I am Spartacus…

In their book, Half the Sky, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn tell the story of an Indian neighbourhood – Kasturba Nagar – a place where the inhabitants are Dalits (Untouchables) and the lanes run with sewage and desperation.

For almost fifteen years, Akku Yadav and his gang ruled the slum with weapons of terror.  They robbed, tortured and murdered at will – much of the time choosing rape as their preferred method of controlling the people.  In this area rape is so stigmatizing that the victims often remained silent, which allowed Akku Yadav to act with impunity.  The few that reported the crime were ignored by the police.

The slum-dwellers say Akku Yadav once raped a woman right after her wedding and that he and his gang dragged another woman – who was seven months pregnant – into the street where they raped her in public view.  They also gang-raped another woman just ten days after she’d given birth – that woman was so humiliated she killed herself by dousing herself with kerosene and setting herself on fire.

In addition to the rapes, Akku Yadav once stripped a man, burned him with cigarettes and made him dance in front of his sixteen year old daughter and tortured a woman by cutting off her breasts and cutting her to pieces in front of her daughter and neighbours.   One man, Avinash Tiwari, planned to go to the police, so Akku Yadav butchered him as well.

The inhabitants were terrified of Akku Yadav.  25 families moved away but most had no hope of escape, so they took their daughters out of school and hid them in their houses to try to protect them. And the police didn’t help – as long as Yadav targeted Dalits they didn’t interfere.

Usha Narayane is from this neighbourhood but her parents struggled and saved all their lives to educate her and her siblings.  She has a degree in hotel management and was due to begin work when she went home for a visit.

Akku Yadav was rampaging as usual.  He raped a thirteen-year-old girl and then he and his men went to the neighbours of the Narayanes to demand money. The gang broke up the house and threatened to kill the family.  The neighbours were too terrified to act, so Usha went to the police to file a complaint for them.

The police told Akku Yadav what she had done and he and 40 men surrounded Usha’s house.  Yadav had a bottle of acid and he shouted at Usha to back down.  She barricaded herself inside and called the police – but they didn’t come.  So Usha turned on the gas in her house and told Yadav if he came in she’d blow them all up.

The neighbors were unsure what to do but when they saw Usha fighting back it gave them courage and they hurled sticks and stones at Yadav and his men.  The gang ran off.  The Dalits were ecstatic – for the first time ever they had defeated Akku Yadav and his men. The slum-dwellers burned down Yadav’s house and he was arrested for his own protection.

Akku Yadav’s bail hearing was scheduled and rumour had it that he’d bribed the police and was going to be released.  The hearing was set for a court miles away in Nagpur. Hundreds of Dalit women marched to attend. Akku Yadav strutted into court, confident and unrepentant. He saw a woman he had raped and called her a prostitute and said he’d rape her again. She ran forward and hit him with a slipper and then all the women came forward and surrounded him screaming and shouting.  They threw chili powder at the police guarding him and then the women pulled out knives and began to stab Akku Yadav.  They had agreed that each of them would stab him at least once.  They killed him and cut off his penis and then marched back to Kasturba Nagar. The slum had a party – the monster was dead.

Everyone knew Usha Narayane had orchestrated the murder but she wasn’t in court that day and though she was arrested nobody could prove her involvement.  The woman had decided if they all stabbed him no one wound – or one woman – could be said to have killed him.  A public outcry followed the murder of Akku Yadav and the plight of Kasturba Nagar became public.  A retired high court judge took the part of the women saying they’d sought help from the police and had been abandoned.

This is the type of story that clearly demonstrates to me the type of moral dilemma that plagues our world.  Akka Yadav had clearly caused immense suffering and was no loss to humanity.  The police were corrupt and the Dalits had no recourse to justice.  One has to wonder if it is just to allow suffering to continue.  Or to allow the tyrant to thrive.

And yet…

Perhaps it’s the savagery of the attack but somehow the solution feels wrong as well.  It reminds me of war. But having said that – what else could they do?

I don’t know the answer.

What do you think?

20 comments on “I am Spartacus…

  1. John Goggins says:

    I hate these moral dilemmas, yet I have to recall the actions of the early Baha’is in the face of what can only be described as genocide, some of which continues to this day. These spiritual giants were the Dalits of their day. Would webe able to folow their example? Hope I’m not tested.

    • I know John – I think the thing here is that the injustice was so tied up with this one man and potentially – at least in theory – eradicable by getting rid of him. But is evil ever really eradicated by doing other bad stuff? And yet – what about all the people their actions saved? Very knotty, entirely! Thanks for commenting.

  2. I understand your misgivings, I am very happy the women are no longer being terrorised by him, but it doesn’t feel like a solution. The world hasn’t become safer, the vulnerable have been forced to violence.
    Thanks to the community I’m part of (I’m a Jehovah’s Witness) I do feel I have made some sense of these things and have found genuine hope (I don’t want to abuse your hospitality by blathering on about it here)
    I really appreciate your raising this though, as the more secure you feel the easier it is to blinker yourself. It takes a lot of emotional/intellectual energy to process such events, but there is little more important with which to grapple.
    Thank you for your thoughtful/thought provoking blog.

    • I think that you have named the core of my dilemma – ‘The world hasn’t become safer, the vulnerable have been forced to violence.’ And still how many people were saved by his death? It is seems to be so difficult for us (well, me anyway) to find a balanced place between the aggressive/submissive poles – it is so deeply embedded in our adaptive nature that it feel right but I suspect we need to find new solutions that are neither submissive or aggressive. Not sure what they will look like. Thanks for your helpful comment.

  3. ElizOF says:

    A moral dilemma indeed. The man was a demon and perhaps met his own karmic justice. Murder is wrong but this story has such compelling parts that it makes one wonder …. Food for thought. TY! TY for your patience as I have been adjusting to a changed schedule in my life … Glad to comment again. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment – as I keep saying I am totally split inside myself with this one – full of ‘on the one hand’ and then ‘on the other hand’! Hope your new schedule is working out – thanks again!

  4. nrhatch says:

    As I understand it, the Buddhist commitment to “non-violence” is not the same as the Western principle of pacifism:

    At Harvard in April 2009, the Dalai Lama explained that “wrathful forceful action” motivated by compassion, may be “violence on a physical level” but is “essentially nonviolence”. So we must be careful to understand what “nonviolence” means. Under the right conditions, it could include killing a terrorist.


  5. nrhatch says:

    The Buddha, in a past life as a ship’s captain named Super Compassionate, discovered a criminal on board who intended to kill the 500 passengers.

    If he told the passengers, they would panic and become killers themselves, as happened on a Southwest Airlines flight in 2000.

    With no other way out, he compassionately stabbed the criminal to death.

    Captain Compassionate saved the passengers not only from murder, but from becoming murderers themselves. Unlike him, they would have killed in rage and suffered hell.

    He saved the criminal from becoming a mass murderer and even worse suffering. He himself generated vast karmic merit by acting with compassion.

  6. Ann Gray says:

    I’m with the retired judge on this one, I think it was collective self-defense. What was in the minds of the individual women (for example whoever got the idea of castrating him) may have been personal revenge taken in the moment of opportunity, or it may have been a clear warning to other men in case they couldn’t take a hint. Of course it’s not a long term solution and could lead to more violence or it may start the community on a path to justice, one that does not require them to get blood on their hands. I wonder what happened next……

    • Thanks for the comment Ann – I think the castration is one of the things that does bother me and I suppose that is because it does seem more like vengeance than justice – mind you I have to say I even understand that, though I think it’s a mistake and yet…not simple in any way.

  7. Nicole says:

    Wow, What an incredible story. Quite sad considering we live in the 21st century. This reminds me of days of barbarianism. I think that this is a symptom of what has caused war and suffering for many women and men worldwide. The fear of rape and abuse keeps women much more “hidden”, while a feeling of not being protected by the police also adds insult to injury.
    I think that we can see this in our culture as well, when we think of victim blaming and how many men, and now women are called liars and shut down when they come forward with sexual abuse.
    There are some deeply lodged traumas in the history of our race, especially towards women, acknowledging them, I believe, will help to heal them.

    Thank you so much for sharing!


    • Thanks for the comment, Nicole. Women in western societies are often still victims of rape and abuse but it is easy to forget that these situations are even worse in most of the world. We need to learn to defend each other and then maybe some of us won’t have to go to such extremes to defend ourselves.

  8. Nicole says:

    I meant to say women, and now men ; )

  9. granbee says:

    While I think violence normally begats violence, there is an additional quality to the group effort of these women: mutual protection, mutual compassion, mutual concern for other future female victims! I believe this is at least part of what the Dalai Lama was teaching at Harvard. Just as a mother killing someone lunging towards her infant with a knife would be motivated from compassion rather than anger.

    • Thanks for the comment – I have to agree that it was self-defense and also defense of others – and whether or not I should sympathize with Yaddav, I have to admit I don’t. I agree with the Buddha – the world was better off without him and he was also better off dead. I keep thinking of the women though – important as it is to stand up for yourself, murder is life-altering for everyone involved.

  10. Tilly Bud says:

    These women used violence as a last resort; for Yaddav it was a way of life. People are shocked by the women’s behaviour, but not by the violence perpetrated against them and their families. Perhaps the shock comes from downtrodden people standing up to say, ‘It is not okay for you to do these things to us.’

    I can’t help wondering if things really changed; or did another thug take over? It was an extreme response and unlikely to be maintained.

    A thought-provoking post.

    • You are absolutely right about the fact that the women’s action provoked way more reaction than the horrible violence of Yaddav and his gang. He was no loss that’s for sure – ilife is definitely intricate and confusing – at least for me!

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