By Shashank Singh:
Dear Mr. Chief Minister,
The summers are here and so are the mangoes. There are buckets filled with water everywhere and in them are the mangoes of all kinds – the ripe, the green and the raw. As you would recall with great fondness, there’s one that bears your name too – a variety named as “Akhilesh Aam”. It was said that this hybrid mango seed had borne fruit in less than five years which was unusual and hence aptly given your name – someone who had at such a ripe age reached a position that even veterans couldn’t achieve in ages. In this season Mr. Chief Minister, I’d like to wish you and your family a great gastronomic pleasure as you dote on this extremely sweet and delightful fruit.
Mr. Chief Minister, your father will recount to you with great memories the significance of a mango tree in the cultural life of people of the province that you govern. The fruit and leaves from a mango tree are used as floral decorations at weddings, public celebrations and religious ceremonies. The leaves of a mango tree are sewn around a cotton thread to be used on the door entrances in an arched shape to welcome any visitor. The wood from the mango bark is a sacred offering to the fire in the Hindu ritual of hawan. I am saddened to inform you Mr. Chief Minister that last Wednesday, a mango tree in a village known as Katra Sahadatganj in Badaun district of your province did not inspire faith, instead it inspired awe, agony and anger. Two teenaged girls, aged 14 and 15 walked out together at night, much like any other night, into the fields with tall bamboos to relieve themselves. As you would understand Mr. Chief Minister, there was no male member accompanying them in consideration of modesty. In the dark these girls were attacked, gang-raped and killed. The bodies of these girls were then hanged – on the mango tree.
Like a seasoned politician, you haven’t wasted time to pass the buck Mr. Chief Minister. You have blamed the federal government for the ineptness of India’s police, for their notorious corruption, poor pay levels and insufficient training. You have been quick to point out the slow pace at which the wheels of justice roll in India. There are far too less courts, judges and lawyers, you say. You smell conspiracy in the media’s unending coverage of this incident. Media is in the pockets of those who wish ill for us and for our people, is your further explanation. The debate on these arguments is for another day, Mr. Chief Minister.
You are a father before you are a Chief Minister, a loving one at that I am sure. Can you imagine the plight of a grief-stricken father who is condemned to live the rest of his life in the horrific shadow of his daughter’s murder? Can you hear those screams of his daughter which he hears every night in those nightmares that play the brutal rape and murder of his daughter? Can you feel that helplessness which tears apart his conscience every time he remembers the faces of those who took turns in raping his daughter and yet are walking free under the sun? Can you imagine those shivers that go down his spine every time his another daughter steps out of his mud-and-straw hut? Feeling empathy for the aggrieved family doesn’t require an efficient police force, a fast judicial system, a well-oiled bureaucracy or an unbiased media but simple virtues of being a human being. Do you have these, Mr. Chief Minister?
Since you chose never to visit the family of the girls, I must recount to you the details of the day. Though you claim to be in the knowledge of it, your sidekicks are in the habit of painting pictures you would like to see than how it actually is. It was just after 7 PM on the evening of Tuesday when an uncle of the girls heard the cries while he had gone to the fields to make sure that the cows hadn’t trampled his patch of mint. He saw the girls being dragged by their hair on the ground. He confronted the 5 boys, one of which he recognized but was threatened with a handgun. He later accompanied the girl’s father to the police station to report the girls missing. What happened at the police station is that part of the story which your sidekicks would have happily ignored to mention to you. The policeman on duty asked the caste of the girl’s father. He then brazenly proclaimed the man named by the uncle as ‘an honest man’ and ordered them to go home and expect the girls to reach home by dawn. When the girl’s father fell to his feet begging for mercy, he was slapped – twice. It surprises none that the girls were ‘untouchables’Â – the lowest rung of India’s social order while the men who raped them only to kill them later were Yadavs – the family name that you share with them.
I am aware of your astonishment on the hue and cry on this incident, Mr. Chief Minister. Those from your clan can ogle women, can make lewd remarks against them, can grope them, can rape them and kill them too. After all, what Â use is your position if your men can’t enjoy these ‘slight’ privileges. And what for are the policemen who enjoy your patronage if they can’t let your men do all of this freely. When the reporters asked you about the action that you are going to take against these men, you proudly proclaimed – “You are not in danger, are you?”. Your father spoke for your men too sometime ago – “Boys commit mistakes. Will they be hanged for rape?”. A trusted aide of your father, Abu Azmi went a step ahead – “Any woman if, whether married or unmarried, goes along with a man, with or without her consent, should be hanged”. In all sincerity Mr. Chief Minister, let me ask you this – Every evening when you return home from work, how are you able to see in the eyes of your mother, your sister, your wife and your daughters?
Mr. Chief Minister, commoners like us at times learn what they are taught in schools in fear, fear of the hard slaps from the teacher, the kind the policeman gave the girl’s father. You seem to have got none of them for reasons very well known to you and thus it appears you missed learning out on a lot of things they teach in schools. You need not worry Mr. Chief Minister, I am at your disposal to recount them to you. They taught us about Emmeline Pankhurst, the woman who won the right to vote for women in UK, about Eva Peron, the Argentine woman who built more house for the poor and homeless than anyone else, about Rosa Parks, the woman who started one of the largest movements in the world against racial segregation, about Mother Teresa, a woman who healed millions by the love that she showered upon them, about Helen Keller, a woman born with severing disabilities who still grew up into one of the leading thinkers of the time, about Margaret Thatcher, about Sarojini Naidu and more recently, about Angela Merkel and Indra Nooyi. Women’s power and initiative Mr. Chief Minister, has in the past and still is uplifting lives of all human beings – men, women and children in all corners of the world.
Maybe your sidekicks never chose to mention this to you Mr. Chief Minister, the world has moved billions of inches away from your narrow and uninformed view of where it is. You are the kind who still believe in the superiority of a masculine mind, those who see gender discrimination as legitimate and those who raise the banner of revolt at the slightest hint of intellect, ambition or strength in a woman. To be fair to you, there are many like you Mr. Chief Minister. But unlike them, you are the man in power. Your words are the words of authority and what could be more dangerous than a misinformed authority?
I do not write this letter with much hope Mr. Chief Minister. A letter can’t vote, thus can be of no threat to you and hence can be conveniently tossed aside. Toss aside my opinion Mr. Chief Minister but not the opinion of a woman who wishes to see a world where female independence is celebrated not frowned upon, of a mother who wishes to see her daughter to be treated as her son is, of a wife who wishes to have a splendid career as much as her husband does, of a sister who yearns for same love and attention from her parents as her brother, of a father who sends his daughters to school every day with a wish that she returns safely, of a husband who bids goodbye to his wife as she leaves for her job worried for her safety all day long and of a son who asks his mother a million times to keep the door locked as she lets him out in the morning. It requires more than good laws, efficient police, fast judiciary and an incorruptible bureaucracy to end something as entrenched and endemic as violence against women. It requires a monumental intent to start with. Show this intent Mr. Chief Minister, or you will be wiped out, one election at a time. All that will remain of your name will be a mango.
I wish you a good day Mr. Chief Minister.
With Best Regards,
A Father, A Son, A Brother.