“When hundreds of women descended on Nagpur district court armed with knives, stones and chili powder, within minutes the man who raped them lay dead.”
I don’t believe in the death penalty in most cases, or that people should take the law into their own hands. Not because I think despicable people deserve to live, but that I realize our justice system is flawed. To err is human, and we discover innocence on death row far too often to confidently mete out mortal justice.
But then, I read their story.
Imagine: You’re a young woman in India, growing up poor in Kasturba Nagar, a slum in the city of Nagpur.
Yadav and his gang break into neighbor’s homes regularly. There are not-so-soft whispers about what he does to the people who can’t pay. The women have shadowed eyes. Men are found in the local river.
You count yourself lucky to be spared, until one night when Yadav comes to your door. A night when your father doesn’t have the money Yadav demands.
Your father fights. You are dragged out of your house by the men, screaming for help, but no one comes, terrified that this demon will shadow their door next. You take your family’s punishment.
In the morning, your mother and father tell you you mustn’t go to the police. It won’t help. The gang will only return and your reputation will be ruined forever. You’ll be called a prostitute and no man will marry you. Some nights you hear the screams and the yelling of other fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters. You learn to shut them out.
Years later you’re a mother with a family. Your husband was speaking out, his voice rising to join the men and women that weekly go to the local police, speaking louder and louder into the officers’ deaf ears.
They take your daughter this time. She’s only twelve.
You are stone on the outside and nothing but screaming inside your own head as you care for her. You do not tell her to keep her silence. She wants to go to the police and you want to go to the police. A need for justice pulses through your veins and pounds through your head.
There have been over a hundred complaints by now. They will listen.
You are called a liar and a slut.
You go home.
When the rioting starts, Yadav runs into the waiting arms of the courts rather than face his own monster. The police do not protect you, they protect him. They spirit him away where your neighbors’ hungry claws can’t reach. But he will be in jail, you think. That will be enough. That will be something.
You are drawn to the court to see the grim faces of friends you have had from childhood. Most of those families beaten and terrorized. A wife, a sister, or a daughter of each dragged from her house in the night.
Yadav’s eyes light on each of the souls he has tainted and says he will return. He says he will teach every woman in the slum a lesson.
And you hear him.
On the morning of the hearing, the women of the slums are drawn like moths toward the light of the courthouse. Your sisters in suffering believe the presence of 200 victims will ensure his sentence.
He is granted bail.
Akku Yadav will post it with the money and blood and innocence stolen from all of you.
A young woman is screaming as he walks the hall. He calls her a whore and the policemen escorting him laugh long and loud.
She is ready to die to make him bleed. She beats him with her fists, her shoes.
There is a roaring in your ears.
Her tear-streaked face looks like your daughter’s.
Your hand closes around the knife.
I don’t think this should set a precedent for street justice, but the violence of this crime was the trauma of an entire community bubbling over.
When the guardians of your city don’t protect your family for over a decade, when girls as young as twelve are victimized by the same man that assaulted their mothers, how long could you stay your hand?