Violence, voices and visibility

Laxmi Murthy in HimalSouthAsian:

ARTICLE_Jesse_Washington_Lynch_MobOn the morning of a hot day at the end of May, the thick branches of a mango tree in dusty Katra Sadatganj village in Badaun district of Uttar Pradesh bore not luscious mangoes, but a macabre burden: the distended bodies of two adolescent girls. Pictures floating on the internet show the bodies of two teenagers strung up on the tree, a crowd standing witness, unable to tear their eyes away from the horrific sight. Children gawk, women mourn, men bristle with anger. The two young cousins, aged 14 and 16, had been abducted in the evening when they had gone into a field to relieve themselves. Their families went to lodge a complaint soon after they realised the girls had not returned, but the police refused to search for the missing girls, even though an eyewitness had seen them being dragged away, screaming. The next morning, the village woke up to the gruesome sight. It did not take long to conclude that the girls had been gang-raped and murdered. The culprits were also no secret. The villagers refused to take down the bodies in protest. Several hours later, only after one of the five accused had been arrested, did the families take the bodies down and allow themselves to mourn. The videos of the two girls are no longer easily accessible on the Internet. “Child sexual abuse imagery is illegal,” Google reminds us. Yet other videos, of a seemingly ‘copycat’ killing in Uttar Pradesh a few weeks later, show flashbacks of the young girls, their faces clearly visible, as is the embroidery on their colourful kurtas. Some video archives on news websites also show the gruesome images, albeit with the faces blurred and bodies indistinguishable. The pixelation serves to sanitise the killing – if you can’t see the faces, it can’t be so bad. One website shows passport size photos of the two girls held carefully in the work-worn hand of one of the girls’ father. They have names, they had aspirations. The mother of one of the girls tells the media that her daughter wanted to study, was keen to get a job.

The manner in which the bodies were strung up is reminiscent of the lynching of African-Americans in the late 19th century. What does this spectacle of violence serve to do? Lynching, or mob-inflicted punishment, was most infamously used before the American Civil War to discipline rebellious blacks and show them their place.

More here.