New Internationalist

No candle-lit vigils for raped and murdered girls

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Millions of village women are forced to defecate or pee in the open fields close to their houses. Rongzoni under a Creative Commons Licence

Another horrendous rape. Two young girls, 14 and 16-year old cousins, were abducted, raped, tortured and hanged from a tree last week in Badaun, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.  It’s a completely sickening scenario. No, far worse than sickening actually. But it’s hard to churn out words or emotion, day after day, week after week, as each new rape hits the news with almost monotonous regularity.

It was a normal day for the teenagers. Before going to bed on that fateful night, they stepped out to go to the loo. Except that the average Indian villager does not have a loo to go to. Millions of village women are forced to defecate or pee in the open fields close to their houses. They normally choose to do this under cover of darkness, at daybreak and after sunset. But the routine turned into a nightmare as a group of men grabbed the girls and took them away. An uncle of one of the girls saw them being dragged by the hair and protested. He was threatened with a gun. One girl’s father ran to the police station begging for help. The policeman callously told him to go away, his daughter would return in the morning. When the desperate father fell at his feet begging the cop to do something, the cop slapped him. This is the sort of scenario that is commonplace for poor and dalit families.

It’s been pointed out that these girls are not dalit, though most Indian newspapers reported otherwise. They were, nevertheless, extremely poor, powerless and from a lower caste. The perpetrators, apparently, routinely molested and raped lower caste women and this particularly brazen rape and murder, was to teach the poor and powerless a lesson, to show them their place in the feudal, caste hierarchy. Recently, dalit and lower caste people had protested against the behaviour of the dominant caste Yadav men who until now have ruled the roost in the surrounding villages. The local policeman who slapped the victim’s father belonged to the same caste as the perpetrators. And two policemen reportedly, not merely abetted in the crime, but participated in the assault too.

The girls’ bodies bore marks of excessive brutality. The usual scratches, bite marks, bruises, but also  a pattern of  blood clotting which indicated beating and torture. And the post mortem revealed they were hanged while still alive. Commentators have pointed out that the levels of violence and viciousness in the new rape culture is frightening, calling for immediate and effective action. Much of it comes from the porn which circulates freely on mobile phones. It’s not merely rape now. And  the fact that I write ‘merely rape’ illustrates how terrifying  the situation is.  Almost as though one has to be grateful one is ‘merely raped’.

It is with a heavy heart that I note, that the outpouring of grief and outrage which rocked India in December 2012 for the Nirbhaya Delhi rape victim, is noticeably absent in cities across India, for the Badaun cousins. They are not middle class, dominant caste, city women. These were two lower caste, village girls. Not ‘people like us’.

The UN and the US have commented on our horrifying new status as an ‘unsafe destination for women’. Tourism is being affected, our economic watchdogs tell us, because our ‘rape’ cases are being showcased across the world. Perhaps the politicians and powerful people who want India to ‘shine’ will finally do something drastic to cut crime against women. I don’t see much concern for the women victims involved, apart from public posturing and political speeches about women’s empowerment. Political parties across the board use each rape to score points against their rival parties. They should now work together to ensure that the perpetrators of rape and murder are stringently punished along with the policemen involved. Our rape laws, even our new ones, remain toothless if the supposed guardians of the law jump on the bandwagon, not merely in dereliction of duty but to participate in caste-based crimes.

As a country we are reaching boiling point. Will this force change?

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  1. #1 Anita Christy 06 Jun 14

    Horrified to read how unsafe it is for our young girls!!!! I hope Justice is brought down heavily on those animals who have committed this heinous crime.

  2. #2 Christine 06 Jun 14

    Hi Mari

    Where are the good guys??? the Amitabh Bachchans.... and Shahrukh Khans...!!! While the bad guys practice what they preach in Bollywood films.. the good guys are no where in the scene!! then what's the use of Bollywood... Bollywood films are doing more damage in todays world.

    And where are the protectors of our country.. the policy, the navy, the army, the politicians.. SHAME!! on these (NON)powerful MEN.. who cannot protect their women! SHAME!!

    Bad guys are on the prowl everywhere. But that's when the good guys come in and teach them a lesson not to disturb the peace and order of a country.. What??? is there NONE??

    My heart goes out what happened to these two beautiful girls. It is WRONG WRONG and WRONG. Something is definitely wrong with the majority of us Indians.. especially the Men.. fathers, brothers, police men, politicians.. even the army.. SHAME!!! I am ashamed of our country... The world is watching... us Indian carrying this shame on our shoulders.

    Chris

  3. #3 Christine 06 Jun 14

    Hi Mari

    Where are the good guys??? the Amitabh Bachchans.... and Shahrukh Khans...!!! While the bad guys practice what they preach in Bollywood films.. the good guys are no where in the scene!! then what's the use of Bollywood... Bollywood films are doing more damage in todays world.

    And where are the protectors of our country.. the policy, the navy, the army, the politicians.. SHAME!! on these (NON)powerful MEN.. who cannot protect their women! SHAME!!

    Bad guys are on the prowl everywhere. But that's when the good guys come in and teach them a lesson not to disturb the peace and order of a country.. What??? is there NONE??

    My heart goes out what happened to these two beautiful girls and their families. It is WRONG WRONG and WRONG.

    Chris

  4. #4 Merlyn Brito 06 Jun 14

    Dear Mari,
    Thank you for covering this sad but increasingly growing problem.
    Women & girls are not safe anywhere in the world due to the callous & cruel greed of sexually perverted men.But at least in most parts of the world the public & the authorities make a token effort to search for & rescue the unfortunate victims.
    In India women are not given equal status in fact the poorer classes are not even treated as human beings. Eve teasing is common place everywhere but today we have India ministers who talk about ’Rape is sometimes right & sometimes wrong’ is ridiculous. Rape is always wrong. The male dominance of women through the ages can never make Rape right - a woman has equal human rights and she must be treated with dignity & respect regardless of her skin, caste or wealth.

  5. #5 Communal 07 Jun 14

    I've petitioned Obama Administration to direct Indian regime to carve out a separate nation for Untouchable people in India.

    wh[.]gov/loJN1

  6. #6 mari 07 Jun 14

    Thank you 'Communal' thats so kind of you

  7. #7 Josette 07 Jun 14

    This is so sad,cruel,incomprehensible of course one feels like blaming the government, rightly so, but as a Western I also feel shame for those men who pretend they can misbehave and rape Indian(and other) children and youngsters far from home because there is little chance they'll be discovered and punished.
    Josette

  8. #8 Josette 07 Jun 14

    This is so sad,cruel,incomprehensible of course one feels like blaming the government, rightly so, but as a Western I also feel shame for those men who pretend they can misbehave and rape Indian(and other) children and youngsters far from home because there is little chance they'll be discovered and punished.
    Josette

  9. #9 Ludwig Pesch 08 Jun 14

    Saddest in the entire debate seems to be the widespread indifference and cynicism if not resignation in the face of the ’inevitable’ (?!). It is only matched by the inability of moral authorities, the guardians of customs and harbingers of progress, to jointly work towards a viable solution to the enormous problem of sexual transgression. Education always has been and remains the key to values and decensy, but only when it takes place in a transparent manner.
    I remember times when the Mahabharata was readily quoted to this end by common people - think of Draupadi in village drama (e.g. Kattaikkuttu of Tamil Nadu, see http://www.kattaikkuttu.org/kids for its educational branch which I personally know well); and also in classical dance and drama: Draupadi's humilation being portrayed as despicable, an act that unleashes the forces of righteousness without intermittend debate whether or not somebody deserves such punishment or not by modern standards. That's an ambivalent message in our time when we'd rather see democratic processes in action than archaic value systems and bloody rituals. But perhaps such warnings of grave consequences did more for women than modern conventions and ’tolerance’ of male transgressions: being surrounded by families and strangers, individuals and even state agencies who can't be trusted as much as meeting any adult or adolescent male without fear of rape or death?
    The messages sent by the mass media are so mixed on this account (just see the ads accompanying soe online papers!) - relying on them won't do, and forget about B/Hollywood. Poor H/B folks, confused minds, too much (money) to worry about, little time to think, reflect on their role in this mess, none left to act in any constructive manner. (Too much stress, better make merry while the sun shines on their media kingdom.)
    Education and training girls and women how to respond, always be prepaird, not to become paranoid in the process (perhaps get psychologist Sudhir Khakar in Goa to advise on this, see http://www.sudhirkakar.com) ... it's a long way to go.
    But there is no other way than the long march through educational and legal institutions, Indian and international, or it's going to be hell for women all over te country, indefinitely.
    Please don't give up, speak up on unpalatable truths and news, let Indians and others know what's going on, highlight where changes formthe better are happening. Shake up educated, pressurize the tourism industry to take responsibility or get shamed and pay the price for conniving in this ongoing crime.
    Mobilize well placed women to play a role in this quest rather than hiding in their safe, airconditioned havens with TV shielding them from the real world 24/7.
    Wishing you every success in this overdue campaign for the dignity of India's women,
    Ludwig

    PS what about the ’pink’ movement in the UP initiated by Sampat Pal?
    Watching a documentary on it, I was moved by their grim sense of humour (no sulking but action), self-reliance and practical sense (holding men accountable face-to-face in public).

  10. #10 Aileen L 08 Jun 14

    A very important point was made referring to porn being accessed by mobile phones. This $100 billion industry that specialises in misogyny shows women loving being raped, degraded, hit, slapped, kicked,punched and inserted with knives, glass, dildos with spikes, sticks etc and being hung from doorways, trees etc.
    This industry needs to be brought out into the open in society as a system that is detrimental to society, to men, in dehumanising themselves and especially the women, on whom the violence is perpetrated.

  11. #11 Jo Lateu 09 Jun 14

    Posting a message from Priya Thomas:

    well the US is certainly in no position to declare india as an unsafe destination for women when it has the highest number of rape cases in the world-a rape occurring there every 6.2 minutes. rape is not statistics -it is a crime against the self respect of a woman by an animal who lives by the law of the jungle. when these two girls were hanged while they were still alive why couldn't the entire village get together and hang the animals-don't wait for the law of the land-we are still waiting for the nirbhaya and Shakti mills accused to be hanged despite having got the death sentence

  12. #12 Vinoth 11 Jun 14

    What kind of culture are we going for? Where are the Indian gods and religions? Bring on the apocalypse!

  13. #13 Ludwig Pesch 12 Jun 14

    Let's not forget that male attitudes of the Indian elite, apparently so indifferent to the routine sexual abuse of poor and illiterate women, are also formed by the vocabulary of ’self-realization’. This has been reinforced over generations through cheap editions of “spiritual” books and reiterated by expat communities all over the globe as a consequence of IT-driven migration. This vocabulary crops up in a modern context where traditional norms are sought to be re-established (i.e. male domination in all spheres of life). Let me give a specific example of such literature widely circulated in and outside India (my copy comes from a used books store in Amsterdam).
    ’It is a great pity that almost all people have totally ignored the simpler happy inner life of introspection and have caught hold of false toys of Maya, such as money, woman, power, name, fame, position, etc. Sooner or later the experiences of the world, the knocks and blows of the mundane life, will force them to turn their minds inwards to realise the true, lasting happiness. [...] The mischievous monkey-mind plays havoc in a variety of ways and causes cares, worries and anxieties. Money, property, women and children do not give permanent satisfaction. This is the experience of all people.’
    Obviously, the people deprived of their ’permanent satisfaction’ are male here, and the rest may be blamed for this predicament. Followers of this school will rightly argue that the ’Raja Yoga’ school propagated by this teacher advocates higher goals, not rape or debauchery – see later on in the same source: ’Upanishad means that which destroys Avidya or ignorance’.
    Without suggesting that gurus (i.e. mostly male) spiritual teachers encourage or endorse sexual abuse of the kind discussed here – most certainly disapproved of any kind of ’sensual’ gratification – the wording in the above quote is important. It is copied from the Introduction mentioning ’woman’ twice in the 1993 edition (4.000 copies of Rs. 50), a book first published in 1940: TEN UPANISHADS with Notes and Commentary published by THE DIVINE LIFE SOCIETY in Tehri-Garhwal. Reprints are likely to be in circulation now, and similar editions can be bought in bookstalls in any Indian railway station and airport, not to the forget countless vernacular editions wherever people are literate (e.g. Kerala whose population tends to be far more conservative than most foreigners would like to believe).
    Yet let us not underestimate the impact of texts wherein ’women' are described as kindling lower instincts, even lust - what about the Apsaras (seductresses!) and their offspring in popular mythology and literature? Look at the epics and in Kalidasa's Sakuntala we all enjoy reading for their literary merits and insights in human nature. Any educated and decent male will know the differences of conduct: that by dominant figures in a distant (glorious?) past vs. daily, modern life and therefore refrain from any abuse. Yet also within decent families abuse is common as I was told by a young (female) professional who now avoids visit her hometown altogether. But what about those who are neither educated, without company nor leading fulfilled lives, youths inhabiting a here and now without hope for a better future, perennially exposed to a mix of popular culture and spiritual messages even the Bollywood blockbusters and TV soaps they consume for distraction?
    Just being told by the above mentioned elite to they better their ways and control themselves simply won't do!

  14. #14 david cohen 17 Jun 14

    Mari Marcel's Thekaekara's poignant blog on the raping of Dalit girls, and the absence of attention to them, stimulates my thinking.

    Mari has raised a serious class and caste issue. All rape must be condemned, the perpetrators dealt with quickly and conclusively, with interventions available so the
    person raped is treated with respect, kindness and compassion. That is very different
    from pity or thinking of them as a passive victim. It requires far more significant efforts from state governmental institutions and a clear commitment by civil society organizations to be
    full fledged advocates for this outcome.

    Those of us who are class conscious, with a focus on those who have the least
    conventional power, have a special responsibility to not dismiss rape among
    those who come from a more privileged background (e.g. date rape in American universities, and elite ones are no exception,). Rape is a universal wrong and must be treated as such.

    We need to be able to advocate aggressively the need for interventions that lead to
    the healing and dealing with the horrors of rape. That means people who are carefully, sensitively and well trained to be healers. This includes an expectation for men to
    be so organized as to actively support such efforts and where appropriate participate
    in them..

    I welcome the efforts of various countries to recognize that rape is more than a crime that is illegal that has to be punished and prevented. It is a war crime. Countries, whether my USA or India, that fail to take actions that prevent rape, or support those raped, deserve to face human rights violations internationally.

    David Cohen
    Washington DC
    June 16, 2014

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About the author

Mari Marcel Thekaekara a New Internationalist contributor

Mari is a writer based in Gudalur, in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu. She writes on human rights issues with a focus on dalits, adivasis, women, children, the environment, and poverty. Mari's book Endless Filth, published in 1999, on balmikis, is to be followed by a second book on campaigns within India to abolish manual scavenging work. She co-founded Accord in 1985 to work with Adivasi people. Mari has been a contributor to New Internationalist since 1991.

About the blog I travel around India a lot, covering dalit and adivasi issues. I often find myself really moved by stories that never make it to the mainstream media. My son Tarsh suggested I start blogging. And the New Internationalist collective are the nicest bunch of editors I’ve worked with. So here goes.

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