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Monday, August 11, 2014


(continuing with writing about the Asha Veil murder) 

I am thinking of the ways women die.

Buried up to the neck, head wrapped in a veil, stones thrown, over and over.  Women under Sharia law, kneeling on the ground, dirt staining a white robe, head bent, awaiting the sword.  Women in the Congo, guns thrust into their vaginas and the trigger pulled.  Women shielding their children from the bombs, throwing their bodies without a second thought over the helpless small ones.  Women in Babi Yar at the edge of a mass grave, women in Dachau, holding their children to the ceiling for a final breath of air, women in Auschwitz whose nail marks in the concrete walls of the gas chamber still show how they tried to claw their way out. Enslaved women, wrapped in chains and thrown alive from ships into a seething ocean.  Women falling to the ground from a man's full-force punch to the face, never to rise again.

There are a thousand ways a woman can die.

Sati gate, Rajasthan
Tonight I am thinking of sati, which as a child I knew as suttee, from a scene in the Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson, where flowers in a garden narrate their stories. I remember it well: a tiger lily describes a woman awaiting the pyre, slow drums beaten in the background.  A widow who was killed in this way, burnt with her husband's corpse, earned the status of a goddess.  They were immolated in their bridal clothes and finery; before oil was poured on their heads and they were pushed into the flames, they stripped off all their golden jewelry and gave it to friends, a memento, the bright metal glittering, reflecting the fire. It still happens sometimes, today.

There are gates in Rajasthan with a frieze of handprints in bas-relief.  Small and large hands, upright, a gesture of greeting, as if to say, "I was here." The handprints each have a carved set of bracelets.  When a woman walked to the place of immolation, she would pass through the arched gate, dip her hand in henna paste, and leave her handprint on the wall.  Later, after she was nothing but cremains thrown to the wind and water, a stonecutter would carve around the handprint as a permanent reminder.  The handprints are all that remain of these women.

When women are viewed as property, they can be killed without a thought.  Asha was considered property: not of her husband, who told her he would love her and they would raise their baby together, no matter who the father was, the kind man I saw with silent tears running down his face at her memorial service.  There is a photograph of him sitting on the ground, surrounded by tall autumn weeds, bleached and dry.  He wears a black shirt and pants; his eyes are averted.  The grief in his face defies any description.  He keeps silent vigil as his wife and daughter's bodies are cremated, waiting in heartrending patience, as good men do when tragedy takes the women and children they love.

Asha and her baby were seen as property by the man who murdered her, property he decided to dispose of.

A man tried to kill me once, too.  He wrapped his arm around my neck and pulled tight.  I heard a sound like the sea in my ears; a dark curtain softly shut away my vision.  I pulled my head down and bit into his flesh as hard as I could.  He shrieked, "You'll go to jail for that!" and pulled away.

Asha and I stood, in our separate lives, at the sati gate, yet it was Asha who left her handprint there and not me.