Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Reports of girls and young women being brutally assaulted by family members have recently made headlines in India. The incidents have also put the spotlight on how unsafe girls and women are within their own homes.
Last week, 17-year-old Neha Paswan was allegedly beaten to death by members of her extended family in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh because they didn’t like her wearing jeans.
Her mother, Shakuntala Devi Paswan, told that the teenager had been severely beaten with sticks by her grandfather and uncles after an argument over her clothes at their home in Savreji Kharg village in Deoria district, one of the least developed regions in the state.
“She had kept a day-long religious fast. In the evening, she put on a pair of jeans and a top and performed her rituals. When her grandparents objected to her attire, Neha retorted that jeans were made to be worn and that she would wear it,” her mother said.
The argument escalated, resulting in the violence, she claims.
Shakuntala Devi said as her daughter lay unconscious, her in-laws called an autorickshaw and said they were taking her to hospital.
“They wouldn’t let me accompany them so I alerted my relatives who went to the district hospital looking for her but couldn’t find her.”
The next morning, Shakuntala Devi said, they heard that the body of a girl was hanging from the bridge over the Gandak river that flows through the region. When they went to investigate, they discovered it was Neha’s.
Police have lodged a case of murder and destruction of evidence against 10 people, including Neha’s grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and the auto driver. The accused have yet to make any public statement.
Shakuntala Devi (right) is still trying to make sense of why her daughter has been killed.
Senior police official Shriyash Tripathi told that four people, including the grandparents, an uncle and the auto driver, had been arrested and were being questioned. He said police were looking for the remaining accused.
Neha’s father Amarnath Paswan, who works as a day labourer on construction sites in Ludhiana, a town in Punjab, and had returned home to deal with the tragedy said he had worked hard to send his children, including Neha, to school.
Shakuntala Devi said their daughter wanted to be a police officer, but “her dreams would never be realised now”.
She alleged that her in-laws were putting pressure on Neha to leave her studies in a local school and often chided her for wearing anything other than traditional Indian clothing.
Campaigners say violence against women and girls within homes in a society steeped in patriarchy is deeply embedded and is often sanctioned by family elders.
Girls and women in India face serious threats – from being at the risk of foeticide even before they are born because of the preference for sons – to discrimination and neglect. Domestic violence is rampant and on average, 20 women are killed every day for bringing in insufficient dowries.