Fantine Is Still Alive

Fantine is alive not just in our memory, but in reality as well. There are many Fantines. Every person has the potential to become a Fantine. What are we doing to ourselves?

Anne Hathaway’s touching performance of “I dreamed a dream” as Fantine in ‘Les Misérables’ will remain burnt into our hearts through time. It was the raw emotion that dripped from her voice, the pain of her trials that echoed in our ears and the portrayal of her life that singed our hearts. But the silence that lay heavy in the air then, continues now. Its essence has permeated; bred through time and broken the shackles made by the blood and sweat of all those who tried to keep the monster at bay. The shackles had always been feeble anyways. And so, that silence that haunted Fantine still hangs like an albatross around the neck of the society.

We see cases of domestic abuse, molestation, rape and so on fill the pages of the newspaper. It chills us to the bones. For a moment we are skeptical of what remains of humanity in this world. We wonder why our society makes monsters of good men. Well, there are a number of different theories.

Some argue that it is conditional behavior. Those men observe that most of the crimes (at the rate of one molestation every 15 minutes; one crime against women every 3 minutes; one dowry death every 77 minutes; one rape every 29 minutes; one murder every 16 minutes; and one sexual harassment case every 53 minutes) go unpunished, and instead, the victim is blamed. They deem it acceptable in their mind.

But here, we wonder whether they have any discretion, any rational thought to counter it. Well, that thought is perhaps trampled by what they are taught to practice; subtle gender inequalities that over time begin to seem commonplace to both genders. It gradually becomes a part of their culture. It transforms their mindsets into that of the oppressed and the oppressor. For instance, in 2004, the NHFS reported that at least 35% of the women being abused thought that they deserved a brutal beating from their husbands if they neglected the household chores or children, while 51% of such husbands also deemed beating their wives acceptable if they disrespected the in-laws. It is no wonder that according to a UN report, 6 out of 10 men in India commit domestic violence.

Here are some more unsurprising statistics about the attitude towards gender equality in India (published jointly by United Nations World Population Fund (UNFPA) and Washington-based International Center for Research on Women):

  1. 93.6% men believe that a woman should obey her husband
  2. 86.2% men believe that the most important role of a woman is to take care of the home and cook for her family, against 74% women who said the same.
  3. 74.6% men and 65.1% women believed that if a woman does not physically fight back, it is not rape.
  4. 93% men felt that ‘to be a man, you need to be tough’ compared to 85% women.

Look closely at the 4th finding mentioned above. It shows how both the oppressed and the oppressor are in fact oppressed and shackled by the parochialism of a society that unknowingly perpetuates the aforementioned inequalities. The quintessential male is limited to a gender role defined by high aggression, independence and an unemotional countenance. This is one of the main factors for a higher rate of suicide among men than among women, since it prevents men from seeking counselling against depression.  Gender roles indeed play a major part in the increasing incidence of related crimes.

But not all women or men are the quiet martyrs of yesterday. The Fantines of today are trying to break the silence. One out of every four Fantines in India is speaking out against the atrocities. Can you hear their voices?

I can, and I tried to capture the story of one of them in the following video. And while these modern-day Fantines are slightly different from Hathaway’s Fantine, the similarities in their circumstances are heart-rending, as is the fact that they still exist.

I hope that we begin this new year with the hope to bring about a change and make this world a better place to live in.

– Akanksha Gupta

BEHIND THE SCENES

When it comes to war, each person roots for different sides as though they’re their favorite cricket teams. Some look at the history; the originator, the aggressor. Some look at the bigger picture; the countries or alliances benefited. Some also look at the power struggles and support either the expected winner or the ‘underdog’. And then there are some who look at the religions of the warring factions and decide upon the one with a darker overtone as the unequivocal perpetrator.

But who does the majority of us support?

The majority of us supports neither side, just commiserates their misfortune, passes a remark or two with indifference and gives up thinking about them as a lost cause, all the while thanking our stars that we were not born in the ever-warring conflict zone. The majority of us pities the poor people born into that world, for ‘collateral damage’ is inevitable in war.

The question is what if we were born into that world?

The question is, how many of you stop for a moment to consider the “collateral damage” – the civilian life, livelihoods, peace and stability? How many for a moment, step out of this humongous cloud of hatred and rejection that is bound together by a history of foolish pride, stubborn politics of retaliation and wrong decisions? How many of you ever think about the ‘Humans of Israel-Palestine‘?

Oh no, this is not really about the Israel Palestine issue. It is about how, by supporting neither sides, we are still supporting the war. This is not an attempt to criticize or propose a solution. It’s a cold hard recipe of bitter ugly truths. It is a mirror to our actions; a harsh reminder of what we may be doing. And all the while, it’s reverberating the voice of the people spouting those truths, splaying their misery unto the world and crying for a reprieve. Indeed, it’s about those people suffering behind the scenes.

 

Broken orbs, ruby red, as fresh as the midnight air,

Splatter onto me today, I shrug them off and stare afar

A little jarred, with eyes scared, a little cold, a little hard,

My bones benumbed, cling on, chilled to the core,

The anger should have melted them by now,

Burnt them to a blackened barbequed crisp, but

I guess my heart has frozen like lead; strangled

My neck like an albatross, and I fear

If a little more sorrow is pelted on it, it’ll break

Apart, like the crystal glass that showed me once,

A little girl, a life away from grenades and gunpowder,

But shows me now the lifeless face of my mother;

I shudder, and open my eyes to the moon-white, as

The crystal ball shatters into a million orbs, ruby red,

As fresh as the midnight air, and I?

With a grim smile, I shrug them off…

– By Akanksha Gupta

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

Once, I dreamed a dream like none other

Even if the dream would seem like any other

In my heart I knew it was quite well and true

And yet not too true that it be a lost wonder

I’d known it to be a world of many vices

Of slippery tongues, of bruising avarices

I too was tainted, but not entrenched or entangled

Perhaps just too naïve to see through the disguises

My dream, while true, knew it was tainted too

Its innocence couldn’t stand in a world of you

You who came and ripped it apart so brazenly

You who felt no shame, while I felt abused

My dream lay forgotten, as I remained comatose

A dream of your horrors began as the sun rose

My nights, sleepless and red rimmed, ghosted by

I gave up the ghost; reckoned you’d never feel remorse

I used to pray before God died as a folly of my past

Perhaps a part of me lamented but I was already too aghast

Now I could only see a world filled with the likes of you

You disabused my rosy view and gave me a cynical start

Yet every night I eluded sleep, for such were my dreams

A hardened soldier could weep hearing the silent screams

Of incredulity, of helplessness and agony, of vain pleading

As the sadistic pleasure in your eye would mockingly gleam

The others tried every other cure; law has always been invalid

And psychiatric help at the very best can be futile and insipid

It wasn’t until I met someone who’d met someone like you

That I felt I was being quite self-absorbed and painfully stupidz

I realized by wasting away life I was making a huge blunder

A victim I may be but you would win if I would surrender

My dream may have borne spite, but it was born incorruptible

It would withstand your terror, it would not be torn asunder

My glasses never were rosy, but selectively typhlotic

Before you came I was apathetic, when you left I was pathetic

It wasn’t until I met someone who’d met someone like you

That I realized I wanted to be that someone; someone empathetic

In a world filled with the likes of you, lone victim I cannot be

Yes, I’m a victim due to you, the law, the society, but never due me

I’m an atheist, I’m a believer, I’m a man, I’m a woman, I’m a survivor

You’re none; you’re a soulless monstrosity; and that’s all you’ll ever be

– Akanksha Gupta