Sunday, March 09, 2008

Sad Sunday

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, March 9, 2008

THE OTHER HALF

Kalpana Sharma

The euphoria over India’s achievements in the field of sports on Sunday, March 2 — the under-19 Cricket World Cup victory, the win over World Champions Australia in Sydney by the Indian Cricket Team, and the Indian hockey team defeating Austria in Santiago, Chile — was somewhat dimmed for me by three news items that appeared in Mumbai’s newspapers. One could argue that one should not get so perturbed at such news, that newspapers always report bad news and that often such news is exaggerated and sensationalised. It would be comforting to believe this. Unfortunately, the real story is likely to be worse as these stories are probably indicative of many more such incidents that never get recorded.

The most upsetting was the report about a 12-year-old Nepali girl who had been tortured and sexually abused by her employers. The Superintendent of Police (Thane Rural), Naval Bajaj was quoted as saying, “The little girl’s condition is spine-chilling. She has scars from deep stab wounds all over her body and we cannot even think of the scars these incidents have left on her mind.” (Mumbai Mirror, March 2, 2008) The girl’s mother was a domestic help who trusted her employer when the latter took the little girl with her to
Pune. Little did she suspect that her child would be the victim of this kind of torture.

Traumatised lives

On the same day, another story appeared in the newspapers about young schoolgirls in class III and IV, studying in an English medium primary school outside Mumbai, being sexually molested by their school principal. He would call them for extra tuitions on a Saturday and instead of teaching them, he would molest them and threaten that if they told anyone, he would ensure that they failed in their exams. Three of the girls finally broke down and told their parents. As a result, the parents lodged a complaint with the local police and the man has been arrested. The law will now take its own course. But in the meantime, these young girls are traumatised and their parents are beginning to wonder whether it is safe for anyone to send their daughters to school.

Last month, another story from an educational institution in Gujarat raised similar questions. In that instance, in the town of Patan in north Gujarat, an 18-year-old Dalit girl training to be a primary school teacher revealed that she had been gang-raped on numerous occasions by six male teachers for six months. They threatened to fail her if she reported these incidents. The Patan issue has now become a political hot potato with students of the teachers’ training institute demanding a judicial inquiry.

The third is the story of the wife of a jeweller in Mumbai who has been thrown out of her house with a
20-month old baby and a two-year-old because she failed to produce a son. After the first daughter,
she was forced to undergo two abortions because they found out the sex of the unborn child. The third
time, she carried the child to term only to realise that it was another girl. Her husband and his family
have thrown her out of her house. They were even willing to commit her to a mental institution. The
woman turned to the police for help. Hence the story has been told.

Three different stories but one common thread
— the vulnerability of girls and women inside
and outside their homes.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)

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