Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sexual violence shatters India's rural-to-urban, rags-to-riches dream

In the weeks since a young Indian woman was gang raped with a metal rod, succumbing to her injuries a few weeks later in a Singapore hospital, the incident has been in the news.  Initially the brutality drew attention in India, and that attention--and resulting street riots--have also attracted international attention.   Many stories have mentioned that the rape and murder stirred such national ire because she was such a sympathetic victim, and in explaining what made her sympathetic, I have heard several news outlets describe her as "rural," but also as ambitious--a promising student of physiotherapy who represented the promise of India's next generation.

A story in today's New York Times follows up on these themes with a profile of the woman's family, featuring in particular her father, Badri Nath Singh, who recently returned to his natal village, Medawara Kalan, with the ashes of his 23-year-old daughter.  In Medawara Kalan, the Singh family have undertaken 13 days of Hindu funeral rituals.  Singh and his wife made this reverse migration 30 years after they left Medawara Kalan for New Delhi, seeking a living--their fortune, though certainly not fortunes--in the city.  Heather Timmons for the Times explains the circumstances of their migration:
“At the village we could not fulfill our needs, so it was inevitable to move out,” Mr. Singh said about the decision to leave three decades ago. Although his daughter was born in New Delhi, she returned often to the village with the family, just as many urban Indians still maintain ties to a family village. 
The move to New Delhi put Mr. Singh in the "first wave of a slow shift that is transforming India from the agrarian land of Mohandas K. Gandhi, who said India 'lives in its villages,' to a country of teeming megacities.  India had 23 cities with populations of more than one million in 1991, but more than 50 that size by 2011.  For more on what I have called India's urban juggernaut, read this.  Timmons continues with this comment on the continuing deprivations associated with rural India:
Little has changed in the village since Mr. Singh left, even as development spreads to the far corners of India. Electricity is scarce, farming is the only occupation, and the government school ends at fifth grade.
Timmons tells of how the Singh family sacrificed for their daughter, their first-born child, even over their sons.
To pay for school, Mr. Singh sold most of the land he owned in Medawara Kalan, borrowed money from family members and worked double shifts, 16 hours a day, loading luggage at the New Delhi airport.
The Singhs did so in part because of their daughter's aptitude for school and in part because they expected the daughter's career to finance the educations of her younger brothers.  One aspires to be an engineer, the other an astronaut.

The headline for the story is "For India Rape Victim's Family, Layers of Loss," and its final paragraphs suggest that one of those losses is innocence, and perhaps also community-- losses shared by the nation and characteristics associated with India's rural past.  In the events that took his daughter's life, Mr Singh sees "an overall decline in the country's national character"--a decline he links to urbanization.
[Mr. Singh] drew a parallel between the country’s move toward cities and individuals’ focus on earning more, and the events of that evening [his daughter was attacked]. 
“As there is increase in money, there is within the people greed,” he said. Such a crime never happened in his village, he said.

1 comment:

Miranda Dugan said...

I always cringe a little when I see articles that reference a, "sympathetic victim." It just reminds me of how many victims go unnoticed because they weren't an, "ideal citizen." In addition I think the fact that so many of these less-than-perfect-victims are ignored or given a hard time is why so many violent sexual crimes go unreported.