Reflection on the UN International Day In Support Of Victims Of Torture on 26th June
“Fighting Impunity” has been the theme for the 2014 campaign in support of victims of torture, and this aptly suits our contexts as most heinous crimes committed in our land, be it in the name of caste, name of religion, name of gender, name of class, name of region etc. they are all committed with utmost impunity. The oppressive forces, the perpetrators of violence take for granted the fragile situations of our times and continue to violate the rights of the people and are at the end left scot free, for they have the shield of impunity around them. Impunity is the affirmation of the status quo, the principalities and powers of the unjust systems, the failure of the state to investigate the violations and to bring to justice those perpetrators of crimes. The infamous Tsundur case in Andhra, where some 20 Dalits are brutally massacred, after about two decades of investigation, the accused are left scot free on the pretext of insufficient evidence. The violence against Dalit Christians in Kandhamal, Odisha in 2008, justice has been far from being exercised and the perpetrators are left scot free. There are scores of such stories, where the victims of violence continue to be the victims of torture and on the other hand the perpetrators enjoy impunity and continue their oppression. Recent Badaun case of raping & killings of Dalit girls in Uttar Pradesh to the global context of oppression in the name of occupation to the Palestinians, the saga of the victims of torture resonates the same cry for justice. The saga of the victims of torture knew no bounds, and their plights are not being heard and justice is a far reached dream to such people.
The first Chapter in the book of Esther in the Bible has a record of an interesting story of a woman who became a victim of torture at the hands of her husband who was sufficiently guarded by his royal impunity, and ultimately faded away from the records of the Scripture, risking gospel for the sake of gospel. Her saga is a testimony and a challenge for all of us to commit ourselves to be in solidarity with the victims and in pooling support for all the victims of torture today. She is none other but the bold & the beautiful royal queen Vashti.
Her Excellency Queen Vashti, was the royal queen to King Ahasuerus who ruled from India to Ethiopia with over one hundred and twenty seven provinces in his kingdom. The King threw a party to his leaders from all his provinces in order to show his riches of his royal glory and splendour & pomp of his majesty. Subsequently the Queen also has given a banquet to the women in the palace. When the party was at its peak and when the heart of the king was merry with wine, he ordered to bring Queen Vashti before the King dressed in her royal crown in order to show the peoples and the princes her beauty. Queen Vashti, refused to come at the King’s command and consequently became a victim of King’s anger that even lead to her being dethroned as the Queen.
Queen Vashti, the Victim of Indignity
When the King ordered her to do a catwalk on his royal ramp, Queen Vashti denied the King’s order for she strongly believed in her self-respect and self-dignity. For the Queen her values were more prominent in life and no force or person can neither influence her values nor compel her to compromise her values. The Queen knew that refusal and disobedience to King’s order would cost her a lot, however being conscious of the consequences she was bold enough to stand for her dignity. By refusing to display her beauty, Queen Vashti displayed her inner beauty of self-dignity. Her self-dignity priced her to be dethroned, for she became a victim to the forces of indignity and indecency.
Queen Vashti, the Victim of Patriarchy
For the King Ahasuerus, her queen the woman was yet another material thing like that of his riches and wealth. As he showed off his riches of his kingdom to his guests, he thought he could have easily show off the external and physical beauty of his wife Queen Vashti and make his guests happy and joyful. The King did not also realise that beauty and human sexuality are the gifts of God that needs to be respected in all solemnity and sacredness. The forces of patriarchy governed him and therefore he could not have respected his wife as his equal partner in life. On listening to the other men folk, he was forced to pass a decree that any woman who does not obey the commands of their husbands will have to face similar consequences like the Queen. Queen Vashti, became of victim of patriarchy.
Queen Vashti, the Victim of Torture
Imagine the plight of Queen Vashti, who had to be thrown away from her palace to the streets of her kingdom, just for the sake of sticking to her values of self-dignity and self-esteem. She was sent away from her husband’s house on to the streets and men of her country would have laughed at her and would have mocked at her insulted her and even teased her like, “Vashti, who wanted to be the Mother of Self-Dignity, who wanted to be the forerunner for women’s rights is now on the streets without any shelter”. She became a divorcee, a single woman and her pains knew no bounds. Patriarchical forces try to take advantage of single woman that too of the one who was a queen, and Queen Vashti would have underwent a trauma and torture, which was unbearable and unexplainable. Added to her pain, when the King called for fresh applications to the post of his wife and the news whoever pleases the King would be made the Queen instead of Queen Vashti, would have added fuel to the fire to the torture she was undergoing then. There would have been a great mental agony and emotional torture for Queen Vashti. In all silence and in all loneliness she bore the torture in her life, just for the sake of values and principles in life. There would not been any space for her to share or ventilate her feelings, all her feelings could have been blocked up and piled up within her. If I may be allowed to stretch my imagination, I would probably think Queen Vashti would have died a death out of torture from all quarters of her life and therefore that would have been one for the reasons for not finding her name or a mention of her again in the Scriptures. From royality to indignity, the saga of torture of Queen Vashti goes on and even continues in many lives of the women today.
When today, June 26th when we remember this day as the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Queen Vashti’s saga of torture comes afresh to all of us. Even today many Dalits are beaten up, ostracised, humiliated and even killed. Dalit women’s plights are way above words, every day several Dalit women are raped, abused and are murdered. Dalit Children have been one of the worst victims of Child Labour, most of them are undernourished and have been used and abused in life. Dalits continue to be the victims of torture today. Violence on Dalits has been a common phenomenon and the discrimination on Dalits over the years has become so subtle and aggressive. Dalit Christians are in the arena of torture for neither the legislature nor the judiciary have been listening to their pains and doing justice to them. Sixty plus years of waiting for justice, imagine their trauma of victim-hood. Torture has become the common denominator with which all Dalits in India are living today. Palestinian friends continue to face torture and illegal detention by the occupiers and face hardships in their life for over the several years, with justice & liberation to them a distant reality.
When today is the day called to be in support to the victims of torture, and in the light of the Queen Vashti’s saga of torture, who really did come in support of Queen Vashti, the victim of torture? The Scripture is absolutely silent on it, and no wonder to say none would have dared to come in support of the dethroned Queen. As a victim of torture, Queen Vashti had to stand all alone and in all loneliness. Who dared to come in support of her? …None of her relatives would have come in support of her fearing the King’s decree, none of her friends came in support of her, none of her prayer partners came in support of her, none of her community members came in support her, none of her temple partners came in support of her, none of the royal wives of the princes in their provinces came in support of her, none of the kingdom authorities like the women welfare ministries came in support of her, none of her co-women in her provinces came in support of her (how sad the kingdom spread from India to Euthopia, and there was none to be with her and stand for her), no one came in support of her, for every one feared the wrath of the king. Queen Vashti had to live support-less and had to live in all torture all through her life, what a torture it would have been. Unbearable and unthinkable! On the other hand, the king enjoyed impunity, for no one dared to speak against the king. Queen Vashti fought impunity in her silence and risked to be forgotten from the scriptural tradition, for she was a fighter standing for her own convictions of self dignity.
There are many Vashti’s today in our societies who are living in a torturous life. Queen Vashti eventually vanished from the story of the Scriptures, but I think her life, her witness and her spirit continues to call on all of us today to be in support of all those victims of torture, like those people who are kept in illegal detention, people who are tortured in the name of caste, abused physically and verbally, beaten, intimidated, threatened, false cases imposed, money extorted, etc. Let us express our solidarity with these victims and resolve today to address these strategies of victim-hood with a commitment to justice. Queen Vashti calls for a response of prevention, reduction and elimination of all forms of torture today, fight impunity at all costs for no one is above justice and strive for a just and transformed society. Come, let us stand in solidarity and support the victims of torture from this day on, let us enlarge our tents in bringing in support to these our fellow brothers and sisters who are living in abject torture and trauma.