India’s People Respond to Rape

It would appear that while the Indian government is uncomfortable with a documentary about the brutal gang rape in which a young women’s entrails were literally pulled out of her body (sorry for the disturbing image), India’s people are not so squeamish.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and there were marches all over the world (report coming tomorrow), but I didn’t want to leave the story covered late last week so soon. There was another rape reported in Dimapur, the largest city in the Indian province of Nagaland, allegedly committed by Syed Sarif Khan (his name has been reported differently by several media outlets). There has been a question as to whether a rape was actually committed. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi reported that they had received an unofficial report of “no rape” while other news outlets state that a medical report claimed that a rape had indeed been committed. This mattered little to a crowd that formed on March 5, storming the jail in which Mr. Khan was held, pulling him out, dragging and beating him through the streets until he lay dead. Upsetting and terrifying, but it says something to me about the desire from the Indian people for justice in rape cases.

As was examined last week, rape in India is high – though few cases are reported because of the fear of the stain on a woman’s and her family’s honour. This creates a pressure cooker situation – women are repressed and forced to keep their place in a society that doesn’t value them as highly as it does men. An excerpt from a New York Times article belays my point:

Ms. Gupta had been listening silently, but when the conversation turned to the question of who is to blame for sexual assault she spoke up sharply.

“Everything’s always the girl’s fault, from birth to death,” she said. “If the parents of boys would ask them why they are out so late at night, this kind of thing wouldn’t happen. But when a girl is outside at 7 or 8 o’clock the neighbors start talking about her.”

Mr. Anuragi acknowledged her point: For spending money, he said, he is given 500 rupees or about $8, while his sister is given only 200 rupees, though he has never been entirely sure why. Sisters and brothers are raised with an entirely different set of rules, Ms. Gupta said, increasingly angry.

“Girls obey their parents, and boys don’t,” she said. “If a girl ever tried to do what a boy does, the family would come down very hard on her.”

So women who are stuck in a very strict moral code that doesn’t necessarily allow them the basic fundamental human rights are now seeing some measure of justice meted out to the starkest offenders. The response? The lid on that pressure cooker is starting to tremble. I don’t condone the killing of anyone for their actions – I much prefer a system of justice in which a person stands accused for their actions. In this case, Mr. Khan may not have been guilty – he hadn’t yet been tried and evidence may point to his innocence. If that is true, an innocent man has been publicly beaten to death. If not, a rapist has been lynched in the streets.

Personal opinions about justice aside, I suspect that we’re at a critical turning point in India’s social attitudes towards women, at least in major cities. Change is often only achieved through extraordinary measures. I don’t condone or advocate for public lynchings, but I do advocate respect for women and change in repressive societies.


Originally published by The New York Times on March 9, 2015. Written by Nida Najar.


NEW DELHI — Photographs and videos on social media of an enraged mob that seized a man accused of rape from a jail in the northeastern Indian state of Nagaland, dragged him through the streets and beat him to death helped lead to the arrests of 22 people over the weekend, the authorities said.

The police identified 200 to 300 people who had either been involved in the violence that erupted in the city of Dimapur on Thursday or helped incite it, according to Wabang Jamir, a police inspector general in Kohima, the capital of Nagaland. More arrests were likely in the coming days, Mr. Jamir said, adding that it was unclear whether some of those arrested belonged to organized groups.

Another senior police official, Akheto Sema, said the thousands of people who descended on the jail were “a frenzied, leaderless, headless mob.”

The charges against those arrested included unlawful assembly, rioting and arson. Shops were burned during the protests that sprang up on Wednesday and Thursday, after it was learned that a man said to be an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh had been arrested in the rape of a woman from a Naga tribe. As yet, none of those arrested have been charged in his death.

A curfew was imposed in Dimapur, and the authorities, saying that they wished to prevent the spread of “rumors,” blacked out mobile Internet and text services throughout Nagaland.

The Nagaland police said that the man accused of rape, whom Mr. Jamir identified as Syed Sarif Khan — other reports rendered his name somewhat differently — came from the neighboring Indian state of Assam.

A brother of Mr. Khan in Assam, speaking to the news channel NDTV, said that his brother was an Indian citizen and denied that the woman had been attacked. Mr. Jamir, however, said that a medical report indicated rape. He also said that the Assam police should help look into Mr. Khan’s origins.

“I hope they will because right now we have a law-and-order situation on our hands, so there are limits to the speed at which we can do the investigation,” Mr. Jamir said.

The killing screamed from the front pages of newspapers and flashed across screens all over India, a gruesome example of the often fierce collective response to allegations of sexual assault.

It occurred days after the Indian government banned a BBC documentary about a 2012 gang rape and murder, yet the deadly outburst in Dimapur seemed to be conflated with tensions, growing over the past few years in the overwhelmingly tribal and Christian state of Nagaland, over the rising numbers of mostly Muslim migrants, and the suspicion that some of the outsiders were connected to crimes.

The seizure and beating of Mr. Khan, recorded by spectators on their smartphones, also demonstrated the ineffectual response of the police, who opened fire, killing a protester, only after Mr. Khan had been killed.

Police officials said that officers outside the jail did not fire on the crowd because there were many young students in its ranks. It remained unclear how the mob entered the jail and took Mr. Khan. Two police officials and a district administrative official in Dimapur were suspended on Friday.

Though there was no specific religious overtone to the killing, Ahidur Rahman, a leader of the Muslim Council of Dimapur, said that a “few hundred” Muslim families had fled Dimapur in its wake.

Mr. Jamir, the police inspector general, denied that Muslims were departing in any significant numbers. But Mr. Rahman insisted that the railway station was full of people, bags packed and hoping to catch night trains, and that his group had deployed its youth wing to persuade them not to leave.