As a boy I was introduced to the existence of rape rather early on—the bible has a number of stories about rape and to my teachers’ credit these stories were not glossed over. While I was disturbed as a boy by the story of the rape of Dinah—particularly the actions taken by her brothers to avenge her rape by killing all the men of the town of Shechem (see Genesis Chapter 34: 1-31) none entered my young consciousness more than the story told at the end of the Book of Judges (Shoftim Chapter 19-21) about the gang rape of a woman by the men of the city of Givah. As a boy what disturbed my sleep with nightmares was not the rape of the woman—I don’t think my young mind could quite grasp the enormity of rape—but the actions taken by her husband after finding his wife’s lifeless body. What he did was to chop her body up into pieces and send, via messengers, a section of her dismembered body to each head of the tribes declaring in this grotesque manner, “this is what the men of Givah perpetrated against my wife.”
As the story unfolds, in Chapter 20 of the Book of Judges, the people of Israel are enraged against the heinous act of the men of Givah. An ensuing battle occurs in which the perpetrators and those that chose to defend them are killed.
In light of the horror of the rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey (Jyoti means light in Sanskrit) and the trial now underway of the men accused, the unified response of the Israelites against the men of Givah inspires the efforts of all Indians to unite- for justice to be served. In the biblical narrative all that is touched upon is the crime itself—not the underlying causes of men’s attitudes towards women. What is on trial in India is not just the men who are accused of rape—what is on trial is a society that needs to take accountability for not treating women with the utmost respect and defending their rights in the public domain. For years, Indian women have given voice to the pervasive dangers of simply walking the streets in constant fear of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
Perhaps now their voices will be heard in India and among us all. Jyoti’s body parts are being sent around the world for all of us to feel her pain and the pain of billions of women. Only when we see how we dismember ourselves by not treating all with due respect can we be blessed with Jyoti’s light.