[Marxism] A Village Rape Shatters a Family, and India’s Traditional Silence
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Oct 28 10:28:22 MDT 2012
NY Times October 27, 2012
A Village Rape Shatters a Family, and India’s Traditional Silence
By JIM YARDLEY
DABRA, India — One after the other, the men raped her. They had dragged
the girl into a darkened stone shelter at the edge of the fields, eight
men, maybe more, reeking of pesticide and cheap whiskey. They assaulted
her for nearly three hours. She was 16 years old.
When it was over, the men threatened to kill her if she told anyone, and
for days the girl said nothing. Speaking out would have been difficult,
anyway, given the hierarchy of caste. She was poor and a Dalit, the
low-caste group once known as untouchables, while most of the attackers
were from a higher caste that dominated land and power in the village.
It might have ended there, if not for the videos: her assailants had
taken cellphone videos as trophies, and the images began circulating
among village men until one was shown to the victim’s father, his family
said. Distraught, the father committed suicide on Sept. 18 by drinking
pesticide. Infuriated, Dalits demanded justice in the rape case.
“We thought, We lost my husband, we lost our honor,” the mother of the
rape victim said. “What is the point of remaining silent now?”
As in many countries, silence often follows rape in India, especially in
villages, where a rape victim is usually regarded as a shamed woman,
unfit for marriage. But an outcry over a string of recent rapes,
including this one, in the northern state of Haryana, has shattered that
silence, focusing national attention on India’s rising number of sexual
assaults while also exposing the conservative, male-dominated power
structure in Haryana, where rape victims are often treated with callous
In a rapidly changing country, rape cases have increased at an alarming
rate, roughly 25 percent in six years. To some degree, this reflects a
rise in reporting by victims. But India’s changing gender dynamic is
also a significant factor, as more females are attending school,
entering the work force or choosing their own spouses — trends that some
men regard as a threat.
India’s news media regularly carry horrific accounts of gang rapes,
attacks once rarely seen. Sometimes, gangs of young men stumble upon a
young couple — in some cases the couple is meeting furtively in a
conservative society — and then rape the woman. Analysts also point to
demographic trends: India has a glut of young males, some unemployed,
abusing alcohol or drugs and unnerved by the new visibility of women in
“This visibility is seen as a threat and a challenge,” said Ranjana
Kumari, who runs the Center for Social Research in New Delhi.
In Haryana, the initial response to the rape after it was disclosed
ranged from denial to denouncing the media to blaming the victim. A
spokesman for the governing Congress Party was quoted as saying that 90
percent of rape cases begin as consensual sex. Women’s groups were
outraged after a village leader pointed to teenage girls’ sexual desire
as the reason for the rapes.
“I think that girls should be married at the age of 16, so that they
have their husbands for their sexual needs, and they don’t need to go
elsewhere,” the village leader, Sube Singh, told IBN Live, a news
channel. “This way rapes will not occur.”
The most vulnerable women are poor Dalits, the lowest tier of the social
structure. Of 19 recent rape cases in Haryana, at least six victims were
Dalits. One Dalit teenager in Haryana committed suicide, setting herself
afire, after being gang-raped. Another Dalit girl, 15, who was mentally
handicapped, was raped in Rohtak, according to Indian news media
accounts, the same district where a 13-year-old girl was allegedly raped
by a neighbor.
“If you are a poor woman who is raped, you cannot even imagine a life
where there will be justice,” Kalpana Sharma, a columnist, wrote
recently in The Hindu, a national English-language newspaper. “If you
are a poor woman and a Dalit, then the chances of justice are even slimmer.”
Haryana is one of India’s most entrenched bastions of feudal patriarchy.
The social preference for sons has contributed to a problem of some
couples aborting female fetuses, leaving Haryana with the most skewed
gender ratio in India, 861 females for every 1,000 males. Politically,
the upper Jat caste largely controls a statewide network of unelected,
all-male councils known as khap panchayats, which dominate many rural
regions of the state.
Elected leaders are reluctant to confront the khaps, given their ability
to turn out voters, and often endorse their conservative social agenda,
in which women are subservient to men. Khaps have sought to ban women
from wearing bluejeans or using cellphones. One khap member, Jitender
Chhatar, blamed fast food for the rise in rape cases, arguing that it
caused hormonal imbalances and sexual urges in young women. Mr. Singh,
who suggested lowering the legal marriage age, is also a khap leader.
“They are working the blame-the-victim theory,” said Jagmati Sangwan,
president of the Haryana chapter of the All-India Democratic Women’s
Association. “They are diverting attention from the crime and the
criminals, and the root causes.”
Yet public anger is clearly bubbling up. Small protests have been staged
across the state, including one this month in the town of Meham, where
about 100 men and women picketed the district police headquarters over
the rape of a 17-year-old girl. They waved signs demanding “Arrest
Rapists!” and “Justice for Women” and chanted “Down with Haryana Police!”
Here in Dabra, about 100 miles from the Pakistan border, villagers say
there is no khap panchayat but rather an elected village council where
the leadership position, known as sarpanch, is reserved for a woman
under nationwide affirmative action policies. Yet the male-dominated
ethos prevails. The current sarpanch is the wife of a local Jat leader,
who put her forward to circumvent the restriction. During an interview
with the husband, the official sarpanch sat silently in the doorway, her
face covered by a gauzy scarf.
“No, no,” she answered when asked to comment, as she pointed to her
husband. “He’s the sarpanch. What’s the point in talking to me?”
The gang-rape of the 16-year-old girl occurred on Sept. 9 but remained a
secret in the village until her father’s suicide. Dalits formed a
committee to demand justice, and roughly 400 people demonstrated outside
the district police headquarters, as well as at the hospital where the
father’s body was being kept.
“We told them that unless you catch the suspects, we would not take the
body,” said a woman named Maya Devi. “We do not have land. We do not
have money. What we have is honor. If your honor is gone, you have nothing.”
Since then, the police have arrested eight men — seven of them Jats —
who have confessed to the attack. There are discrepancies; the victim
says she was abducted outside the village, while the suspects say they
attacked her after catching her having a tryst with a married man.
“She was raped against her will,” said B. Satheesh Balan, the district
superintendent of police. “There is no doubt.”
Officer Balan said villagers told the police that other local girls had
also been gang-raped at the same stone shelter, though no evidence was
available. Often, a girl’s family will hide a rape rather than be
stigmatized in the village. Even sympathizers of the teenage victim
doubt she can assimilate back into Dabra.
“It will be difficult on her,” Ms. Devi said. “Now she is branded.”
In an interview at her grandparents’ home outside the village, the
victim said she believed other suspects remained at large, leaving her
at risk. (Female police officers have been posted at the house
round-the-clock.) Yet she has actively pushed the police and joined in
the protests, despite the warnings by her attackers.
“They threatened me and said they would kill my family if I told
anyone,” she said.
Many Dalit girls drop out of school, but the victim was finishing high
school. Even in the aftermath of the rape, she took her first-term exams
in economics, history and Sanskrit. But she no longer wants to return to
the village school and is uncertain about her future.
“Earlier, I had lots of dreams,” she said. “Now I’m not sure I’ll be
able to fulfill them. My father wanted me to become a doctor. Now I
don’t think I’ll be able to do it.”
Hari Kumar contributed from Dabra.
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