India's Plague Of Systematic Rape Has Not Abated

Women's bodies have become proxy battlegrounds for prejudice and intolerance, a brutal means of imposing power over a community or caste.

A vigil for another victim of rape and murder
A vigil for another victim of rape and murder
Poonam Muttreja and Farhan Akhtar*

NEW DELHI — January 2018 will be etched in the history of our country – we will remember it like we do December 2012, to remember the eight-year-old Bakarwal girl like we do Jyoti Singh (or Nirbhaya) and the horrors that some men are capable of. The gang-rape and murder of the eight-year-old, who loved horses and playing in the meadows, has brought us to our knees in grief and shame.

The blood-curdling details of this case that unfolded in Kathua in Jammu come days after a 16-year-old girl attempted suicide outside the residence of the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. It was a desperate cry for help. The girl accused a BJP assembly member, Kuldeep Singh Sengar and his brother along with their accomplices, of raping her in June. The incident escalated when it was reported that her father died while in Unnao police's custody.

Painful as it is, the rape of these two girls is not a one-off story. In India, it is one of the most common forms of violence against women and girls, a way of displaying male dominance; rape is also a means of further emasculating the marginalized, a way to demonstrate class and caste superiority. However, the story of the eight-year-old in Kathua and that of the teenager from Unnao is unique in the total collapse of the constitutional means that a victim has to pursue justice. In both cases, the victims and their families have been deliberately dehumanized by the custodians of the law. There has been a blatant disregard for legal procedure, and inhumane politics has been deployed to protect the perpetrators and whip up communal discord.

The hand of the law, it seems, cannot reach that high.

We are in a playground where the bully picks on a small child because he knows there is no fight. These are cold-blooded crimes carried out by those who do not fear the consequences of terrorizing minority communities and violating moral codes of conduct. The hand of the law, it seems, cannot reach that high. All the progress and development we may lay claim to, cannot redeem us from our failing, as the pillars of our democracy crumble yet again.

The twin cases of Unnao and Kathua are examples of rape being used as a weapon, not as a crime of unfulfilled sexual desire, or the revenge of a spurned lover, but as a hate crime. We have seen similar instances before in the rape and murder of Thangjam Manorama in Manipur or in the rape of Bilkis Bano and the murder of her family during the 2002 riots of Godhra.

Women hold placards during a protest in Manipur against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. In 2004, 32-year-old Thangjam Manorama was raped and murdered, allegedly by a group of Assam Rifles men.

In situations of conflict, women and girls are particularly targeted with the use of sexual violence as a tactic to humiliate, subjugate, to instill fear, and disperse members of the community. The systematic rape of women and girls is also used as a strategy in ethnic cleansing, as we have seen strife-torn zones – in Bosnia, the Vietnam War, the Nellie Massacre and more recently the Rohingya crisis.Women become a metaphor of territorial conquest, a means of adding insult to injury and robbing the last shred of dignity.

A Kashmiri girl a placard she participates in the protest demanding justice for 8-year old Asifa​ Photo: Faisal Khan/ZUMA

Our mind cannot fathom the details of this case, the smiling face of the little girl juxtaposed with her battered and dusty body, and the eight men who conspired to carry out such unspeakable violence. We catalogue it as a hate crime to at least try and make sense of what is a senseless and barbaric act of violence. It threatens to obscure the bruised image of the little girl and numb the outrage we are experiencing. Instead, we need to say out loud what many of us have silently feared for a few years now – India is in the midst of a crisis.

Women facing such gruesome acts of violence, like canaries in a coal mine, are giving out signals of impending social strife. Their bodies have become proxy battlegrounds suffering the prejudice and intolerance of men and majoritarian sentiments. We need to avoid getting complacent; we should pay heed, and push back, we should ensure that the perpetrators do not become our leaders tomorrow, lest we compromise on the rights and dignity of the marginalized.

*Poonam Muttreja is Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India. Farhan Akhtar is the founder of MARD (Men Against Rape & Discrimination) and an actor, director, singer, songwriter, and producer.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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