HEAR WHAT those two girls found hanging on that tree are saying? Or that one strangled with a dupatta near her field? Do you hear the laughter of three cousins in another corner, before it was silenced with poison? Do you hear what their cellphones are saying, their call data records? Or the full stop to their school years? Do you hear the things left behind where they died? Pink slippers, some wrappers of snacks, a few currency notes hidden in clothes? Or the things that marked their life? Mud walls, a ledge with sundry items, clothes strung on a rope, some posters, a blackened chulha, the buffaloes they were to milk?
From deep inside the ground, do you feel their silent screams now rustling through the fields, past mud lanes, open drains, unfriendly doors, and bursting into their home, burrowing into the hearts of their mothers, trying to prise some lips, some eyes open? Do you hear them anguished as their short lives are rearranged — with every bucket of water thrown on a blood stain, every call record erased, every witness silenced?
Do you notice what’s emerging in its place — the “good” girls, who stopped studying as they wanted to help at home; the “good” girls, who loved cooking, embroidering, babysitting; the “good” girls, who knew of a world different from this (from TV, from the men of their house, the relatives who came visiting from town), but who never aspired for the same; the “good” girls who never complained.
For, “bad” girls leave everyone very, very uncomfortable. In the arts, they are the “wronged” ones entitled to seek their justice, or driven by misplaced love. They are either Kaushalya or Kaikeyi. The delicious promise of a rare film like Ishqiya, where Vidya Balan seduced (and, gasp, went further than that) two friends, one much older, was squandered by its finale.
For, laden with the burden of “good”, their wants whittled into “shape”, girls are not allowed to be “bad” in small, everyday, casual ways — seeking friends over family, lovers over husbands, phones over cooking, and yes, casual sex in the fields over the cows munching nearby.
By automatically classifying every girl who meets a brutal end as an “innocent” led astray, are we aligning with the “protectors” rewriting her story? In every shadow of her life led in the public eye, lies the tale of her courage. In every reduction of that into black and white, lies our cowardice.
In Manoj and Babli: A Hate Story, based on the first honour killing in India to result in conviction for a family, it was Babli, more bold and beautiful than her small Haryana village could bear, who took the first lead with Manoj. In the latest horror tale to come out of Uttar Pradesh, a 17-year-old has told the police that she and her cousins (now dead) met up with the accused on their own. And no, he didn’t assault them. In that Katra Sadatganj case of the cousins found hanging, spurring a spree to build toilets — for that was the agreed explanation for why the girls were alone out at night — the investigation has veered around to friendship between the girls and the accused.
In the book The Good Girls, on the Katra Sadatganj deaths, an elder sister of one of the two girls found hanging — sitting beside her soundless mother — speaks little except to mumble, “Dil ke armaan dil mein hee reh jaate hain (One’s wishes die as wishes).”
But, the girls are trying. Somewhere, another one has picked up an unattended phone, found a quiet corner, and dialled a number.
This article first appeared in the print edition on February 28, 2021 under the title ‘She Said: The good, the bad and the ugly’. National Editor Shalini Langer curates the fortnightly ‘She Said’ column