The teenage girl, dressed in pink, sits in the dirt before six community elders.
In a scene captured on a cellphone video, one of the men wags his finger angrily at her. He rages: This girl must be punished.
A villager ties her waist with rope, holding the other end, and lifts a tree branch into the air. She bows her head. The first lash comes, then another, then another. Ten in all. She lets out a wail.
Eventually the crowd starts murmuring, “Enough, enough,” although nobody moves to stop the beating. Finally, the man throws down his stick. It’s over.
She is 13 years old. Or maybe 15. Her family doesn’t know for sure. She has never set foot in a school and has spent most of her life doing chores at home, occasionally begging for food and performing in her father’s acrobatic show, for which she is given 20 rupees, about 30 cents.
Her crime? Being too scared to tell anyone her father raped her.
India is a country of 1.2 billion people, with a growing economy, a young population and an energetic prime minister eager to sell the country on the world stage. A generation of women taking stronger roles in the workforce, in colleges and online isn’t afraid to push against outdated misogyny — be it acid attacks, rape and sexual harassment, or the demeaning portrayal of women in movies and advertisements.
Yet patriarchal prejudices ingrained for centuries have been tough to shake loose despite a growing clamor for change — and continue to affect life from the village water pump to the judicial system and beyond.
Male-dominated village councils have existed in India for centuries to resolve disputes between neighbors and serve as enforcers of social mores in the country’s stratified caste system. Although elected village bodies were established by the Indian government in 1992, unelected clan councils continue to operate with impunity throughout rural India, issuing their own edicts in the name of preserving harmony.
Five years after the Supreme Court said such councils should be illegal, the central government and some states are only beginning to pass or contemplate laws that would limit their behavior.
These councils often prevent or break up marriages and love affairs between couples from different castes, and they have instigated honor killings. Women typically receive the harshest punishments.
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SOURCE: Annie Gowen
The Washington Post