by Meha Khanduri
This article nearly never got written because as I start to write on the issue I start seeing red. When India was raptly watching students of a prestigious university go through a long drama of whether slogan shouting students had committed sedition or not…rampaging mobs were burning, looting, and ransacking the cities of Haryana, right next door to the capital Delhi. Nobody was really outraged, no resignations were called for, no charges of sedition were made and after nearly two days of looting and burning worth 34000 crores, the government cordially accepted the demands of the rampaging mobs and the burning and looting came to an end. An amicable solution all around..except for criminality and couple of thousand crores of national property but …..this is India!
Four days later some ghost stories started floating around. The whispers said that not only Haryana’s cities had been burnt and ransacked; women commuters had been raped too on the highways. The police however assured us that these were all rumors being spread by nasty people. However they refused to die. Soon a newspaper, The Tribune, did a story on how women travellers coming to Delhi were dragged out of their cars by mobs on a National Highway 1 at Murthal in Sonepat district of Haryana and gang raped by mobs. That the paper reported this happened only about 2 hours from Delhi, near a very popular eating spot, made it more shocking. But the Haryana government and the police breezily denied these, ignoring that the newspaper was an established one, and not given to salacious stories.
Well, the newspaper stuck to its guns quoting eyewitnesses. Initially three eyewitnesses—Hari Krishan of Kurad, Zile Singh of Hassanpur and Amrik Singh—came forward, saying women were sexually assaulted. Eyewitness Niranjan Singh told The Sunday Standard: “I saw these men chasing women in the fields, and assaulting and tearing off their clothes.’’ The Tribune report also mentioned the raped women were met by the police and instead of being taken to a hospital for examination, they were advised paternally by the policemen and the district administration to not file a complaint and go home. The police even dropped many home solicitously, instead of taking them to a hospital or filing an FIR.
In the fields where nothing had happened, torn bras, panties and various undergarments of women were found strewn about. The police collected them and sent them for forensic examination. But nobody was still outraged –perhaps the women themselves were struck by a sudden urge to become nude while travelling through. No minister thought it worth his or her while to comment on such trivial issues. But the courts for once woke up, took suo moto cognizance of the report and ordered an inquiry. That gave some faint hope to the horrified citizens following the story.
In response to the court inquiry, the local Police issued casual notices saying if women had been gang raped could they please come up and contact the police? No mention was made of the policemen who were supposed to have pressed the women not to press charges. No effort was made to find out the cars, which had passed through the tollgates. No Indian woman was surprised when not a single woman came to volunteer about her gang rape. To add insult to injury the number of the lady DIG given to contact was wrong and belonged to a resident of Indore. The New Indian Express, a reputed newspaper quoted a senior police official as saying that: “there is too much political pressure to play down the incident.”
But the unkindest cut for the women of India was saved for the last. As the Parliament met for the budget session there was hope that all the national representatives at the highest level would be outraged by this incident. The opposition would clamor and the government would be forced to take stern measures against the criminals and those shielding the,. The opposition did outrage, the government especially a woman minister did indulge in splendid melodramatics but not for the women of India. For two days the Indian Parliament was in furore over demon worship and the honor of the mythical goddess Durga.
Yes you read that correctly: DISCUSSING THE MYTHICAL GODDESS DURGA’S HONOUR WAS MORE IMPORTANT TO INDIAN PARLIAMENT THAN DISCUSSING ASSAULT ON REAL INDIAN WOMEN!!!!
I can’t think of any civilized country in which such a thing would happen. At that point I realized a very important thing: This is what the worth of a woman in India. NOTHING. Don’t get fooled by the glitzy ads showing beautifully groomed career women who are also empowered at home. Don’t be fooled by the number of women in the Parliament or careers. Don’t be fooled by the tall promises made after the Nirbhaya rape. All women are in India are pieces of property, meant to protect the honor of the man, the family, the country. To expect respect as a normal human being, as an equal citizen deserving equal rights is futile. I’ve given up. Just hope that you can be a goddess someday, from the flesh and blood human you are.
PS: Till the time of this article going for publication two victims have come forwarded and narrated their ordeal of being gang-raped along with many other women. They are mothers and wives and young women and teenagers. They say that they ” were advised by the officials there not to report the matter for the sake of honour, because what has happened could not be undone,” and are terrified of going to a police which wants to bury the incident. However the eyewitnesses have now turned hostile. News of the Murthal rapes has completely vanished from the national media. All is well in India.
[Pic Credit: ABP News]
Meha Khanduri is an alum from Columbia University, New York and works on issues of human rights and conflict in India.