TW: Mentions Of Rape, Gender Violence, Death.
Girl, 17, ‘beaten to death by relatives and hung from a bridge’ for wearing jeans during a religious ritual in India.
The last text, I received was a notification on my phone a few days ago.
A text I wish I hadn’t received, an incident I wish had never happened and a girl I wish I could bring back to life!
Neha Paswan, a seventeen-year-old girl from Uttar Pradesh was beaten to death by her grandfather and uncles. Neha was a student in the ninth grade and her brother Vivek studied in the eighth grade in the same school. Her father, Mr. Amaranth Paswan was out of town when this incident happened, She had kept a day-long religious fast. In the evening, when it was the time to perform the rituals instead of traditional attire, she chose to wear jeans and a top. She performed the rituals wearing the same clothes while her extended family objected. Her grandparents and her uncles objected to her attire while the seventeen-year-old stood her ground and retorted that, “Jeans are made to be worn and that she should wear it.”
All hell broke loose. The argument boiled down to violence and she was beaten up brutally by the male members of the family. While hitting her, they were continuously abusing her for her choice of clothes. In the past as well they had asked her several times to stop wearing jeans but she had a mind of her own and did what she wanted.
According to the statement given by her mother, she was thrashed brutally and received serious head injuries. The post mortem has also confirmed a fracture in the skull and other severe wounds.
She was then taken in an auto by the same men with the pretext of admitting her to a district hospital. Well, that’s what her mother thought anyways until the next morning when she realized that she was never taken to the hospital at all. She was thrown off a bridge by the same men and her body got stuck and was left hanging with a hook of its railing.
Her mother and siblings witnessed their sister die right in front of their eyes. She was killed by relatives who had no business whatsoever interfering in her life. All this for what? For wearing jeans?
Almost every headline reads, ”Girl killed for wearing jeans.” It disturbs me every time I read it. I wish I could change the title of all the articles. It is leaning towards victim blaming, how many times do we read, ”Girl raped because she was out late at night or wearing short clothes or partying with male friends.”
How is it wrong to do any of those things, the girl is not to be blamed but the guy needs to be blamed for ripping off the dignity of the girl. The headline should read, ”Boy rapes a girl and takes advantage of her.” The two headlines are entirely different and mean two different things.
Neha was not killed because she was wearing jeans; she was thrashed brutally and murdered because the members of her extended family felt entitled to take her life. They placed themselves on a pedestal and declared themselves the ‘Keepers of Society’ or ‘God’ and took her life. Was she a girl for them? A part of their family?
I think not. She was nothing more than a domestic animal for them that could be slaughtered as per their will. Maybe they derived some kind of sadistic thrill while they slowly took her life. It kills me inside while I type these words. What is the value of life and who decides that it can be taken away from you?
We want our girls to be strong and independent; we want them to be self-sufficient and brave. Neha was all of that! She dreamt of becoming a police officer, she dared to dream and she dared to speak. Despite so many people objecting she held her stand and did the rituals wearing jeans. She refused to change into traditional clothes and argued with her family trying to put her point across.
How many of us women living in cities dare to wear jeans/western wear while performing a religious ritual or while going to someone’s traditional wedding ceremony especially if you are staying with your in-laws? Why just in-laws? Our parents won’t like it either. Do we have the courage to hold our ground and continue to do what we want? Neha did that, she was brave. Are we?
There is a difference though, we might face judgments, harsh words, and ill-treatment but we won’t be killed! The price we will pay is nothing compared to what Neha paid. She paid it in full with her life. The price of choosing what she likes and living her life on her terms!
After what has happened I wonder if any other girl from her village would dare to wear jeans or would they forever be speechless and subdued or would they rebel and all wear jeans? I do hope they choose the latter.
For centuries there are rules made for women trying to keep them in their place. A defiant woman has never been tolerated, even today if you speak up against the tide, you will be judged. Women are just good to be seen not heard. There are boundaries that they are not allowed to cross.
‘Feminism’ is a word that is very close to my heart. I believe every good human being is a feminist. I have seen women making statements like, ”I am not those feminist types or I believe in equality but I am not a feminist.”
These statements baffle me or should I say their stupidity baffles me. It is like saying, ”I like to breathe air but I don’t believe in the process called respiration.”
Feminism simply means all genders should have equal rights and opportunities. So when you say you are not a feminist, you mean that you don’t believe men and women are equal.
A lot of articles I’ve written are about equality and women finding their voice. I hope they help someone in need and realize they are not alone. I hope in some way they get the strength to find their voice and change their narrative. Even if I succeed in doing that for one woman, I think I’ve done my bit.
Many times I get comments like, ”This doesn’t happen in urban areas”, “This doesn’t happen in my house” or “Times have changed, these things don’t happen anymore. You’ve written about the 18th century.”
If you are one of those people then you are lucky but not everyone is. The majority of women still struggle to find their voice, they battle their everyday demons and they wish for simple joys that are denied to them.
I am lucky to be raised by parents who believed in me and my potential and never treated me and my brother differently. I am luckier to be married in a family that is as open-minded and warm as my family but then I look around and I realize that the things I take for granted every day- my voice, my independence, and my choice are denied to so many others.
Should I be basking in the glory of my privileges and ignore everything around me? Is it not my responsibility to speak up and fight for those who can’t fight for themselves? Is it not your responsibility too?
Neha was a bright young girl, fiery and opinionated. A girl with a million dreams and aspirations. A girl who dared to stand up for herself at the tender age of seventeen. She didn’t deserve this. Will we just let her death go in vain? Will a candle march or slogans help?
Do what you can. Stand up for women around you- your friend who is troubled and distressed because she has lost her freedom after marriage, your mother who has sacrificed her life, her dreams and yet gets asked “What do you do the whole day?”,” Your maid who struggles with societal taboos” or “A woman who prefers to remain hidden but silently gathers some courage while she reads your article.”
If you have a voice, it is time you speak up,
If you are good with words, it is time you write what matters and,
If you are a decent human, it is time you stand up for another human!
It is time people realize that- The more women are silenced, the louder they will speak up. If they fall, they will rise with vengeance and claim their rightful place. They will break open the cages built for them and fly even if it’s with their broken wings.
I hope some years down the line we don’t get notifications like these. I pray no other Neha will have to sacrifice her life. I hope for a better world- a world where men and women live and grow as equals!