We are all chattel

Just because some of us acquire an education, do we really have the courage to defy the ‘khap panchayat’?

Jyoti Malhotra June 03, 2014
The writer is an independent journalist based in New Delhi and writes for several Indian newspapers

Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif have given enough fodder for so-called strategic analysts on both sides to endlessly discuss what happened, and what didn’t, in the meeting between them on May 27, whether one man read the riot act to another (or not) and if, perchance, this means that their relationship has started off on an unequal footing (or hasn’t).

With so much rhetorical dissembling on the cards, what chance did the gang rape and murder by hanging of two Dalit girls in Badayun district in the heart of Uttar Pradesh have? Or the stoning to death of a pregnant woman by her own father in Lahore?

The celebratory mood in South Asia, brought on in part by the informal gathering of South Asia’s leaders to attend Modi’s oath taking ceremony has been considerably dulled by the reality on the ground. We lull ourselves into thinking we’re creating a brave, new world. But the 15th century is never far away. The truth is that South Asian men still believe that they have a right over their women’s minds and bodies.

Yes, we are all still chattel. Just because some of us acquire an education, do we really have the courage to defy the ‘khap panchayat’, which in Haryana determines who you can talk to, how far you can study and whether the boy you want to marry is part of your complicated caste structure or not? The girls who were gang raped in Badayun had only gone to the fields to relieve themselves, as women do all over the region.

I wonder if any of my friends across India or Pakistan, on both sides of the broad brush-stroke that is the international boundary created one fine morning by a sub-intelligent man called Cyril Radcliffe or even the highly surcharged Line of Control, have ever relieved themselves in the dark of night because it is simply much too shaming to do so in the day? Meanwhile, Delhi, India’s gorgeous and ancient capital, has no dearth of men pulling down their zippers just as soon as they have the urge. And I will challenge anyone to show me one woman who does the same thing.

In the name of Kashmir and terrorism — or vice-versa, give it whatever order you will — and Siachen and Sir Creek and a hundred other problems, our leaders have together betrayed us. They have failed us, not only by failing to live up to their promises but by giving us hope in the first place. Again and again, we believe in the new dawn, just like Faiz did that morning in August 1947 and again and again you can rip apart that veil and reveal the darkness of Badayun.

This Indo-Gangetic civilisation condemns us. Caste and community and faith, you can bet your last rupee that women in our part of the world will fall short of one or another category. The Badayun girls were Dalit; the simple fact is that their attackers were of the backward Yadav caste and believed that the rape and murder of the Dalit girls was an avenging of sorts. The fact that Farzana’s father believed she had no right to marry the man of her choice provided him with a compelling argument for murder.

This is war, make no mistake. Rape and killing are weapons of choice of those who believe they are all powerful and will brook no dissent. This is what rampaging armies do to each other’s populations when they invade the other country — and we accept it as the ravages of war. Just because this is caste war makes it no less heinous.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has sacked two top officers but he hasn’t visited the parents of the murdered sisters yet. Their father tells journalists he is afraid of the lives of his remaining family once media attention subsides.

Can Narendra Modi do things differently? Can he invoke the rule of law and bring justice to the girls from Badayun? Can Nawaz Sharif, who has described Farzana’s death by stoning as ‘totally unacceptable’ follow up on her case as a priority item on the national agenda?

India and Pakistan wait for their prime ministers to show the way.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2014.

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Lalit | 8 years ago | Reply

@Vakil well said...

Vakil | 8 years ago | Reply

For ONCE (probably for the first time in fact!) dear lady I agree with you... certainly on the main "subject" part. One complaint I nonetheless have is your characterization of Cyril Radcliffe as "sub-intelligent" ... on what basis is that may I ask? Just like your "challenge" you have thrown to whoever on the subject of "women relieving..." etc etc in broad daylight, a lot of people will do likewise for you to prove your "intelligence" and come up with something "better" than Radcliffe, particularly given the constraints he had to operate under. Remember the old saying: When you point one finger at somebody, 10 fingers immediately will point at you!

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