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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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First It Was Poland's Farmers — Now Truckers Are Protesting Ukraine's Special Status

For the past month, Poland has been blocking off its border checkpoints to Ukrainian trucks, leaving many in days-long lines. It's a commercial and economic showdown, but it's about much more.

Photogrqph of a line of trucks queued in the  Korczowa - border crossing​

November 27, 2023, Medyka: Trucks stand in a queue to cross the border in Korczowa as Polish farmers strike and block truck transport in Korczowa - border crossing

Dominika Zarzycka/ZUMA
Katarzyna Skiba

Since November 6, Polish truckers have blocked border crossing points with Ukraine, citing unfair advantages given to the Ukrainian market, and demanding greater support from the European Union.

With lines that now stretch for up to 40 kilometers (25 miles), thousands of Ukrainian truckers must now wait an average of about four days in ever colder weather to cross the border, sometimes with the help of the Polish police. At least two Ukrainian truck drivers have died while waiting for passage into Poland.

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The round-the-clock blockade is being manned by Polish trucking unions who claim that Ukrainian trucking companies, which offer a cheaper rate, have been transporting goods across Europe, rather than between Poland and Ukraine. Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion, Ukrainian truckers have been exempt from the permits once required to cross the border.

Now, Polish truckers are demanding that their government reintroduce entry permits for Ukrainian lorries, with exceptions for military and humanitarian aid from Europe. For the moment, those trucks are being let through the blockade, which currently affects four out of Ukraine’s eight border crossings with Poland.

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