Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The power of justice

This is a story about justice. This is not your usual justice meted out by a judge or a magistrate. Neither is it from an arbitrator, an ombudsman nor a tribal head. This is the justice of the people and at the receiving end of the people’s gavel is a man named Akku Yadav. His story can be found in the bestselling book Half the Sky authored by a husband and wife Pulitzer-winning team, Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

Akku Yadav’s crimes numbered the stars in the night sky. He literally terrorized the slum of Kasturba Nagar, outside the central Indian city of Nagpur. This is your typical town bully with complete impunity and unspeakable cruelty. Akku Yadav was a higher caste man and was once a small-time thug before he rose up the ranks to become the king of the slum. He controlled the slum and tormented the Dalits, also known as the untouchables. He and his group of thugs went around raping mercilessly. 

Akku Yadav preferred raping to murder because murder left piles of bodies behind which he had to bribe the police to cover up. But rape was different, in particular, raping the untouchables. He enjoys twofold advantages in raping the Dalits. First, the police turns a blind eye to such crimes. Second, the female victims are too humiliated to ever want to talk about it. What’s more, for the Dalits, who were treated worse than animals, there is no help available for them. They are left to fend for themselves. All these work to Akku Yadav’s advantage and it also fed his unquenchable appetites to ravage young girls at his fancy. And there is no limits to his cruelty. 

In the book Half the Sky, the authors recounted the following heartbreaking crimes committed by this savage man: “According to neighbors in the slum, Akku Yadav once raped a woman right after her wedding. Another time he stripped a man naked and burned him with cigarettes, then forced him to dance in front of his sixteen-year-old daughter. They say he took one woman, Asho Bhagat, and tortured her in front of her daughter and several neighbors by cutting off her breasts. Then he sliced her into pieces on the street. 

One of the neighbors, Avinash Tiwari, was horrified by Asho’s killing and planned to go to the police, so Akku Yadav butchered him as well. Akku Yadav continued his assaults. He and his men gang-raped a woman named Kalma just ten days after she gave birth, and she was so mortified that she doused herself with kerosene and burned herself to death. The gang pulled another woman out of the house when she was seven months pregnant, stripped her naked, and raped her on the road in public view. The more barbaric the behavior, the more the population was cowed into acquiescence.” 

This spate of brutal rapes went on indiscriminately until one young lady named Usha Narayane (Usha) dared to defy Akku Yadav. Before this, Usha’s family was largely left alone because they were educated. Akku Yadav knew that education meant better reporting and complaint to the police. So, he gave Usha and her family more leeway and spared them the torment. But little did he expect that the educated Usha would not leave him and his gang alone because she was a fearless fighter. 

There is an African saying that if you don’t think a mosquito can be much of a nuisance, try spending the night sleeping with one in a small hut. And Usha was that mosquito in Akku Yadav’s life. She refused to remain quiet about his traumatizing rape. And the last straw that broke the camel’s back for Usha was when Akku Yadav raped a thirteen-year-old girl and later went up to the victim’s house, feeling cocky and triumphant. When he arrived, he smashed the furniture and threatened to kill her family. 

After hearing about it, Usha rushed to the police to lodge a complaint. This was to be the start of the showdown between Akku Yadav and Usha. The police then alerted Akku Yadav to what Usha had done and he went berserk with rage. He and forty of his tugs showed up at Usha’s house, which she had barricaded with makeshift discarded furniture, and threatened to disfigure Usha with a bottle of acid. “I’ll throw acid on your face, and you won’t be in a position to file any more complaints, he roared. If we ever meet you, you don’t know what we’ll do to you. Gang rape is nothing. You can’t imagine what we’ll do to you,” shouted Akku Yadav. 

The authors of the book wrote that Usha defiantly shouted insults at Akku Yadav and he retaliated with details of “how he would rape her, burn her with acid, slaughter her.” This was where the lone Usha, who was up against forty plus men with uncurbed lust for revenge and violence, did the bravest thing. She replied with threats of her own. She told the mob outside her house that she had released the gas with a match in her hand, and she was prepared to light it all up. If she perished, she was going to take all of them with her. This threat worked and Akku Yadav and his men retreated in fear. 

Usha’s confrontation and bravery inspired the whole neighborhood and they finally came out of the shadows and surrounded Akku Yadav. The latter then fled in fear as he had never seen such unity before in the slum. One neighbor said, “People realized that if he could do this to Usha, there was just no hope.” This was where the momentum of the people’s justice went on full throttle. 

The neighbors gathered together and went on the offence by throwing stones at Akku Yadav and marching up to his house. They then set the house on fire and burned it to the ground. Quite ironically, Akku Yadav, the so-called king of the slum, sought protection from the police who arrested him for his own safety. When he was arraigned in Court, Akku Yadav showed no remorse for what he had done. In the face of the angry court witnesses and crowd, he recognized one of his victims and he mocked her. He called her a prostitute and threatened to rape her again. Imagine the audacity of the man! 

The next part of the drama came full circle for the people’s justice and it is best described by the authors in the book: “She rushed forward and hit him on the head with a slipper. This time, either I kill you, or you kill me,” she shrieked. At that time, the dam burst, apparently by prearrangement. All the women from Kasturba Nagar pressed forward and surrounded Akku Yadav, screaming and shouting. Some pulled chili powder from under their clothes and threw it in the faces of Akku Yadav and the two police officers guarding him. The police, blinded and overwhelmed, fled at once. Then the women pulled out knives from their clothing and began stabbing Akku Yadav. “Forgive me,” he shouted, in terror now. “Forgive me! I won’t do it again.” The women passed their knives around and kept stabbing him. Each woman had agreed to stab him at least once. Then, in a macabre retaliation for his having cut off Asho Bhagat’s breasts, the women hacked off Akku Yadav’s penis. By the end, he was mincemeat. When we (authors) visited, the courtroom walls were still stained with his blood.” 

How’s that for the people’s justice?  That was in fact not all. “The bloodied women marched triumphantly back to Kasturba Nagar to tell their husbands and fathers that they had destroyed the monster. The slum erupted in celebration. Families put on music and danced in the streets. They dug into their savings to buy lamb and sweets, and they handed out fruit to their friends. Throughout Kasturba Nagar, the festivities resembled a giant wedding.” 

Now, running in parallel with the people’s justice after Akku Yadav was dismembered in the courtroom was the corrupt arm of the rule of law. Somebody has got to pay for his brutal death. The police then went for the heroine of the slum and it was none other than Usha.  They pinned the murder on her and locked her up. But her benefactors, mostly women, were not going to take it lying down. 

The people’s justice took over and these words of the author say it all: “Then the hundreds of women in the slum decided among themselves that if they all claimed responsibility, no one person would be culpable for the murder. They reasoned that if several hundred women each had stabbed Akku Yadav once, then no single stab wound would have been the fatal one. Across Kasturba Nagar, there was a single refrain among the women: We all killed him. Arrest us all!” 

Cornered, the police had no choice but to release Usha after two weeks. Thereafter, Usha “began a new life as a community organizer, using her management skills to bring the Dalits together to make pickles, clothing, and other products to sell in the markets. She wants the Dalits to start businesses to raise their incomes, so that they can afford more education.” And that is the story of justice, the people’s justice. Cheerz.   

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