One night in Katra Shahadatganj in northern India, two girls aged 12 and 14 disappeared in the fields where they had gone to relieve themselves. Like half of the population, they had no toilets at home. The next day their bodies were found hanging from a tree. They had been raped.
The incident provoked a national outrage as fierce as the one that greeted an equally horrific incident in December 2012. The latter was the gang rape of a 23-year-old woman inside a moving bus by a group of men in New Delhi. The woman was with her boyfriend, who was beaten badly. The woman eventually died in hospital as a result of her wounds from mutilation.
The perpetrators of that deed were caught, as have been those who raped and hanged the two girls. But it’s clear that the outrage of two years ago has done little to deter the mind-boggling prevalence of rape in India, to which foreigners have not been exempt. With the rapists not normally being caught. It’s almost as if rape were the most normal thing in the world, with women and girls being seen by men as fair game. With only the off-chance of being caught to offer some kind of deterrent.
As one woman from Katra Shahadatganj, who also uses the fields to relieve herself, puts it, she is always in great fear when she does it. The most dangerous thing in the tall grass, she says, is not snakes, it is animals on two legs.
During the last elections, the father of the head of the ruling party of Uttar Pradesh caused a furor when he scoffed at the idea of the death penalty being imposed on rapists, saying “boys will be boys.”
In Pakistan and Iraq, two young women have been murdered separately in the name of honor. Farzana Parveen, 25, was on the way to the courthouse when a mob led by her father accosted her. She was contesting her father’s charge that she had been abducted by her husband, who was not the man her family had promised her to. She had married for love. She was dragged to the ground, beaten, and stoned to death, the stoning led by her father as well. Her father and several members of her family have been arrested, but few expect the case against them to progress. “Honor killing” is tolerated, if not encouraged, in those parts.
In northern Iraq, Dua Khalil, 17, a Kurdish girl whose religion is Yazidi, was often seen in the company of a Sunni Muslim man. That was enough for her relatives to decree that she must die. Last month they accosted her in public, dragged her to the ground in a headlock, kicked and beat her, and stoned her to death. They did this in front of police who looked on and did nothing.
In the Sudan, a pregnant woman has been sentenced to death for “adultery.” The adultery consisted of marrying a Christian man. They were formally married in church in 2011, but the courts refused to acknowledge it. Under Sudanese law, the marriage of a Muslim woman to a man of another faith is a crime punishable by death. The sentence has been suspended only until such time as the woman gives birth. She is on her eighth month.
Amnesty International is fiercely protesting the ruling, saying there is no shred of justice in the law. Which violates Sudan’s own constitution guaranteeing freedom of worship. The United States, too, where the woman’s husband is currently working, is protesting the ruling, calling for it to be reversed. The world waits with bated breath for what happens next.
Not quite incidentally, to show that this is not just a matter of religion, the proscription against marrying outside the faith applies only to Sudanese women. Sudanese men may marry non-Muslims.
I was almost tempted, after reading all these in the past weeks, to thank God that we have not been caught in the vise of these insanities. But shortly after I thought that, I read about the overseas Filipino worker in Pangasinan who raped his two daughters aged 12 and 5 while on vacation from his work in Saudi Arabia. For a month or so he made life a living hell for his daughters, until he left and the kids told their lola about it. The furious grandmother promptly reported it to the authorities, and they are trying to get his passport revoked. The kids’ mother, an OFW in Lebanon, fully supports the case against her husband.
Your first reaction to something like this is to ask in Filipino, “Anong klaseng kahayupan ’to (What kind of depravity is this)?” How can anyone do this to his own kids who are moreover barely past their toddler stage? It’s past comprehension and forgiving. I do hope the man’s passport is revoked and he is brought back here to face the consequences of his heinous deed.
But this case also made me recall how I’ve written, particularly in the 1990s, about the equally mind-boggling prevalence of incest in this country. The Pangasinan case is by no means isolated, though it is remarkable for the ages of the victims. The rape of daughters happens if not routinely at least not surprisingly in the slums, with family members themselves conspiring to silence the victims.
You can blame a host of things for why these perversities or kahayupan happen—lack of law and order, lack of harsh punishments, religion, custom, atavistic laws, poverty, people thrown together and deprived of privacy—but in the end, they all feed in one trough.
And that is scorn for women. That is contempt for women. Or since even scorn and contempt presume seeing them, it is not seeing them at all. Not as flesh and blood anyway, not as human beings anyway, but as objects, tradable commodities, playthings, automatons, relievers of biological needs, parausan. To be disposed of, like condoms, after use. Otherwise, how in God’s, or Satan’s, name can you feel no compassion, or compunction, at all for your own flesh and blood?
It’s a frightening world out there for women.
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