What Was It About the Young Subalpur Gang-Rape Victim That So Incensed Her Fellow Villagers?

28 February 2015

In January last year, a twenty-year-old woman alleged that she was gang raped by thirteen men. She claimed that she had been raped on the instructions of an unelected village council in Subalpur, West Bengal, for falling in love with a man from outside her village, and who was also a Muslim. Sonia Faleiro travelled to Subalpur to investigate the case, and in this excerpt from her book 13 Men, she discovers the underlying hostility in the village against a young woman it couldn't understand.

The girls hurried through the forest, dragging the reptile behind them. The ground was moist from a sharp burst of unseasonal rain, and the bloodied carcass was soon coated with mud. It was a cold evening in January, but the girls were barefoot. They had bludgeoned the animal with bamboo sticks and were giddy with the anticipation of savoring the fresh meat. They argued logistics all the way home.

If they roasted the meat on an outdoor fire, as they would like to, they would attract the envy of the entire village. They lived in Subalpur, a forested neck of land in a remote corner of Birbhum district, located some 120 miles north of Kolkata in West Bengal, India. Few of the people they knew could afford to eat more than once a day.

"Aren't you alone tonight, Baby?" one of them said, turning to an older girl. They all knew that Baby lived with her mother, who was away visiting Baby's brother in another village. "Why don't we cook this fellow in your house?"

Twenty-year-old Baby was a fairly new addition to this group of friends. A few of them dismissed her as aloof, but others liked her because she was stylish. She wore salwar kameezes to work, same as all the girls, but she piled on glass bangles and oxidized silver chains, so that her wiry little frame jangled with mischief as she moved. Sweet-smelling flowers spilled out of her kinky, bunned hair.

Sonia Faliero is a founding member of Deca and the author of Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay's Dance Bars.

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