In the past month roughly four women have died in Uttar Pradesh. These aren’t the only women murdered or having been raped in a state of 200 million people. But what was universal about them? Was that they were hung to death.
See I had to study forensic medicine as part of my education. It is very basic but it does let you know one thing.
Hanging someone against their will is hard. During an execution the entire gallows is designed to make death easier. But such “lynchings” and indeed hanging oneself to death? That’s usually self inflicted. It is hard to murder someone this way.
These crimes are not new, these crimes are not alien to India. Assaults on women are endemic to India.
To realise why we must look at something interesting. Japan and Western Europe. Honour Culture. Japan’s Bushido and Europe’s Chivalry are matched by the code of Hindu honour. The cynic in me says the codes were made to make the bastard with the pointy sword look like a good guy. We are Sansa Stark, we have a very naive view of honour. The fact of the matter is the tortured gentleman who wrote searing verse to woo his Victorian lover was probably seeing a prostitute on the side. We choose to ignore the less romantic parts of history. It is why we forget that the knight in shining armour got there by standing on a mountain of peasants.
And let us just say that the treatment of peasants has generally been pretty crap. What we are seeing is a war, a culture war. A war where the people who have everything and those that have nothing simply due to who they were born to. Right now I bet a lot of white people reading this are feeling pretty smug.
Lest we forget that in the early 1900s it was common place in the USA (among white people) to trade in photos of lynched people. And some of the stories were horrific. Good, Honest, God Fearing Men and Women would beat, rape, torture and murder black people and indeed hispanics, Irish and the Chinese because they were uppity. Or weird. Or different. At the drop of a hat.
To quote the Daleks? This is not war, this is pest control. These people thought nothing of killing a black person or raping them and murdering them. Because all it was, was one lousy nigger to keep the others down.
I am a dalit. An untouchable. The niggers of India. I can tell you tales about us that would make you gag. I know families who ritually cleanse themselves when I walk into their house. I know that they keep separate glasses for me to use. I know they only tolerate me because I am the only person willing to work in such conditions in a job that leverages money. This is a relationship out of necessity.
Tigger is not my first dog. My first clinic dog adopted by all of us was called Rocky. Named by kids after Rocky Balboa. A big local hero. He met a rather gruesome end. To scare me away people cut his throat and hung him from a tree. It was a message. We cannot touch you, but those around you will suffer. Me and the other people who ran the clinic decided not to move and “levelled” up. We called on one of the most feared groups of people in India and gave them jobs.
It wasn’t every Indian who did this. But enough to poison my opinion. I mean, if I gave you a box of chocolates and just one of those chocolates was a piece of excrement, you would be wary of the whole damn box.
I have worked with the underside of India. Hookers, Hijra, Untouchables. I have eaten with some of the lowest of the low. There is a crime against humanity that used to be common in India. It goes by the euphemism…. Manual Scavenging. Basically? It is the hand cleaning of latrines. The faeces has to be moved and it is removed by hand. This is illegal in India, but there are still places where it occurs. Delhi is far away after all and the eyes of Delhi aren’t on these places.
It is in this sort of place that these crimes occur. The centuries of downtrodden dalit are empowered. And the upper castes wish to cow their niggers.
The perpetrators of this violence are often those in power. high caste Brahmins and Kshatriya and sometimes even the Vaishya (Teacher/Priest, Soldier and Merchant classes). The easiest victims are the women. They cannot fight back as easily. A farm worker may turn to his weapon and no one wants to be the idiot who had his head cut off with a scythe. But the women? They can be grabbed from fields during ablutions with ease.
In 2011, there was a crime that never made it big in the western media. A 14 year old girl was raped and killed.
She was hung from a tree.
Outside a police station.
The message is clear. We are so powerful we can do this and not even the law can protect you.
Rape in India has become routine. Not because the number of rapes are increasing but because they are getting reported and people are taking it seriously. There is a sufficient core of angry people in high powerful media positions that are willing to champion the cause of raped women. Police and the Medical community have become more sensitive to victims but I despise the harsher laws. I do not think they work.
Now the question is? What is the effect of India’s new rape laws? It certainly hasn’t acted as a deterrent, in fact? I am opposed to the death penalty being used. And I think that the current violence we see is a response to such laws.
See, the rapists know that they are in the wrong. Why hang the victim? Well? To cover it up. If they can make it look like a suicide then no one will come looking. I fear that the murders are specifically designed to deflect blame. And another problem is something more sinister.
Honour Killings. The spectre of rape may be used to deflect suspicion from honour and dowry deaths. In India’s most populated state with 200 million people/ Like much of north India, the state is still largely patriarchal and feudal and women are regarded as inferior to men and it is a society deeply divided along caste, gender and religious lines and these biases are deeply entrenched. I have seen schools where girls sat on the floor and boys at the tables, where girls learned on slates while boys had paper. Medicine, Food and even Water is given to boys before girls. And it shows.
There are 900 girls for every 1000 boys. Roughly 1 in 10 girls dies while a boy in the same situation lives. Honour killing and infanticide occurs but it may not be spoken off or covered up well.
The last hanging? The spectre of honour crime rose. The parents insisted she was raped but the body has no signs of rape or evidence to suggest otherwise.
To the Dalit of India? This is the same chapter of caste violence that plagues their lives. To us? It is a new and shocking revelation of the brutality of a culture.
The dalits or harijans are people who were part of the castes who were associated with the traditionally unclean work. Leather work (hindus still wear leather despite not consuming cows), slaughter house work (the crime is in the killing not in the consumption), removal of rubbish and in one of the most abusive aspects of human existence, in the removal of human waste from latrines. The practice has died out in most of the cities but in rural areas it still persists. Which means its wide spread. Remember nearly 70 percent of India lives rural. Much like the 1950s and america, there is segregation in India. The idea is that uncleanliness is contagious and that contact with the dalit means that you are tarnished by association. Still many places have a practice where they refuse to let the dalit touch the same wells or even drink from the same cup. They will pour out water for you and you sip from the stream rather than a cup. Different temples, schools and funeral areas. They stay in their own ghettoes.
The practice is not restricted to Hinduism. Many of them in order to escape the prejudice of their peers convert. Only to find the system is that of society rather than of religion. They find the exact same prejudice whether they are Christian or Muslim. Only the Sikhs are relatively free of this due to their anti caste stance that is ingrained into their faith and even there its present. Its supposed to be illegal but people get away with it. People still decide on who to marry based on caste and people still vote on caste lines. And this is lethal. Dalits make up 10% of India. The scheduled castes (only slightly better off) make up a further 40%. Together they make up one of the most powerful voting blocks and caste politics has resulted in the rise of a monster we call Mayawati. Corrupt to the bone, she is tolerated by her voters because there is no other vote. Her state is the counterbalance to indian progress.
The issue is so laden with feelings. Indians of both sides are being discriminated against. Highborn indians do not have the government quotas to guarantee them a job while a lot of low caste indians who don’t need the quota still have it applied to them because the quota is based on caste not on economic status. Its hard to draw the line of what’s acceptable and what’s not.
But lest we forget that the abuse still takes place amongst the poorest of the Dalits and they have no escape. Except through the acquisition of wealth or being powerful enough to overturn their status and even then there is still discrimination.
But they are dangerous too. The voice of the downtrodden may not be the voice they need or a voice of construction. From their ranks rises the Maoists movement of the Naxalites whose struggle rages across central India and whose victory means a horrific repeat of the cultural revolution. From their ranks rises the most fundie of Christian, eager to wage religious warfare on their old tormentors. From their ranks rises the heart of caste based voting and the encouragement of corrupt politics and the backlash of caste violence is not a one way street.
It is them who have the lowest life expectancies and the highest infant mortalities. They themselves are hotbeds of serious diseases due to the poor healthcare which hampers financial mobility. Their healthcare facilities are actively targeted by violent attacks and doctors are often scared off from treating them making it hard to fight against diseases. Likewise they are often forced out of education by their peers and by social pressure making it impossible for social uplift to occur.
Sometimes the worst whips are the whips inside your own mind. The dalits can win their fight for equality, without having to rely on making deals with the devil. But its a case of whether they can unite behind a socially mobile leader who is not corrupt or who isn’t sectarian.
But until then there will always be more strange fruit and the women will pay the highest costs. India has to stop with castes. I am the last of my family to know my caste. My children will grow up without caste. They will learn what it means, they will learn why it is cruel, they will learn the atrocities and they will learn to reject it.
I am safe from such predations due to the power inherent in medicine. I think people just create a “doctor” caste or my status as a “foreign” Indian gives me some modicum of protection. But if it ever came down to things like marriage? Caste would play a sad role.
I am lucky that Hera and her family do not consider caste important and instead judge me by my merits (if they can find any!).
But until that day when all Indians are like them? Strange Fruit will always hang from India’s trees. Whether it is for caste, for dowry or for honour.