It is time again for a global gasp of horror, as another tale of a barbaric gang rape and murder of two young girls in rural India, makes headlines worldwide. They were cousins, of a low caste, and one was a 14-year-old while the other was a year older. Barely more than children, the two girls were violently raped, and found hanging from the branches of a mango tree in Katra Sadatganj village in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. According to Police Superintendent Atul Saxena, autopsy reports have confirmed that the teenagers had been gang raped and then, strangled to death by hanging.
Villagers found the girls’ bodies early Wednesday morning, hours after they disappeared from fields near their residence. They had gone to the adjoining orchard to relieve themselves since there was no toilet in their home. As news of the atrocity spread, the crowd of angry villagers swelled to hundreds in number and they sat under the tree in a silent protest, preventing local authorities from removing the bodies till they arrested the suspected rapists and murderers. Indian television channels showed gruesome footage of the girls, one dressed in a crimson tunic and pants, the other in emerald, hanging from the trees and gently swinging in the wind.
As the villagers waited, news arrived that two police officers and two other villagers had been arrested for the crime. The two young girls belonged to the Dalit community, which is relegated to the lowest-rung of India’s deeply entrenched and age-old caste system. The girls’ family and the villagers have accused the local police station chief of ignoring a report by the girls’ father Tuesday night, when the girls went missing. The station chief in Katra, which is 180 miles southwest of the state capital, Lucknow, has since been suspended.
As news of the attack spread across the country via news channels and other media outlets, there was a collective sense of shocked outrage, in spite of the fact that government statistics show that a rape occurs every 22 minutes in India. The case of the two cousins has shaken the country because of its brutality and the fact that two of the suspects are policemen.
India has recently been in the news for a series of high-profile cases of brutal violence against its women, especially the 2012 fatal gang rape of a 23-year-old healthcare student, during which the woman’s insides were ruptured by a metal rod. That horrific event led to widespread countrywide protests and vigils, resulting in the tightening of anti-rape laws that made gang rape punishable by death, even if the victim survived.
Yet, the rapes continue, nearly unabated. Statistics compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau show that the last four decades has seen a surge of nearly 900 percent in the number of reported rape cases, which stood close to 25,000 in 2012. Given that rape is considered a social stigma in India, activists state that the number of reported cases is nowhere close to the real toll. Some activists estimate that only 10 percent of all rapes are actually reported.
The rising rate of rapes in India are a symptom of an entrenched patriarchal system, which stereotypes women and consistently blames the victim for “inviting rape,” according to Indira Jaising, national additional solicitor general. Gendered violence researchers blame the recurrence of rapes in India on the social system, which turns a near blind eye on caste-based sexual violence, police apathy and a high tolerance of harassment.
While Delhi, the capital of India has long been accused of being the rape epicenter of the country, sexual harassment is faced by women in all areas, from the deep rural to the cosmopolitan urban. The state of Uttar Pradesh, which saw the rape and hanging of the two young girls, has a high rape rate, as well. According to statistics cited by the British Broadcasting Corporation, five women are raped per day in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state of India. The state has 200 million residents, 60 million of whom live under the poverty line set by the United Nations. Most of the wretchedly poor belong to the lower castes.
Such desperate poverty, according to experts, are a huge catalyst for sexual violence including gang rapes in India. A disproportionately large number of cases show upper-caste men targeting Dalit women, also called “untouchables.” According to S.R. Darapuri, vice-president of the state’s People’s Union for Civil Liberties, his analysis of government rape figures for 2007 found that 90 percent of the victims were Dalits [untouchables].” Additionally, a majority of those were underage girls. Some of the tales related to activists were “…so brutal…[they] thought such things could happen only in novels and films.”
The passivity shown by the village policemen in the case in Uttar Pradesh is common throughout India. An explosive investigation done by an Indian magazine, Tehelka in 2012, found that a disturbing large number of Indian policemen dealt with rape victims largely with indifference or outright hostility. A sizable chunk of the police force blamed the victims for inviting attention through their clothing or behavior. Some cops said that the alleged victims were immoral with loose sexual mores, or were prostitutes. Many experts blame the Indian judiciary for adjudicating gender violence cases with similar sexist beliefs.
The ennui has gone beyond the police and the judiciary, with Mulayam Singh Yadav, the chief of Uttar Pradesh’s government party telling his audience at an election rally held last month that he was against the law that called for the execution of gang rapists since “boys will be boys…[and they made a] mistake.” He was referring to a recent Mumbai-based case, where three men were sentenced to death for two gang rapes. As people reacted with anger towards his statement, Yadav was defended by the Maharashtra unit chief of his party, Abu Azmi, who said that women who had live-in relationships or had sex without being married, willingly or unwillingly, should be hanged to death.
In the case of the two young girls in India, Azmi’s beliefs certainly came to fruition. Each suffered a brutal gang rape, or had unwilling sex without being married, and then were hanged from a mango tree. The two cousins were cremated late Wednesday night in line with Hindu customs. Armed police were deployed to keep peace in the distressed village.
By Monalisa Gangopadhyay