January 16, 2006

In India, One Woman's Stand Says 'Enough'

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: January 15, 2006

The central moral challenge we will face in this century will be to address gender inequality in the developing world. Here in India, for example, among children ages 1 to 5, girls are 50 percent more likely to die than boys. That means that every four minutes, a little girl here is discriminated against to death.

One reason for such injustice is that many women docilely accept it - even enforce it. But that may be changing, as I found in a slum here in the central Indian city of Nagpur.

For more than 15 years, the mud alleys of the slum were ruled by a local thug named Akku Yadav. A higher-caste man, he killed, raped and robbed in this community of Dalits - those at the bottom of the caste ladder - and the police paid no attention. One woman, according to
people here, went to the police station to report that she had been gang-raped by Akku Yadav and his goons, and the police raped her.

Neighbors tell how Akku Yadav forced a man to dance naked in front of his teenage daughter. They say that he chopped one woman into pieces in front of her daughter, and that another woman burned herself to death after he and his men gang-raped her.

There was only one family that Akku Yadav's gang didn't torment - that of Madhukar and Alka Narayane - because from this squalor they sent all five of their children through college. In a neighborhood where many are illiterate and no one had ever gone to college, that was a heroic achievement, and it made gangsters wary about preying on them.

A daughter, Usha Narayane, now 27, studied hotel management and seemed destined to become a hotel manager. But one day in 2004 while she was on vacation back in the slum, Akku Yadav attacked the next-door neighbors. The gang warned Usha not to go to the police - and that's when she went to the police.

Akku Yadav returned with 40 men and surrounded the Narayane shack. He waved a bottle of acid and threatened to disfigure Usha's face, and to rape and kill her. She barricaded the door, shouted insults at him and telephoned the police, who didn't immediately come.

Finally, Usha turned on the gas, grabbed a match and threatened to blow up everyone if the gang broke into the house. The gangsters backed off. The neighbors, seeing somebody finally stand up to Akku Yadav, gathered in the street. Soon a mob burned down Akku Yadav's house, and he turned himself over to the police for protection.

A bail hearing for him was set for Aug. 13, 2004, and word spread through the slum that he would be released. Hundreds of women marched from the slum to the courthouse. When Akku Yadav showed up, he spotted a woman he had raped and shouted that he would rape her again. She began beating him with her slipper.

Other women pulled out chili powder from their clothes and threw it in the faces of Akku Yadav and the police. As the police fled, scores of women pulled out knives and apparently took turns stabbing Akku Yadav and cutting off his penis. He ended up as mincemeat, and the courtroom walls are still spattered with blood.

The police arrested a handful of women, including Usha, for the murder, but she conveniently could prove that she was not at the courtroom that day. And then the hundreds of women in the slum jointly declared that they had all joined in the killing, on the theory that if they all claimed responsibility, no single person could be punished.

"We all did it," affirms Rajashri Rangdale, a young mother. "We all take responsibility for what happened."

"I'm proud of what we did," agrees Jija More, a housewife. "We were all involved."

As for Usha, she is out on bail, but the police harass her and her career as a hotel manager seems over. She is sure that other members of Akku Yadav's gang will try to seek revenge by raping and killing her. But, undaunted, she is beginning a new life as a social activist, and she is now helping the slum dwellers make foods and clothing that they can sell together to raise their incomes.

I don't want to condone a lynching. But in a land where police are utterly corrupt, and where so much misery arises from people passively accepting their lot, I'm proud to know Usha Narayane. She is a reminder of the difference that education makes, and I hope that she is a vision of the new Indian woman.
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Now that you've had a chance to digest the news item, what do you think?
My thoughts:
1. I can't believe this actually happens. I'd heard of stories, but to be documented as such. God, I've led a sheltered life.
2. How can people even think of behaving in such a manner?
3. ... too upset to coherently pen any other thoughts.

5 comments:

Lindsay Lobe said...

I think these atrocities, and inhumanity has as their genesis a desire for power. In the case of Mao in China he admitted to a type of ecstasy in violence that stayed with him for all of his life. An expression of the consummate psychopath.
It is difficult for us to imagine such brutality and that human beings are capable so such inhumanity, I think there is a common thread, a craving for power at any cost to life. This occurs in societies conditioned by religion or a state ideology to believe any group of people has no right to life or does not deserve a full life.

One group having power over another of that culture seen as unworthy or inferior.
Mao in the Cultural revelation started referring to people by way of numbers, to de humanise them.

I don’t have the answers but I think it is linked to the quest for power and irreverence for life, expressed in violence.

Any religion that does not have a reverence for life is not a true religion.
Many organisations champion human rights such as Amnesty International and help prevent torture and irreverence to life.

But ultimately it is society and how it reflects itself, its willingness to uphold life and show reverence for Life.

Otherwise we risk descending to such depths. The guiding principles are what sustain us, the glue that keeps societies together with a common thread of humanity.

Freedom for all and to show respect to all peoples.

Matt said...

Thank you for this well-needed post.

Education and awareness changes everything.

Vee said...

Lindsay: thank you for your very informative words as always. You're right, it is mainly about power and irreverence for life. But how people can even begin to behave in such horrific ways is beyond the scope of my understanding.

Matt: You're welcome :) Education and awareness do bring about change, as long as we take the first step towards changing.

ladyrain said...

wow..i had no idea..hopefully things have improved in the area in the last 15 years..the sad part is so many of these cases go unnoticed..

Ramya said...

atleast someone stood up against such atrocities.. cant really relate to such happenings in this world coz of the totally sheltered life i've led. feels like they are stories from a different planet.. nice post vee!:)