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The crimson thread of male entitlement



There is a crimson thread that binds the starry heights of the American literary world to a shepherd's world in India's Kashmir valley.

Junot DiazIt is more grave than the 'crimson thread of kinship' that Sir Henry Parkes said bound the Australian colonies in 1890 to the exclusion of Indigenous First Nations communities and other non Anglo-Celtic workers. It has stretched over the centuries and across the world, and it is killing our girls and our women. It is the crimson thread of male entitlement.

Merely days ago, the American author Junot Diaz left the Sydney Writers Festival (SWF) amid allegations of sexual abuse from another American guest of the festival, Zinzi Clemmons. Other writers soon began to share their experiences of Diaz's predatory and abusive behaviour.

All this occurred while the literary world had just learned that the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature would be delayed as a consequence of one of its associates being accused of sexual assault. This groundswell of rage, and calls for a price to be paid, galvanised by the #MeToo moment, hold to account writers like Diaz, and institutions like the Swedish Academy that administers the Nobel Prize.

They are part of a complex configuration of literary prestige: the upholding of a minority writer in Diaz, who scaled the walls of the literary establishment and unlocked the gates to others like him; and who recently published an essay where he revealed that he too was a victim of sexual violence as a child. Now the victim, upon whom the literary world has bestowed prestige, imbuing him with power, has turned perpetrator.

At another SWF event, one about the #MeToo movement, the Australian writer, sociologist and activist Eva Cox observed to the panellists: 'It's not "How do we stop that man from doing that to us?", but '"How do we stop men feeling like they're entitled to?"' Therein, she pointed to the crux of the matter: male entitlement.

There is another, more sinister and tragic manifestation of that bloodied crimson thread, woven with the use of rape as a weapon of war. Most recently and horrifically, it can be found in the events that transpired in a forest at the foothills of the Himalayas.


"This crime is marked by a complex configuration of colonisation, religious tension, disputes about land ownership ... But at the heart of it is that eight men felt they could rape and murder an eight year old girl with impunity."


Eight year old Asifa Banu belonged to a family of Muslim nomadic shepherds. One afternoon she was sent into the forest to bring back the horses. She never returned, even when the horses did. Her body was found a week later, on 17 January. The police chargesheet says she was drugged, raped multiple times, starved, and murdered in Kathua, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

These terrible events got media attention only in April, months after they occurred. According to this report from the BBC, her rapists and abusers were protected by politicians from the ruling BJP party, and the police. One of the police officers assigned to investigate the case was himself arrested in connection with Asifa's rape and murder. As the sociologist and author Nandini Sundar notes, 'the law won't act against powerful men'.

This crime in Kathua is marked by a historically complex configuration of colonisation, religious tension, disputes about land ownership, the occupation of Kashmir by the Indian army and, most horrifically, as numerous commentators have noted, the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war. But at the heart of it is that eight men felt they could rape and murder an eight year old girl with impunity.

But hopefully, not any more. Just like the #MeToo movement of the Western world, the Kathua rape has again galvanised large sections of Indian society and has sparked global protests. In Australia, over 100 prominent writers, artists, theatre practitioners, musicians and academics with close ties to India signed a protest letter expressing sorrow and outrage against this brutal rape and murder of a girl from a Muslim minority community in India.

The letter, addressed to the High Commissioner of India in Australia, was hand-delivered on Monday 23 April 2018 to the Consulate Generals of India in Sydney and Melbourne. The signatories stated, 'We are calling for "Zero Tolerance After Asifa" and urging the Indian government, which you represent in Australia, to take immediate action in providing justice to Asifa and all other victims of sexual violence, to provide support and compensation to their families, and to restore the faith of citizens and the international community in Indian democracy by bringing the perpetrators to justice immediately.'

It is only through breaking the code of silence around the abuse of women, through believing in women who come forward with allegations, through continued public scrutiny of their abusers, through bringing the swift and full weight of the law upon perpetrators, and through educatiing our boys about consent, feminism and freedom, that we can hope to cut that crimson thread with its interconnected international histories and its brutal and tragic consequences.



Roanna GonsalvesRoanna Gonsalves is the author of The Permanent Resident (UWAP), published in India and South Asia as Sunita De Souza Goes To Sydney (Speaking Tiger). The Permanent Resident won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award Multicultural Prize 2018, and is longlisted for the Dobbie Literary Award 2018.


Roanna would like to thank Dr Mridula Nath Chakraborty for her solidarity and her comments that have strengthened the above article, and to Neel Banerjee for solidarity.

For breaking news on the Kathua case, follow @scroll_in or visit here.

Topic tags: Roanna Gonsalves, India, rape, sexism, sexual assault, Junot Diaz, Asifa Banu



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Existing comments

By all means, as Roanna Gonsalves urges, let us have strong laws and their enforcement, coupled with relevant, informed education to encourage respect for the dignity of women (and, for that matter, men) - but I don't think legality and instruction alone suffice to remedy moral and social ills. Recently the Sunday Mass Gospel reminded us, "I am the vine, you are the branches . . . without me, you can do nothing." This is not just a ferverino or culturally bound dictum: personal attentiveness to the Holy Spirit and daily openness to the grace of God have a vital part in working towards remedial action and human flourishing.

John | 10 May 2018  

There is something seriously creepy about the self-righteousness of today’s virtue-signallers. Last February, the New York State attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, assumed a major role in the #MeToo movement and denounced Harvey Weinstein saying, “We have never seen anything as despicable as what we’ve seen right here.” This week Schneiderman resigned after being accused of violent assaults on women and making threats to stalk and kill them. This came as a great shock “except to anyone who has followed his career in politics” wrote journalist Seth Barron. How did he get away with it? Well it seems he’s a progressive-activist hero. He’s sued Exxon; worked with Robert Muller against Trump associates; spoke at the Women’s March; and was honoured by the National Institute for Reproductive Health as one of three “Champions of Choice.” Even his victims were told to keep quiet “arguing that Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose.” Feminist Manning Barish says, “you cannot be a champion of women when you are hitting them and choking them in bed.” This is not an issue of “male entitlement”. Both Weinstein and Schneiderman are accused of gross, improper, and criminal behaviour.

Ross Howard | 11 May 2018  

"It is only through ... believing in women who come forward with allegations, through continued public scrutiny of their abusers, through bringing the swift and full weight of the law upon perpetrators ..." I do agree that there is such a thing as 'male entitlement' which needs to be addressed. But I also think people are innocent until proved guilty and proper processes should be followed. So, women with allegations should be taken seriously, because these are very serious matters, but I don't agree that they should just be 'believed' before proper processes have been followed.

Russell | 14 May 2018  

The maltreatment of girls and women on the subcontinent is a matter of deep and abiding shame. However, the problem with it is not just the cultural attitudes of men but the inadequacy of police services as relate to the as yet developing nature of subcontinental societies and the awareness and resources it takes to stamp out abuse. That places the matter of the relatively recent and public use of the epistemic female voice as a 'shamer' of men with dubious pasts and grimy reputations in quite a different category of ethical quandary. The thing is to empower victims to go to the police and not to publicly shame an alleged perpetrator. I once taught at a university in which a College Head, who was a covert gay man, was accused of sexually molesting female students. The accusations were trumped up and related to the fact that the alleged perpetrator was NESB and caught up in other intense conflicts to do with various pressures that residential colleges must contend with. However, so salacious were the rumours, unearthing in the course of time the gay identity of the officer concerned, that he suffered the loss of his employment as a result.

Dr Michael Furtado | 20 May 2018  

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