If you have been following the news from Asia in the past few days, you may have heard of the latest act of violence against women that has horrified India: 2 teen age girls abducted, raped and then hanged in a village called Katra Sahdatganj of Badaun - a district about 220 km north-east of New Delhi. The girls were cousins and had gone out to relieve themselves in the bush because their home didn’t have a toilet, when they went missing.
The heart-wrenching story told by one of the girl’s father reveals that the girls were abducted in 27th May (Tuesday) evening. The father went to the police that night, pleaded with them to find his girls, but the policemen on duty refused to either listen or act. In fact, one of them mocked the man who is from a 'lower caste' and said ‘go and check, you may find your girls hanging from a tree’. Next day, just as the policeman had said it, the father – and the rest of the village – indeed saw the girls’ bodies hanging in an orchard.
Since the news came in the light, protests and condemnations have poured in from all quarters. A number of political leaders have visited the girls’ family and expressed their sympathy. The media has been camping in the village and has been reporting many more cases of rape and abduction of women that have taken place in that area. The latest words of condemnation have come from the United Nations which hassaid, ‘Violence against women is a human rights issue, not a women's issue’.
Now, besides the obvious lack of security for women and good governance, the horrible rape and murder also point out another of India’s ugliest truths: women are increasingly falling prey to sexual predators due to lack of sanitation facilities.
The direct link between lack of sanitation and violenceagainst women is something our social activists have been talking about for years. Social workers have pointed out how women in rural homes without a toilet don’t urinate or pass stool all day long, even if they feel the urge. They relieve themselves either early in the morning before anyone else is up, or after the dusk – when nobody can see them.
What happens when they are seen? Teasing, verbal abuse, molestation, rape and, as we now also see, murder.
Several of our journalists have reported this from time to time. I remember reporting on the issue myself, citing studies that have shown how most adolescent girls who drop out schools do so because they face sexual violence while going into the bush.
So, the studies have been there. The media reports have been there. The danger has been real. Yet the government always choose not to pay any heed.
You may ask, how can a government ignore such an important issue? Well, my own reading is that most of our governments are run by men. Now, it’s no secret that most Indian men are shameless about relieving themselves in the public – you can see how they urinate in broad daylight everywhere - and so, are too thick-skinned to understand the shame and indignity that a woman has to undergo when she has to relieve herself in the open.
The other reason, I think, is that we Indians have a short memory. We forgive and forget very easily. Whether it’s the rape of a woman or burning of a bride for dowry or cutting the tongue of a teenage rape victim, we always are oh- so- ready to put the past behind us and move on. Why? Because we are the great nation of Buddha and Gandhi and so we believe in peace and forgiveness. Also, we have bad things happening here all the time. So, we are eager to move to a happier spot and be at peace.
But while forgiveness is a great virtue and peace is the ultimate goal of life, let’s not abandon our right to be angry altogether. Not when we are forced to urinate and defecate like our cattle do – out in the open. Not when we are raped and hanged in the public just because we wanted to answer a nature’s call. And definitely not when our mostly-men led government thinks such a rape/murder is a isolated occurrence and not such a big deal.
Let’s stay angry and keep fresh in our memory the Katra Sahdatganj girls. Let’s huddle together and talk, of them, of those who are at risk and also of us all who have equal right to vote, but not equal access to the basic amenities.
Let’s stay put and demand a definitive change today, tomorrow and until the day it comes. Until then, forgiveness can wait.