Thursday, November 27, 2014

#16DaysDiary: Divine's Story

Image from Thomson Reuters /
The Democratic Republic of Congo has often been called the Rape Capital of the World. In the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide, the stories that came out of the DRC proved to the world that rape was never a by-product of war, but actually a tactic, a weapon, that is used in conflict to break the enemy. Divine, a thirty-three year old mother from Walungu, DRC, shares her story. Although Divine spoke without qualms about revealing her name, she was not comfortable with us sharing her photograph. 

When you are forced to face adversity in life, you have a choice: to either crumble or to go on. Some say it is a choice that everyone has. But really – there is no choice. Whether you crumble or you go on, life goes on – and in that, you wind up moving on as well. Even today, as I think back of all that happened in my life after the massacre in Rwanda, my heart sinks in grief for all that could have been instead. But we must move on, we must look ahead, and we must believe that we cannot allow this to happen again.

It was a couple of months after the Interahamwe entered the DRC. They were in Walungu by the dozen, I don’t know what prompted them to believe that what they were about to do would attract no penalty – and that belief of theirs paid off because they did all that they could and got away without shame. That night, my youngest son refused to sleep. He was under a year old, and cried his throat hoarse. I was trying to calm him down, and my daughters sidled up to me in a bid to help him. One patted him gently, the other sang with me. We heard knocking, somewhere in the midst of our performance, and my husband went to check who it was.

Within moments, from then, everything changed.

About ten men had stormed into the house, and grabbed hold of my husband and me. They forced us to strip down to nothing, and then held my husband by the chin so he looked at me. They told him that that was the last time he would see me that way – for I was now going to be the wife of all the ten men. They took turns and raped me, while my husband begged and pleaded for him to stop. I vaguely comprehended them hitting him, and one of the men even raped him. The trauma was unbearable for the both of us. My daughters, who stood in the corner, watching in shock, weren’t spared either. They grabbed hold of the two girls and began to molest and rape them, when my husband and I both cried loudly, screamed and abused the men for what they were doing.

The next thing I know was that they were all silenced - I heard the gun shots, and I felt my life go out of me. The men spoke among themselves in Kinyarwanda, and raped me by turn – and at times, physically hurting me in other ways that I do not want to detail. I passed out, I think. When I came to, I couldn’t comprehend anything. I remember how the room swam in and out of my line of sight as I regained consciousness. I tried getting up, but I found I couldn’t move. I remember shrieking, screaming for help. In the process, I tired myself even more, and collapsed in exhaustion. I woke up inside a hospital ward, and was told that I had survived a terrible ordeal – and that they had found my younger daughter having just escaped death’s jaws – even if only narrowly. My other daughter, son and husband were all killed. I could never bring myself to listen to the state in which they were found. I have chosen to be kind to myself, to remain in ignorance, just for my sanity.

In the time that followed, I struggled. Physically, I was wounded terribly. I suffered fistulae that needed many interventional surgeries. I also needed a lot of therapy to rehabilitate myself mentally – but for a long time, after I left the hospital, suffering became such a common feature in my life. I begged on the street, my daughter suffered in agony that she could not even articulate what she was going through – she had lost her vision from the injury to her head, and could barely walk. I had to scrape through to be able to provide for us. I worked hard – I fetched water for other people, I sold food that I cooked, and one day, help came to me in the form of some foreigners. I don’t know their names or the organization – but I know that they were there for me in my toughest times.  

Today, though years have passed, I can’t forget the kind of pain that I suffered only because of the ill conceived behavior of so many men. I am one in many women who have been wronged this way – and this still continues in so many ways. I survived, because I fought every day, every minute, and every possible thing that struck me. But not everyone could have the luxury of resilience over suffering.

There is so much to be done to remedy this. We are not far gone, at all, as the world insists. We have hope, and we deserve hope. We need to stay strong in our fight to ensure that this does not happen again, to anyone in the world.