Can the world stand in solidarity with women choosing death over rape?

Earlier this week, a teacher, still standing in war-torn Aleppo, told The Guardian: “The world should do something.”

As a teacher, I know this statement well. We stand in classrooms identifying and discussing the world’s problems, hoping someone will fix it all and ‘do something.’

20 women in Aleppo did something this week.

To avoid rape by the Syrian Army, twenty women committed suicide.

A nurse wrote this suicide note before killing herself in Aleppo:

In this note, she identifies her suicide as a humble plea with world to understand that her choice to die is less hellish than the choice to live. She identifies the barrier of weapons and men that stood between her body and the Syrian army of “animals” is gone. And she denounces the law that has come to rule the land of Aleppo.

This nurse and 19 other women chose death over dishonor. What the world can do now is stand in solidarity with these women in their practice of ‘revolutionary suicide.’

In his autobiography — Revolutionary Suicide (1973)— co-founder of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton defines reactionary suicide as the result of hopelessness, demoralization and the acceptance of oppression. Revolutionary suicide, on the other hand, is, according to Newton, a practice in refusing to be acted upon by external forces or oppressors. For Newton, premature death can either come from an oppressor or a refusal to be oppressed.

The 20 women in Aleppo refused to be acted upon by their oppressors. To Newton, their choice would be an example of revolutionary suicide.

“I am committing suicide not due to no reason but because I do not want several members of the Assad Regime to savor raping me” — The Nurse from Aleppo who killed herself this week.

Newton was not the first person to know the value of revolutionary suicide, or choosing death over being acted upon by oppressors. Jauhar is a medieval practice of mass suicide that Rajput (warrior-type) women used during times of war. The word derives from two Sanksrit words: ‘jau’ meaning ‘to live’ and ‘jar’ meaning ‘to take.’ Jauhar, or to take one’s life, was practiced only when defeat was declared inevitable. Rajput women would say goodbye to their husbands and jump into a funeral pyre in order to avoid capture, rape, enslavement, and murder by victors.

The practice of jauhar has been condemned for several decades and for several reasons. Mainly, critics question the extent of a woman’s free will to participate in jauhar. Unfortunately, these evaluations overlook the fact that some people can only speak and be heard through the use of their bodies.

It is likely that without the suicides of the 20 women in Aleppo we would not hear the suffering and strength of these women. Their choice to practice revolutionary suicide or modern day jauhar is an act of protest; it is an expression against power derived from war.

I don’t want anything from you..I don’t even want your supplication…as I am still able to speak I think my supplication is going to be more truthful than what you say!

The teacher in Aleppo that asks the world to do something left me wondering: what can we do? Perhaps the world can stand in solidarity with these 20 women. The nurse from Aleppo expects people to pass judgement on her choice. Proving this woman’s final words to be wrong would be the best way to honor her choice of death over rape.

I know all of you will unite on my entering of Hell-Fire and that will be the only thing that you will unite upon: the suicide of a woman. Not your mother or sister or wife…but a woman you are not concerned about.