal work, he will not be caught as he gives part of his earning from trafficking to the policeman and a part of the money also to the politician. That is why Nepali women are easily trafficked. Maybe trafficker, pimp, policeman, poacher, and politicians are best friends.

8. Satish Shrestha
It all boils down to gender discrimination (sexism) which is one of the disturbing flaws of human civilization. Growing up in a rather uneducated community in Nepal, I always thought that gender discrimination was confined to eastern hemisphere where majority of people are uneducated. After living in the states, a great amalgam of people/culture from all around the world, for almost four years now, I am quite disappointed to learn that gender discrimination is actually a global problem. 

I appreciate the initiative of BBC World Service Trust and I am very positive that it will have a positive impact on Nepali society. Though gender discrimination exist even in educated communities, I still believe with proper education we can mitigate this problem. An incoherent nexus of religion and social tradition is a serious issue that needs to be addressed. Though not a religious person, I believe religion does not enforce discrimination of any kind based on gender. It is a group of so called erudite persons who modified religious values into social tradition for their own advantage. Unfortunately our people still have not been able to renounce such traditions until now, possibly because they fear of being ostracized by the society. I am optimistic that a day will come when people will overcome that fear and renounce the traditions that have been shoving us behind, and the "fairytale of Phurwa" won't be rare anymore. 

9. S. B. Bisht

Just look at the height of injustice! A woman raped/ sold into prostitution by no fault of her own is ostracized by society rather than help her overcome the trauma. It makes one's heart bleed with grief just hearing about such things. One can only but imagine how the victim must feel. Society cannot be changed overnight. One way to reduce such crimes against women is to set the stakes so high for criminals that they dare not even think about committing them. Even death by hanging is too mild a punishment. How about death by torture?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)