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?

Girl Power

Camfed – Campaign for Female Education – has discovered that poverty is the main obstacle to the education of girls.

Research shows that the consequences of not educating girls are not only felt by the individual girls but by the entire society.

If you educate a girl she’ll:

  • Earn up to 25 percent more and reinvest 90 percent in her family.
  • Be three times less likely to become HIV-positive.
  • Have fewer, healthier children who are 40 percent more likely to live past the age of five.

So it appears that if you educate girls then you not improve the quality of their lives but, it seems, you also improve the quality of everybody’s life.

Investing in girls and women is likely to prevent inter-generational cycles of poverty and yield high economic and societal returns – Ban K-Moon, United Nations Secretary General.

If we want a functional, happy, healthy world we need to find ways to unleash more girl power it seems…


Related articles

From Bystanders to Third Siders.

LAPD vehicle at a crime scene in Hollywood.

Image via Wikipedia

William L. Ury, co-author of Getting to Yes and long-time conflict resolution expert, has developed an idea and a movement called, The Third Side. Ury’s belief is that in every conflict there are three, not two, sides. The first two sides are obviously those in conflict but Ury says that we – the uninvolved onlookers – the ultimate Bystanders – form the Third Side.

Third Sidedness and Conflict Resolution

In Ury’s opinion the power to resolve most conflict lies in the Third Side rather than in the two sides actively engaged in the fight. He tells many stories of how this works – from African villagers who hide the poisoned spears of the warriors whenever arguments break out between them, to ordinary people of all sorts simply standing up for peace and hope and ordinary human happiness.

Mothers Unite.

One such story, as related on Ury’s web-site – www.thirdside.org – is very representative of how this process works. In the early 1990s in East Los Angeles, a group of concerned mothers who were members of the same church came together to pray for a solution to the gang violence in their neighbourhood. Eight gangs were active in their parish and gang killings and injuries happened almost daily. After much prayer and reflection, the group came to the conclusion that if they wanted to solve the ‘war’ in their neighbourhood they had to step outside their own comfort zone and be willing to go into the battlefield themselves.

Full of fear and trepidation, seventy women, and a handful of men, began a peregrinacion – a pilgrimage or procession – from one gang area to the next. When they met gang members, the mothers invited them to pray with them and offered them food. Then they produced a guitar and began singing ancient folk songs to and with the gang members. As the first night wore on, the gang members were more and more baffled and thus, the conflict was interrupted.

Buoyed by the obvious effect of this new approach, the mothers formed the Comite Pro Paz En El Barrio — Committee for Peace in the Neighborhood and  continued their walks each night and, within a week there was a dramatic drop in gang-related violence. As time passed each side came to know those on the other side and the cycles of violence were interrupted and replaced with more constructive action.

By provoking a confrontation with their humanness, they unleashed a process of communication and transformation. Their activity changed the gang-members and themselves. The women listened to the deep anguish of the gang-members about the lack of jobs and about police brutality. This led them, in turn, to develop a tortilla factory, bakery, and child-care center, creating some jobs and giving the gang members an opportunity to acquire job skills. It was also a space where conflict resolution techniques were learned, because people from different gangs worked together in these projects. The women then opened a school. And they shifted from a “Neighborhood Watch” mode — where they were the eyes and ears of the police — to a group trained to monitor and report abusive police behavior, a development that has redefined the relationship between the Los Angeles Police Department and the barrio.(1)

This is a great example of individuals, acting as individuals in union with others (like heart cells working together to pump blood around the body) not only for their own collective well-being but also the well-being of even those creating the dysfunction. It had to have been scary to do that, to believe in ‘humanness’ when none was really in evidence – but that’s what they did and in spite of the fact that these women didn’t belong to either side of the conflict raging all around them, they became the ones to effect a solution.

 It is time to try peace a little while. If it fails, we can always go back to war. (2)

The idea of the Third Side transfers the power away from those directly involved and opens it up to those not causing but affected by the problem. It empowers the victims and bystanders and turns the idea of responsibility on it’s head. Instead of focusing on those who are responsible for a given situationit reminds all of us of our responsibility to everything and everyone else with whom we share this planet.  

Who knows if it can work in every situation but it’s certainly well worth trying. After all what do we have to lose?

  1. http://www.thirdside.org/stories_01.cfm
  2. ‘Abdul Bahá, Star of the West, v. 10, p. 196-197