12:30 PM, February 15, 2022
Do not approach them, do not pick them up. Padma and Lali’s parents, the deceased teens, don’t want to hear anything. Those who are usually invisible to people and the world, expose themselves to others and, even worse, make decisions that are reserved for men. Because they know that “reputation is whipped”. They know their country and culture, they are aware of the fact that if the bodies are taken down, the police will do nothing and the investigation will be spoiled.
At this exact moment of tragedy, on May 28, 2016, in Katra, a small village in this state where current Prime Minister Narendra Modi belongs, these educating mothers want to preserve the honor of their daughters, by blocking male hands. touch up. They are fighting to destabilize the system and to ensure that the perpetrator or perpetrators are prosecuted and arrested.
Layers, a devastating system
It took a woman to come back to this Indian news that happened in 2016. It will be a journalist of Indian origin, Sonia Valleiro. Who is better able to comprehend and perceive all the subtleties and customs of a country that still operates under a class system. “I rented a car, support Sonia Valiero running through Paris to promote this book that took him four years of his life, and it went everywhere. I didn’t feel in danger for a moment. You know why? Because I am protected by my class and because I am a journalist. Take the example of a chair. “In this part of the country a woman would never allow herself to sit on the same level as a man. I sat in a chair. No one came to tell me anything.”
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However, not everything was so simple before taking this trip. His friends begged him to bring a knife or tear gas canisters, or even take a bus. We understand that traveling to India when you are a woman, even if you were born into a “good class” remains a complex business.
In the year of Padama and Lali’s disappearance, 12,361 people were kidnapped in Uttar Pradesh alone, the author writes. This represents 16% of kidnappings nationwide, or one child kidnapped every eight minutes in India. You have to go back in time to understand why this tragedy in a remote countryside had such an effect. Four years ago, on a cold December evening in Delhi, a 23-year-old physiotherapy trainee was walking home with a friend. The couple took the bus without realizing that it was not public transportation.
Six men threw themselves at them, and raped the young woman with an iron rod, which they pushed into the diaphragm. When she was taken to the hospital, she was still alive but her guts came out of her stomach. The nation is amazed. Extremely violent demonstrations broke out in the capital, and the press broke out. The first result, the laws already in force are strengthened. The second result, the rapes finally entered the public debate. Before this tragedy, Sonya Valero again explains, the problem of sexual abuse was not addressed publicly, only in the circle of activists, but after everything changed. The topic has become national, it is present in all conversations. »
Why so many rape cases?
Everyone has a phone. Including in the farthest corners of Uttar Pradesh. If mothers can ensure that no one comes into contact with their daughters’ bodies for a moment, they can do nothing against the photos. And if it was not appropriate for women to have Katra cell phones, men would and would not hesitate to photograph the two hanged men. As a result, tragedy sways on WhatsApp at high speed.
For the locals who stormed the road to the grove where the bodies still hang, this is clearly a double murder. The press will play its inflationary role in the guise of a 27-year-old who has been covering the western part of Uttar Pradesh for several years now. This is Ankur Chaturvedi the local correspondent of Aaj Tak, one of the most watched Indian TV channels with at least 100 million viewers. The drama becomes national, the fate of young girls, everyone’s business, they are necessarily killed and raped.
But what is happening in this country, people finally dare to ask? Why so many rape cases? For Sonia Valleiro, there is no single answer. It is a problem of caste, lack of education, poverty, lack of economic opportunity for women. The latter is constantly exploited, and sexual abuse is one of the expressions of this exploitation. »
Sonia Valero is moving slowly. Slowly like the investigation at the time. The picture you draw is disarming. Corruption, political recovery and neglect of the local police who believe that with the deaths of the girls, the case will be quickly closed. The commissioner is naive because the story takes on dizzying proportions a week after the events. To the point of involving the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), an agency born out of the ashes of a colonial-era special unit. Unlike the police, CBI officers are highly regarded.
Also when a team of ten people led by a reputable inspector is sent to the area, the parents are convinced that this time, justice will be served. The journalist’s careful investigation provides a more accurate truth. Lying from relatives, friends or neighbors, everyone seems to have something to hide. So there will be no heroes in this story. Victims yes. Terrible, no doubt. But there again, Sonia Valero lifts the veil. “Mothers are the real heroines of this tragic accident,” she breathes. They are women who cannot read or write but who heard about an organized gang rape in Delhi in 2012. By preventing young girls from ejaculating, they made a bold, brave and intelligent act. Thanks to them, the press was turned away, the police ordered it, and no one forgot about it. »
The author wrote very beautifully: “Reputation is the skin.” Imagine these two mothers, bloodied by pain and crushed by the weight of a culture of oppression for women, imagine the strength of character they had to display. “They wanted to save the honor of their daughters, I concluded, with admiration, Sonia Valleiro. And they succeeded.”
good girls By Sonia Valiero, translated by Natalie Perrone, Marchesali editions, 400 pages, €22.