Monday, August 31, 2015

India's Persistent Dark Ages

"Unelected village councils such as this are widespread in parts of India."
"More often than not they are made up of older men from dominant castes, who prescribe rules for social behaviour and interaction in villages."
"Nothing could justify this abhorrent punishment. It's not fair. It's not right. And it's against the law."
Amnesty International
atimes.com
Meenakshi Kumari, 23-year-old and her 15-year-old sister
Tradition plays a great role in Indian society, framing the culture and building social cohesion, all the more so in backward rural parts of the country where the social contract is sternly inimical to those who dare to contest religious norms like the Hindu caste system. Punishment is sternly abusive, harshly brutal, to ensure that the message is received and others fully understand that those who defy tradition and conformity can expect similar treatment.

This has happened often before in India, that a young man from a lowly caste falls in love with a young woman from an elevated caste; a union that society frowns upon and punishes, even though it is now illegal to discriminate against low-caste groups like the Dalit. But traditions and the cultural bias that elevates the Brahmin caste to believe that they are superior and the Dalit clearly inferior are difficult to overturn.

In a village in the Baghpat district outside of Delhi, a young man fell in love with a girl from the Jat caste, higher than the young man's Dalit caste; the proverbial 'untouchables' who traditionally were permitted to work at only menially degrading jobs that no one else would take. The young Jat woman had been married off in the traditional manner to someone whom the family had chosen but she escaped the marriage and eloped with the young Dalit.

This outrageous defiance of tradition would not be  tolerated, and a village council decided on a form of punishment deemed suitable to the crime. The council determined that the young man's two  sisters, one 15 the other 23, would be raped repeatedly and paraded naked through the village; their humiliated disgrace just punishment for their brother's unspeakable rejection of societal convention.

The Dalit family fled their village, seeking haven elsewhere. Their home was ransacked. Another brother of the two sisters informed Amnesty that the Jat caste were powerful members of the village council, and were determined to have their revenge: "The Jat decision is final. The police said anyone can be murdered now."

The Dalit family fears their lives will be forfeit should they return to their village. The 23-year-old sister Meenakshi Kumari, has filed a petition asking for protection for her family with India's Supreme Court. The head of the Dalit family, Meenakshi's father, has complained to two national bodies that he has been harassed both by police and by the family of the Jat woman.

And because the young woman who ran away with the Dalit man -- an event that drew in the entire family for punishment -- is believed to be pregnant with a Dalit child, there are now additional fears for her life.
"Rape is a revolting crime, not a punishment It's no wonder this disgusting 'sentence' has provoked global outrage."
"These Khap courts routinely order vile sexually violent punishments against women. India's supreme court has rightly declared such orders illegal."
"The government of Uttar Pradesh has an urgent duty to keep this family safe. There must also be a proper independent investigation into these barbaric and illegal orders which apparently continue to be issued by the khap panchayat courts."
Rachel Alcock, UK urgent action co-ordinator, Amnesty International
Amnesty International has launched a petition calling on India's authorities to immediately intervene to protect the two sisters and their family.

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