A whimsical travel feature in India Today advises readers not to visit the mountain beauty spot of Ladakh.
Correspondent Samonway Duttagupta says the locale is remote and that India boasts far prettier destinations. What’s more, it is overcrowded, everything there is ridiculously expensive and much worse – the climate can become cold enough to cause ill-health and even death.
But he does not describe the large numbers of Kashmiri Muslims who have migrated to the area and whose growing presence has adversely affected the centuries-old Buddhist traditions of those born there. Inevitably, the women are most badly treated and have been brutally shoved to the bottom of the social heap.
So much emerges from Shirani Rajapakse’s A Chill Flew across the Mountains, the penultimate tale in her short story collection, **I Exist. Therefore I Am.
There is never a good moment to read a book like t his and several times I delayed posting my review as I found more and more comparisons between the domestic serfdom that Sri Lankan Rajapakse’s fictional characters endure and the oppressed reality for too many women worldwide.
Believe me: it does not happen only in dramatic fashion to forced labourers in Uzbekistan or to Yazidi sex slaves. It occurs over and again every which way in modern democracies like the UK or even in Israel where following the murder of a Netanya housewife by her husband – a police officer – nationwide public demonstrations were held urging action to stop violence against women.
But I was distressed to note that the protests did not embrace the sort of non-physical but public humiliation meted to some female members of the religious Zionist B’nei Akiva youth movement, whose staged dance performance at a recent event in Katsrin near the Golan Heights was allegedly blacked out for spurious reasons of ‘modesty’.
I was also dismayed that the one woman who actively campaigned to be Karmiel’s new mayor was absent from the local demonstration.
Why did this well-known woman city councillor appear so indifferent to domestic abuse? Was her personal background to blame?
It is often noted that the affairs of the Jewish Diaspora and Israeli communities are a reflective microcosm of what happens outside. Should the answer to the conundrum therefore be the same as to that posed at the heart of Rajapakse’s book?
Why, as we near the close of the eighteenth year of the 21st century and vast numbers of us enjoy the countless advantages that implies, are so many young adult women still bound by antiquated tribal traditions of land, property and paternalism?
More important: why are these outmoded, unwritten laws sustained with such ferocity by family matriarchs so haunted by personal status that they despise the births and then continuing presence of any infant girls?
Must they be reminded of the difficulty of producing future generations without them?
In her introduction, Rajapakse cites a June 2018 global poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation that ‘ranked India as the most dangerous country in the world for women’. No-one will deny that it has plenty of stiff competition!
She also refers to the December 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandeh (variously nicknamed ‘Nirbhaya’ and ‘Damini’) and other similar incidents that may have helped to change Indian law. But legislation has never altered constitutional prejudice. Only time and patience will do that.