The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Will Gudiya be remembered even as a symbol'

Of what did Gudiya die' The local news channel reporting her death from Meerut said she had died of a lung infection. There was another report that she had acute gynaecological problems. She had miscarried sometime back. There had been, the confusing reports continue in their various voices, post-pregnancy complications, and her haemoglobin count had been very low since the end of last August. She also had a kidney infection, and had undergone dialysis. Another report says she died of multiple organ failure. Maybe all these reports can be reconciled, maybe not. It does not matter. They are just so many voices clamouring around her non-existence, loudly claiming the rhetoric of rationality for an unspeakable cruelty that no form of reason can hope to capture.

It is not only cheap and sensational to say that Gudiya died of heartbreak, but it is also disrespectful to her. She never came across as a fragile rag doll, in spite of her resounding silence amid the clamour when she was alive, while a grotesque conflict raged over which household should possess her. Gudiya could not have fought against the forces arrayed against her. She would have been taught that the elders' word was law, beyond which there could only be silence, her silence.

But she still spoke up at two crucial moments. When Arif, her first husband, came back from a Pakistani prison more than four years after having been labelled 'missing, believed dead' in army service, she had reportedly said that she was happy with her second husband, Taufiq: 'Marriage is not child's play, sometimes here sometimes there. I love my husband and will stay with him for life.' Her presumption was erased by the outcry that had already begun.

Yet she spoke with wisdom and faith, and with emotional conviction. Her elders must have been aware of the terms of the Dissolution of Muslim Marriages Act (1939), which states that 'a woman married under Muslim law shall be entitled to obtain a decree for the dissolution of her marriage' on several grounds. One allows dissolution when 'the whereabouts of her husband have not been known for a period of four years'. So it is not her silence, but the silence, or sophistry, of everyone else that poses the most unanswerable questions.

The second time she spoke up was when events had overtaken her. She refused, even then, to be handed over to Arif until he agreed to keep the child she was carrying, Taufiq's child. She had no intention of wasting away passively; she was determined to salvage the most vital resource of what was left of her wrecked life. The fact that she has left behind a 13-month-old son, and had miscarried while with Arif, speaks of an actual battle over her body, the damage of which no series of army hospitals could repair.

She died because we killed her. Those who spoke too much and those who were silent. There is a perfect fit between the sounds and the silences, creating a distinguishably rational pattern for unreasoning cruelty. There was the make-believe of a choice offered, and the reality of its annihilation. Logically, there should not have been the need for this pretence had there been any law that made her marriage 'illegal'. After the law in 1939, she did not have to wait 99 years, as previously expected, for her first husband. And she did not have to die to expose the lethal flaw in institutional secularism. The return to Arif should have been enough. Non-intervention in the name of secularism is sometimes a convenient cover for cowardice.

The comfortable complicity between the secular and non-secular in the destruction of Gudiya manifests the shared values that run far deeper than differences of attitude to religious and civil law. Gudiya's life and death may be an extreme example of how these values work, but there is no dearth of illustrations as extreme all over the country, and in every community. Evil complicity needs its villains, for faceless cruelty must seek a face. The most popular villain at the moment is the media, which exposed 'Gudiya's shame' to a prurient world and killed her by the trauma it inflicted. It is first important to shift the onus of shame, and persuade, by loud reiteration, that a woman denied choice, selfhood, natural justice and the law is the true vessel of shame. As is any girl who is sold off or raped. The media should have been quiet about it, apparently, it intervened where no one else dared to tread. The media's silence would have helped the arbiters of Gudiya's fate play their power games in peace.

How much were these games dictated by the fact that Gudiya was young and beautiful' It may be argued, with some substance, that the media could have been more sensitive, but that is, at the moment, neither here nor there. The famous reality show, in which Gudiya was asked to choose between her two husbands, could not have taken place without the consent ' and the full participation ' of her elders.

Does Arif take second lead as villain' (A film on Gudiya's life is in the making, and the makers are now struggling to change its ending as Gudiya changed hers.) Would Gudiya have lived if Arif had not insisted on having her back' In a society which believes solely in the rights of the male and glamorizes the war hero, the consequences of his insistence could have been foretold. But how far should we go to blame a young man who had spent years as a prisoner of war only to be released into a new form of despair' He reasoned as his circumstances had taught him, so what should be asked is who or what created those circumstances in the first place. Even for the sake of his ego, so much at the fore in the conflict over his wife, he would not have wished her dead, but alive and the mother of his sons, not just Taufiq's.

It seems more logical, in this vortex of irrationality, to ask other questions. Exactly what price does a nation pay for war, and how much is the uncounted damage' And what is the accountability of a state that can sit back after having presumed a man dead, oblivious of his existence in a prison across the border' How many such men are there' The thought is terrifying. Mistakes may happen, but mistakes must be paid for, the compensation matching the kind and extent of damage. But it is enough that a man be invested with the glory of a war hero, evoking the unanswerable arguments of patriotism and nationalism, and establishing his rights within his community above all others. There will always be women, who did not make the war, to make the payments.

It could not have been Gudiya's wish to live on as a symbol. But then, the story is about the irrelevance of her wishes ' she evidently had them in spite of not being allowed to ' and the wishes of thousands like her. She had lived to show up the matrix of falsehoods that underlies our social and institutional structures, and the immeasurably enormous task before those who are attempting to give women dignity and choices in a country that refuses to recognize them as fully human. Gudiya's wishes are nowhere on the horizon when the adoptive and biological fathers fight over her son. Will Gudiya be remembered even as a symbol'

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