Strange fruit hanging from the mango tree. Villagers gathered in a circle around its bitter crop, congregating as if for Harvest Festival. In the front row a girl of seven or eight looks up, awestruck.The awful thing that strikes me, looking down at a photograph of this scene in Northern India, is the beauty of the two human forms which the young girl is gazing up at. Dressed in colourful shalwar kameez (turquoise and crimson and purple), they float upon the breeze, heads bowed in a picture of modesty.But these are the corpses of the two teenage cousins of Katra, a remote village in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh; low caste Dalits who were gang raped, then hung until dead with ropes slung over the lower branches of a nearby tree – in a grove of mangoes only 250m from where they lived.
When the low caste girls were first reported missing on the night of 27 May, their plight was ignored by police officers who belong to the higher caste of Yadav. Even when they were found murdered, the police were slow to respond; hence the solemn vigil ofpoor villagers who would not allow the girls’ bodies to be cut down until their death was registered across the world.
Since then the authorities have been keen to be seen leaping into action. Arrests made, suspects displayed; two of them shown roped together – boyish, sheepish and unkempt; strung out by what is happening to them (but at least they have not been strung up).
In the cool of the evening, the girls had gone out into the fields to defecate. Not that Father was in the lavatory reading the News of the Screws. Pull the other one! In theplace they called home there simply is no sanitation.
Hours later they were swinging free of the trials and tribulations of rural poverty: no longer yoked to heat and dust; cut loose from the dumb repetition of agricultural toil.
Continually coercive drudgery, lives lived by a thousand and one degradations, punctuated by short and nasty episodes of brutal violence. This combination amounts to a whole way of being for millions of the rural poor.
Didn’t it kill the two teenagers of Katra as much as the criminals who kidnapped them?