No Country for Good Girls

Trigger Warning: This post refers to acts of violence.

“An Indian woman’s first challenge is surving her own home” -Sonia Faleiro

One more year has passed. New beginnings on a new year. However, things feel new on the surface but not in reality or we pretend that things are new just because a new year is around the corner. Nothing has changed for a girl/woman in India. Don’t know if it will change in the near future. Misogyny, patriarchy, and gender discrimination are everyday phenomena in our country. We all face it. Rape is trivialised. Recently, a legislator in the State Assembly of Karnataka made an insensitive remark about rape, and later he was ready to apologise if his comments hurt the sentiments of women. 

We have a central government scheme named Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao to save the girl child. Do we need to save our daughter? Or do our daughters need to save themselves from this whole system? 80% of the money allocated to this scheme was spent on advertisement as per a parliamentary standing committee report. What more we can expect when girls’ parents give them bizarre names like Missed Call, Antima, and Phaltu to express their anger and disappointment because they never wanted to have these girls. I don’t even want to imagine the kind of shame and trauma these girls might be going through because they were made to feel that they were unwanted by their own parents. Being a woman, I have personally experienced this kind of discrimination. There was a time when I used to feel that I am going to fight for my rights. I will complain against these practices. However, different incidents and news reports dealing with discrimination and violence against women have broken my spirit. The most frustrating thing is that we, women, are manipulated into believing that we deserve this discrimination and violence. 

A little overview of the Book and the Author:

The book, “The Good Girls” by Sonia Faleiro will make you uncomfortable. It will make you angry and ashamed of our country and society. This book is about the Budaun case where two girls were found hanging from a tree on 26th May 2014, just a day before when the NDA government’s first term started with the promise of “acche din”. The book uncovers the events and circumstances leading to Padma Lalli’s death against the backdrop of the political and socio-cultural life of the state of Uttar Pradesh, notorious for violence against women. All those little details and descriptions about the mundane activities of the households and the exploitation of women shown in the book were quite relatable to me. The author’s deep research about the patriarchal settings and how women are never allowed to tell their stories makes this book an important read.

The author is a journalist who lives in London. She returned back to India and did extensive research for six years to write this book. She visited the Katra village and conducted hundreds of interviews. This case created so much furor that it was ultimately transferred to CBI. In this book, the author also discusses the caste complexities, corruption in the police system, the deep patriarchal structure, and discrimination against women. The book reads like a suspense thriller and I never felt like putting it down. Almost all chapters consist of one or two pages which makes it very easy to read. The chapters’ titles are thoughtful. It intrigues you to know more about the incidents. Sonia has woven this unfortunate incident in the form of a story that not only gives you context but also provides a political, social, and cultural perspective about the lives of the people involved.

Story of Padma and Lalli:

Padma Shakya and Lalli Shakya (names changed since the case is sub-judice) are two ‘good girls’ living in the Katra Sadatganj village of Badaun district. Padma and Lalli were cousin sisters. Padma was sixteen years old and Lalli was fourteen years old. They were always together like two grains of rice. They did everything together. They both had an ordinary life but they were the new age girls. Padma was curious and wanted to explore things. Lalli wanted to study further and do something in life. However, these good girls were never good enough for the people around them because they never wanted to be bound by the rules of society. 

Control, control, and more control: 

In India, girls are not supposed to have choices. They are bound to do what they are told to do. They are not allowed to go outside. They can use mobile phones but they can’t own them. Even to use it, they need to take permission. Many khap panchayats, villages, and schools in India have banned mobile phones for women.  If they go out, they will have to return before it is too dark. They are the honor of the family and they need to be saved. And if they don’t follow these dictates or unsaid rules, they are killed. The most ironic thing is that women are controlled not only by society but also by the State in the name of their safety and empowerment. The recent move of increasing the age of women for marriage can be seen in the same light. A girl who is 18 years old, has the right to vote and choose her representatives but she does not have the agency to choose her partner. This is a clear case of violating women’s choices who want to get married before the age of 21. There is evidence to prove that a large share of reported sexual assaults across India is consensual relationships that are criminalised by parents. 

We can see the same kind of control in the Shakya family. Padma’s father bought her a phone which allowed him to record her conversations. He forced Padma to leave her studies so that she can get married to save her family’s honor. When these two girls insisted on going to the village fair, their mother (Siya Devi) scolded and said ‘Ladkiyan bahar Nahin ghoomti’ (Girls don’t wander about outside the house). 

Sex, Sexuality, and Shame:

Sex is still a taboo in India. It is associated with something bad. No sex education is provided in our country. Especially pre-marital sex is something frowned upon in our society. I just don’t understand the logic. After marriage, you can have as many kids as you want, but you can’t explore your sexuality before marriage. Height of hypocrisy in our society. Padma Lalli and Pappu Yadav had a sexual relationship that was not acceptable to their respective families. Padma and Pappu were caught in an awkward moment the day the girls got disappeared in the fields. The next morning Padma Lalli were found hanging from the tree in the mango orchard. 

Though their family members alleged that they were gang-raped and murdered by Pappu along with his uncle and a Yadav (caste is important here because initially this case was seen as a caste rivalry between Yadav and Shakya community) policeman, CBI inquiry did not find any evidence of it. CBI inquiry concluded that girls took their own lives. However, it is still not clear what has happened on that unfateful night when these two teenage girls disappeared. No one knows what was there in the phone recordings. Nazru, the cousin of Shakya brothers, who was spying on Padma Lalli on the day of their disappearance, still feels that he had seen those men who took these girls. Reading this book will help anyone uncover the shocking turn of events and why the death of these girls is called ‘ordinary killings’. 

Saving the honor was more important for their family even when those girls were dead. Sohan Lal, Padma’s father destroyed the phone so that no one gets to know about the relations between Padma Lalli and Pappu. What kind of society we are living in? Why our own parents are like that? Why they can’t think about their family first than society? That’s why Sonia in one of her interviews added that we all are responsible for their death and not one person or institution. The whole system is broken.

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