Two 16-year-old girls were raped and then set on fire in separate attacks last week in the Indian state of Jharkhand; one of the girls died in the blaze while the other is fighting for her life.
Multiple people have been arrested in connection with the murders. There have been 578 rapes in the area so far this year compared to 563 during the same period last year; over 40,000 such cases are reported each year in India.
The surviving victim is being treated for burns to 70% of her body at a hospital Berhampur, West Bengal. A 19-year-old suspect has been arrested in connection with her attack.
The girl who was attacked only days earlier in the Chatra district died in the fire her attackers set to her home after viciously beating her and her parents. A total of 15 individuals have been arrested in connection to her rape and ultimate murder.
The identities of the victims are protected by Indian law.
In Chatra, the eighth-grade girl was kidnapped from her home while her parents were attending a wedding before being raped by an unknown number of men in a forested area outside the village.
Dhanu Bhuiyan, the main suspect in the case, was so angered by the village elders’ sentence of 100 sit-ups and a fine of 50,000 rupees ($750) that he gathered accomplices to help him assault the girl’s parents before setting her house on fire while she was inside.
These attacks, sadly, are not unique.
Just last month, the body of an 11-year-old girl was discovered in the city of Surat in the state of Gujarat with injuries consistent with rape, strangulation, and torture.
And earlier this year, an 8-year-old Muslim nomad girl was kidnapped from her village, gang-raped, tortured, and murdered in an attempt to drive her family out of the village.
There has been some effort on the part of the government to address and curb what has become an epidemic of sexual violence in the country.
In April, India’s cabinet approved an executive order that will allow for the death penalty in cases of rape in which the victim was younger than 12-years-old. Unfortunately, it really only addresses the rape of children, and will not become law if and until the Parliament approves it after they return from recess.
On the positive side, the order would increase the minimum penalty for the rape of a woman from seven to ten years in prison, and allows for the extension of the sentence to life imprisonment.
The order also introduced measures to help create a more efficient legal process for rape victims having their cases heard in court, as well as the provision of specialized labs to conduct testing on rape kits.
Many people, however, believe that this is not so much an issue of law as it is an issue of social morality.
“After all, we are in a society where it has been allowed for upper-caste men to rape Dalit women. It is their right, seen as their right. You know, we live in places like where—places like Manipal, Nagaland and Kashmir, army’s officers and soldiers who have been accused of rape are protected by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, you know? So, it is a bit naive to say, “You know, let’s not politicize it.” But it is political. It is political. And it has to be looked at in that way.” – Arundhati Roy on DemocracyNow!
Indian society has operated on the strict social caste system for more than 3,000 years, dividing society into four main categories: Brahmins (priests and teachers), Kshatriyas (soldiers and leaders), Vaishyas (farmers and merchants) and the Shudras (manual laborers).
There is a fifth, caste however, which Roy referenced: the Dalits, or the “untouchables.”
Dalits, or the Panchama, are the lowest of the low and spend their days sweeping streets, disposing of dead animals and carcasses, and cleaning public bathrooms.
This strict social stratification, and the perspective it cultivates, are what truly lie at the root of India’s sexual violence epidemic.
When a society’s day-to-day activities and economy are regulated by a system that values certain citizens’ lives above others, you will inevitably encounter situations in which those with higher status abuse those with lower status without consequence.
If that pattern is repeated hundreds of thousands of times over the course of multiple millennia, as is the case in India, what you are left with is a society in which those with the highest status feel entitled to treat people with lower status however they see fit, even if that means raping and murdering them, because they know that they will not face any consequences.
“This violent economic order can only function as a war against people and against the earth, and in that war, the rape against women is a very, very large instrument of war. We see that everywhere. And therefore, we have to have an end to the violence against women. If we have to have the dignity of women protected, then the multiple wars against the earth, through the economy, through greed, through capitalist, patriarchal domination, must end, and we have to recognize we are part of the earth. The liberation of the earth, the liberation of women, the liberation of all humanity is the next step of freedom we need to work for, and it’s the next step of peace that we need to create.” – Vandana Shiva on DemocracyNow!
Click here to donate to the Sulabh Sanitation Mission Foundation; Sulabh International is a nonprofit organization founded in 1970 that is focused on the liberation of the Dalit caste by focusing on the creation of sanitation infrastructure like public toilets and bath houses.
In 2014, two girls were raped and killed when they attempted to relieve themselves in a field in a rural part of Uttar Pradesh. Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, installed 108 toilets in the area after the attack because he felt that the girls would not have died if they’d had access to safe, indoor sanitation facilities.