Did Jyoti Singh Pandey Die For Nothing?

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Imagine being a fifteen year old girl, I know I don’t miss what being a teenager brought with it, the heartache, the hormones, getting used to periods and getting breasts, dealing with boys and other teenage girls. Now imagine being fifteen year old girl that lives in a village in the Baghpat area in India, not too far away from Delhi. Imagine being informed that you, as well as your older sister, are to be gang raped and humiliated as punishment for your brother’s crimes, a crime which to most of us is anything but a criminal act; simply falling in love. Imagine not having to worry about which outfit you’re going to wear to hang out with your friends on a Friday night, but instead you have to live in constant fear, fear that your life is going to be destroyed forever, fear that the people you should be able to trust when no one else is there, the police, would be more likely to turn a blind eye than to protect your life against men who see it as their right to abuse someone because it doesn’t follow their viewpoints, their social standards, their prejudice laws.

Village councils are widespread in the areas outside of India’s larger cities. They are mainly made up of men from the higher caste, men of high social standing, who take it upon themselves to regulate their village, not in accordance with Indian law, but following social guidelines that they have set, often discriminatory against lower castes and women. A group of men like this decided that 23 year old Meenakshi Kumari and her 15 year old sister should be gang raped, their faces blackened and that they then should be paraded naked through the village to punish the family after their brother dared to love a woman of the Jat caste, and even worse act on that love. This ruling to avenge the dishonour brought onto the Jat caste woman’s family in a warped “eye for an eye” mentality along with the fact that two girls and their family now have to live in fear because of such a ruling makes you wonder whether anything has actually changed in India in the last three years.

A lot of promises were made by Indian officials after the death of Jyoti Singh Pandey in December 2012. Pandey was travelling with a male friend when the two were attacked on a private bus in South Delhi, whilst her friend was viciously beaten Pandey was gang raped and physically assaulted by the men on the bus, sustaining injuries that would lead to her death fifteen days later. There was no regret shown by her abusers and one of the lawyers of the defendants went as far as to say that the woman herself and her male companion were at fault, saying amongst other things he had never heard of an occasion when something similar had happened to a “respectable women.” Religious leader Asaram Bapu caused a lot of anger when in the month following the attack he told his followers that “guilt is not one-sided,” before adding that if the 23 year old physiotherapy intern had pleaded with her six attackers in the name of God and informed them that she was of the “weaker sex” her attackers would have relented. As shocking as such opinions may be to those of us who live in countries where even expressing such an opinion may have legal repercussions, they are widespread in India, where violence against women remains high, marital rape is legal and woman can be forced to marry whomever their male family members chose.

The fact remains that after the death of Pandey, after the initial anger and outrage passed, little was followed through from the side of the government to prevent similar things to take place. Little is done to prevent the abuse of young girls and women, and should they come from families where the male members would protect their family ahead of going along with the wishes of village elders, or go against members of a higher caste, they may suffer torture and abuse themselves. The government does not want to intervene. They do not want to go against a powerful caste like the Jat, because they do not want to lose valuable votes. Up until recently politicians rarely even cared about the female vote, knowing full well that many women would vote as told by their husbands. How can a country change, when those in charge of the country are fundamentally sexist? How can women feel safe when the police continue to turn their backs on women, now that the spotlight is no longer on their country? How can the rest of the world continue to ignore serious issues until a tragedy that is so horrible that it becomes impossible to ignore as it gets thrust at us by every newspaper and every TV channel?

It is vital that the plight of Meenakshi Kumari, her sister and the rest of their family is taken on by organisations such as Amnesty International and other human right groups, but it is also vital that we all take it upon ourselves to fight discrimination anywhere, in any way that we can. Contact your Member of Parliament, your Prime Minister or your President, demand from them that they fight for important causes, not just what they see as important, but what should be more important than anything else; human life. It doesn’t matter if it happens in your country, or half way across the world, a life is worth just as much wherever they live, and everyone should be able to live without a fear of persecution because they are seen as less worthy because of their gender, their religion, their skin colour or sexual orientation. It’s important that you care. Care when injustice is done across the world, just as you would care if it happened on your street, and do anything you can do to stop it happening again, take two minutes to sign a petition or spend ten minutes writing a letter, raise awareness, whether you tell one friend or a hundred strangers. Do not let Jyoti Singh Pandey, or others like her, die for nothing.

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