My name is Dr. Shruti Kapoor and I am the founder of Sayfty, a global organization focused on educating and empowering young women and girls against gender-based violence. As a gender-equality activist and someone who is passionate about women and girl’s safety, I found Louisiana Catch (Modern History Press) by writer Sweta Vikram to be an inspiring read. The novel reinforces that violence against women should never be acceptable and that it’s never the victim’s fault.
Like Ahana, the 33-year-old protagonist of Louisiana Catch, one in three women will be a victim of sexual assault during the course of her life. Ahana is a victim of marital rape and domestic violence. Moreover, the sudden loss of her mother leaves her vulnerable, confused and shattered.
In a world where survivors of sexual assault face taboo and shame, Ahana emerges from her sheltered life in New Delhi and rebuilds her confidence in New Orleans, where she organizes a conference to raise awareness of violence against women. Along the way she faces love and deceit. Will that deter her from sharing her story of abuse with other survivors?
Read Louisiana Catch to find out what happens, and read my interview with Sweta Vikram to learn more about her motivation and journey to publish this book, which is on the The Asian Writer’s “Books to read in 2018” list.
What inspired you to write a book focused on empowering a survivor of domestic violence?
The quest for identity and the need for highlighting existing social issues are integral to my writing. I have written extensively about survivors of domestic violence in my poetry books and also teach yoga to female survivors of trauma. On a weekly basis, I see what vulnerability, grief, shame, and archaic traditions can do to women.
So many make assumptions about victims and survivors. Their looks, attitude, education, finances, relationships etc. Truth: domestic violence is pervasive and exists across the world in most countries and across different socio-economic strata. No matter what, violence is never OK or acceptable.
I have seen up close that emotional abuse can sometimes cause deeper damage than physical abuse. Because we don’t see any scars, we underestimate the harm done and ignore the signs of PTSD. I know women who are victims and survivors of marital rape, which is a form of both domestic violence and sexual assault.
I know women who are victims and survivors of marital rape, which is a form of both domestic violence and sexual assault. There is so much shame and loss of identity attached to this heinous crime.
There is so much shame and loss of identity attached to this heinous crime that many choose to remain married to their abusive husbands and won’t talk about it to anyone. They either don’t know how to or lack the courage to say NO or assume no one will believe them. I wanted to highlight the emotional and psychological battles that women of marital rape face through the female protagonist, Ahana. And how that impacts their actions, relationships, and day-to-day life.
Domestic violence happens around us all the time and storytelling is a way to create awareness. It lends a voice, and empowers other survivors. Look at what the #MeToo movement has achieved.
Who is the perfect audience for this book? And what would you like the readers to take away from this book?
This book is for anyone interested in reading about real human relationships, social issues plaguing our world, a journey with identity, strong women, hybridization of cultures, the role of grief and healing in shaping our lives, and the impact of social media networking on all of these aspects. It has exciting plot twists, a romantic angle, and pertinent social messages.
Violence against women affects us all. In your book, how does the story engage men and boys in addressing this global Pandemic?
I can’t give away too much here about the hero and the villain in the book for obvious reasons. But, having said that…there are two male characters in Louisiana Catch. They are both southern men: Rohan Brady and Jay Dubois. Both of these men are key to the story. One of them is the partial reason for VAW (violence against women) in a most unexpected space, while the other helps Ahana.
Engaging men in these conversations and having them stand in solidarity for women’s safety is the only way to address the global pandemic of violence against women.
Engaging men in these conversations and having them stand in solidarity for women’s safety is the only way to address the global pandemic of violence against women. Because when men lead by example, they encourage other men and boys around them to stand up, take action and not be a bystander to abuse, disrespect and violence against women.
What is your favorite part of the book and why?
A lot of Ahana’s moments of self-realization and introspection turned out to be my favorite because when we root for her and believe in her growth, we sense a real rush of optimism. Her flaws remind us what being human really means; her strengths build us hope and empowers us. Of course, Ahana’s speech towards the end made me want to hug her, but so did her evolving working relationship with the male protagonist.
In our society, we add labels of “good” and “bad” to people and actions without realizing that all the good and bad and strength and shortcomings exist within us at the same time. We are strong in some ways and weak in another. And having the right partner or friend or colleague can help us unravel our true identity.
Marital rape affects millions of married women in India. Why isn’t marital rape a criminal offense in India? What are some of the challenges?
In India, the number of women sexually assaulted by their husbands is 40 times the number attacked by men they don’t know. And, still, marital rape is legal, offering little solace to survivors of rape within a marriage.
Furthermore, patriarchy and misogyny are the root cause of the inhumane crimes and questionable ideologies in India. A woman isn’t taught to be assertive and is often treated as a responsibility, commodity, and property. The perception is that a woman is duty bound to give children to her husband aka have sex on demand with her spouse.
Sometimes women stay in sexually abusive marriages because they are financially and emotionally dependent on their husbands; other times, some marital rape victims don’t realize they are raped. They are under the mistaken impression that partners cannot rape each other. There is the shock of being violated by the one person who vowed to protect you in sickness and in health. There is also the no-one-will-believe-me fear. And the shame associated with rape.
What was your biggest challenge in writing this book? How did you overcome it?
Writing the scene where Ahana, the female protagonist, gets a call that her mother is in the hospital — tied to tubes and breathing through a ventilator — was like opening old, raw wounds and sprinkling salt on them. It was extremely personal and cruel. I lost my mother in 2014, and much like Ahana’s mother, my mom passed away suddenly. Describing some of Ahana’s emotions meant reliving the heartache, horror, and darkness brought by loss and grief while staying true to Ahana’s response to her loss.
Dr. Shruti Kapoor is a gender equality activist, economist, and social entrepreneur who is passionate about the safety of girls and women. Shaken by the horrific gang rape in Delhi 2012, she founded Sayfty in June 2013 to educate and empower the women and girls of India against violence. Dr. Kapoor holds a Ph.D. in economics from the University of California, Riverside, and has consulted at UN Women and the World Bank in Washington DC. Connect with her on Twitter & Linkedin.