Gang Rape Death Spurs Shifting Paradigms in India

12 Jan

It was the gang rape that got the world’s attention, though that certainly wasn’t the intention of the attackers. The story has been told a thousand times, but the family speaks out for the first time in the media in the New York Times. As the family of the victim tells their story, further levels of tragedy are spelled out. We are left scratching our heads at the cruel irony of a state in conflict, where worlds collide, serving as a microcosm of the intense complexities of the nature of globalization in a world in overdrive.

Badri Nath Singh speaks to family on the phone in Medawara Kalan, after the death of his only daughter from a gang rape so brutal, her intestines had to be removed before she finally succumbed to her injuries.

Badri Nath Singh speaks to family on the phone in Medawara Kalan, after the death of his only daughter from a gang rape so brutal, her intestines had to be removed before she finally succumbed to her injuries. Image: New York Times/ Heather Timmons & Hari Kumar

Badri Nath Singh left a muddy rural town called Medawara Kalan over three decades ago to pursue the opportunities that big global cities like Delhi provide. Unlike the vast majority of fathers in underdeveloped countries, he took his daughter’s education very seriously. He worked day and night, sold land, and borrowed money to put his only daughter through school in the Indian capital.

Finally completing her medical school studies, she often showed off her white doctor’s coat to her family after receiving an internship in her career, symbolic of the rags-to-real opportunity narrative of her family’s journey. From thatched-roof huts along a one-lane dirt road to a physiotherapy degree in the biggest megalopolis in the world’s second-most populous country.

India is a country of juxtaposed high contrasts. Ultra-modern and ancient, colorful and dry, opulence and destitution, overcrowded but soulful. Thirteen years ago, places like India that possessed such unbelievable poverty appeared only mitigable, but certainly not possible of the progress we have now seen since the appropriation of the UN Millennium Development Goals in 2000.  Not only are we globally set to meet or exceed many of those goals by the goal date of 2015, we are posed to champion a brand-new era of human and economic development that may finally justify collective hope for a brave new world.

However, the key to unlocking that future only recently became clear in a popular sense: educating young girls. Empirical data gives us an idea, but it’s the real stories from the front lines of international development that really drive this point home, again and again and again. Educate a girl and you can change the world.

The key to unlocking her future: her education

The key to unlocking her future: her education Image credit: Flickr/Zuhair_Ahmad

Badri Singh knew that, defying the odds and expectation of his culture well before gender-based development programs hit the front pages of the world, and sparked dialogue that would change the face of poverty.

He just dreamed that his daughter would have a better life – a good life, one that would make his suffering and hard work worth it to see his offspring prosper in ways most dare to dream of. But instead, he returned home to his family village, where he carried his only daughter’s ashes.

His wife, the mother of the victim, didn’t sit for the New York Times interview – she sat in a dark corner of the house, adjacent to a courtyard where children played. Wrapped in a blanket, she raised her hands in “namaste” to greet the reporter, but did not speak. She has not been well since the attack, said her family. The brother of the victim is also inconsolable, crying throughout the interview.

The victim’s struggle to survive was remarkable, given the brutality and horrific violence of the crime. After being beaten and raped by five men, she was also raped with a metal rod, which destroyed her uterus and intestines. They had to be removed in surgery after being transferred to a hospital in Singapore. She also suffered significant brain injury, infection of the lungs and abdomen, and extreme blood loss.

Following the rape, the assailants dumped her and her fiance’s limp bodies on the side of a Delhi road to die, but not before attempting to run her over. Her fiance, after regaining consciousness, pulled her out from underneath the bus lest she be crushed to death. Then, there they laid for nearly an hour, while people walked and drove by, sometimes pausing to peer at the naked, profusely bleeding duo.

Before the victim succumbed to her extensive injuries two weeks after the attack, the country as a whole reacted in one collective voice that demanded revolutionary change in everything from social norms and attitudes, to the justice system, to the media portrayal.

The layers of horror to this crime only compound the viciousness of its social context… The fact that rape goes unreported because women fear humiliation and backlash from law enforcement (though some that do report suffer such humiliation, such as being told to marry their rapist, that they commit suicide). The savage nature of the crime itself, the prolificness of rape and sexual assault and violence against women in India and it’s acceptability in India (see: bride burnings). Also, the confounding uselessness of the “justice system,” where rape cases sometimes take 10-15 years just to prosecute, let alone sentence.

India Calls for Reform in Society and the Law /Image: AP

Protesters mourn the victims of gender-based violence and call for reforms in society and the law. Images from The Daily Mail

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Image: The Daily Mail

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Image: The Daily Mail

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Image: AP/ Getty

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Image: Zuma

It seems as if this specific case galvanized the public like never before, and what once seemed like contentious or controversial issues (such as women’s conduct in relation to their treatment in society, and the related problem of victim-blaming) became hot topics of yesterday’s norms, giving way to more progressive ideas (you know, like feminism). Indeed, this appears to be the beginning of a second- or third-wave feminist movement within the context of Indian national history. I am personally proud to see this exploding on a national scale, knowing it will likely lead to real and lasting, badly-needed change. But its source is ultimately tragic, and the reminders of this fact are omnipresent.

India may be ushering in a new era of humanity and history, as the national dialogue has been dominated so heavily that it has spilled into the larger global discourse of human issues. I certainly hope, as do countless others who have taken to the streets, that this is the case.

In the New York Times article, the father explains that his village never knew crime, and he had never even heard of theft until he moved to Delhi. Is it possible that the urban environment, in its rapid forward movement and alienation of those that get left behind, is partially responsible for the creation of social problems that characterize this case?

He came to Delhi to provide his children with better lives, leaving his impoverished, but relatively safe village behind for thirty years – only to be robbed of not just that opportunity, his hard work and investment, but the cruelest theft of all – his beloved only daughter and his family’s peace. The tragic irony of the intersection of poverty and crime, urban and rural life, yesterday and tomorrow, globalization and the traditions and lifestyle of previous generations dominates the undercurrent of these headlines. Perhaps the cruelest, saddest, most tragically ironic twist of all is that his daughter might still be alive and well if he had stayed in his safe little village, a world away from higher education and the promise it keeps.

In the meantime and for a long while, globalization’s impact on populously exploding societies will serve to both usher in the exchange of progress, new ideas, and economic growth, and dichotomously create new problems that only a new generation can solve.

One Response to “Gang Rape Death Spurs Shifting Paradigms in India”

  1. Erica Wilkinson January 12, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    This is a wonderful piece, and I’d like to feature it on my Weekly Pressings post. Is there any way you could add attributions to your photos?

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