Yesterday , The Guardian published an absolutely fantastic article on the Indian rape case that enraptured an entire nation last December. In short, a group of men savagely raped a young woman on a bus and then proceeded to mutilate her with iron rods. The sordid affair didn’t end there. She was then dumped naked on the side of the road with nobody willing to offer any help. After a hard fought and heart rending battle for life in the hospital, she succumbed to her injuries.
As someone who is of Indian ethnicity, I have no particular affinity for India or any other country. I believe that our birth nationalities, much like the religions we are unfortunately born into, are a product of cosmic dice rolls. From there, we find our own way. However, social issues, such as the one highlighted by this despicable inhumane crime, interest me greatly because they speak of existence and the human condition that are so varied all over the world. More importantly, it is a way to glimpse a different culture and learn more about aspects of life we sometimes take for granted. As a humanist, I find all of these to be enlightening and edifying as they teach us more about ourselves, the world and the values that we hold dear.
The Guardian article is an in depth look at a social and economic culture that very few understand. Millions of people in India struggle to make ends meet, and the lack of opportunities can lead to these people making terrible life decisions. For the most part, it is a patriarchal society outlined by corruption, poverty, caste systems and poor healthcare and education. This isn’t true for every Indian, but it is for a significant majority. This is a country vying for superpower status that has left millions of its citizens behind.
Here are some excerpts from the article as it maps the chain of events that led to this horrible crime:
On the background of the two brothers Ram & Mukesh involved in the rape:
“But if life in the city was better than the brutal poverty of the village, the improvement was only marginal. After a decade, their father and mother returned to Karauli and the brothers stayed on in a one-room brick home, brutally hot in the heat of the summer, freezing in winter. Ram, a slim, dark, small man, married a woman with three children by another man. She died of cancer shortly afterwards without bearing him a child of his own. After her death, he started drinking heavily and fighting. When he drove his bus into a lorry, he damaged an arm permanently. “
On their behavior and image:
“Though they left local girls alone, the Singh brothers were known among their neighbours for drunkenness, petty crime and occasional, unpredictable violence. The younger brother, Mukesh, was personable, if impressionable, according to teenagers in the neighbourhood. “He was fine on his own but different when he was with his brother,” one said, speaking a few days after the incident that would make the pair, if only for a short time, globally infamous.”
“…in the vast northern state of Uttar Pradesh which has 180 million inhabitants and socio-economic indicators often worse than those in sub-Saharan Africa. As in rural Rajasthan, where the Singh brothers came from, women in the countryside of Uttar Pradesh suffer systematic sexual harassment and often violence. Rape is common and gang rape frequent. Victims are habitually blamed for supposedly enticing their attackers. Many are forced to marry their assailants; others kill themselves rather than live with the social stigma of being “dishonoured”. Police rarely register a complaint, let alone investigate.”
On how the men were representative of Indian society:
“The four men were thus all representative of a substantial element of contemporary Indian society. (The median age in India is 25, with two-thirds of the 1.2 billion population under 35.) They were semi-skilled and poorly educated, like so many other products of the country’s failing education systems. They were migrants from the country to the town – four of the millions of individuals who over recent decades have converted an almost entirely rural country into an increasingly urbanised one. They were unmarried in a part of India where men outnumber women and gender imbalances are worsening. They were drinking in a city known for high levels of alcohol abuse. There was nothing very extraordinary about them. Yet within hours they would commit acts that would prompt outrage across the planet.”
On the similarities between the victim and the perpetrators:
“One of the most striking elements of the Delhi gang-rape case is the similarity in the backgrounds of the victim and of her killers. The family of “J” – it is illegal under Indian law to name a rape victim – were, like those of her assailants, from close to the bottom of India’s still tenacious caste hierarchy.”
On the victim’s life ambitions:
“She had wanted to be a doctor, ideally a neurosurgeon, but opted instead for the more modest, and more affordable, ambition of physiotherapist and found a college in the northern city of Dehradun where she could qualify after a four-year course. To raise the 40,000-rupee annual fee, her father sold part of his land in his village and mortgaged the rest. To cover living expenses – a similar sum – J found a job in a call centre in the city.”
On the rape itself:
“Ram Singh first raped her, the girl kept shouting, and one by one all of us [raped her] and [Ram Singh] and the rest of us bit her body.” Medical reports reveal bite marks were found on the woman’s breasts, arms and genitals. J fought back, biting and scratching but the petite young woman had little chance…We tried to push our [penises] into her mouth. We also tried to [sodomise] her,” the juvenile later told police. His statement, corroborated by the account given by the victim to medical staff, does not mention the assault with the iron bar the woman described. Her medical examination – and the retrieval of two blood-stained rods in the bus – confirm that it was penetration by this that caused massive damage to her genitals, uterus and intestines…”The girl was shrieking and shouting so much. Ram Singh put his hand inside her and pulled out flesh. The girl lost consciousness and started bleeding,” the juvenile told police. Her friend later described how, naked and badly injured himself, he heard the men talking. One said that he thought “she was dead”. Another, possibly Thakur, suggested throwing them out of the bus.”
I’ll stop there. You can read the entire article, by Jason Burke, here. I strongly recommend it because it is eye opening and shocking. The good news is that these men have been caught. One of them, Ram Singh, hung himself in his jail cell, deservingly so I might add. The others have been given life sentences, but the prosecution is pushing for the death penalty. The youngest rapist was given 3 years in juvenile detention. This last part is something that still irks me as a failure of the Indian judicial system. It was a moment for them to really step socially by making these animals pay dearly for what they did. Would you believe that their lawyer is going to appeal the verdict and claims they are innocent and part of a police conspiracy? Fucking disgraceful.
I would like to think that this will change things for women in that country. I highly doubt it as crimes against women continue to make the news. The victim’s family has been provided compensation by the government, but that does next to nothing to address the greater social instabilities and economic discrepancies that continue to percolate and torment the country.