Why Are Women Being Raped and Hanged in Uttar Pradesh?

The Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh has been rocked in recent weeks by a series of rapes and hangings, many involving very young women. The victims have been assaulted by groups of men before being strung up from trees and left to die — sometimes right across from the police station, in a stunning display of spite and confidence.

Why is India suddenly experiencing such a brutal epidemic of sex crimes, especially in the context of the horrific gang rape in 2012 that sparked massive protests and worldwide attention?

A casual search of the news for information about rapes and murders related to sexual violence in India reveals a stunning and disturbing array of stories, like that of a woman who was raped at a police station when she came to negotiate her husband’s release. The proliferation of stories would seem to suggest an uptick in violence, but in fact, the situation appears to be more complicated. Sexual violence in India is nothing new, argues Geeta Pandey for the BBC — but now, it’s being reported to law enforcement, and the media are covering it, because regional and global interest in the subject has been sparked. That means that on the surface, it looks like India has a newly-emerging rape problem, but actually, it’s nothing new.

Especially in states like Uttar Pradesh, there are large numbers of low-income women in a lower social position. These members of society are extremely vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation because they have few resources to turn to when it comes to protecting themselves and seeking assistance. Historically, many women did not report rapes to law enforcement agencies because they view police as the problem. When police officers aren’t ignoring rape reports or tacitly condoning rape, they were committing rapes themselves.

That’s changing, however, as the Indian government has cracked down on sexual assault, passed harsher laws and pushed law enforcement to do well. Paradoxically, claims Pandey, this may, chillingly, explain the hangings in Uttar Pradesh. Thanks to increased consequences for rape convictions, and more aggressive pursuit of suspects, men may be hanging their victims to eliminate the suspects who are key to revealing the facts of a rape case. While this may not be true in all instances, the thought that it might be true even in some is disturbing, and highlights the difficulty of this unique problem. The government can’t and shoudn’t back down on addressing rape, but it doesn’t want to create a situation in which men are willing to kill the women they abuse to reduce their risk of being identified and prosecuted.

Hanging also could be a way of sending a message or comment. It’s an extremely public way to commit murder, especially when done in the middle of a town or village. Much like lynching in the United States, these hangings may be about something more than simple murder. They could be illustrations of contempt, hatred, or power, and they may be designed to silence women advocating for women’s rights and more action on sexual assault. In an India where the entire country is joining, and getting noisy, to fight sexual assault, these crimes are a sobering reminder of the dangers of being at the forefront of social change.

Photo credit: Koshy Koshy

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Patricia Welch
Patricia W.about a year ago

Rape is all about power, and murdering the victims is the ultimate show of dominance and control.
I pray the Indian government can eliminate something so deeply ingrained in their culture. They need to start with the local police. Who can these women turn to?

Ineke Bee
Ineke Beeabout a year ago

Women have been abused throughout history and I believe that unless there is a change in the mindset of the abusers this will continue

Ernest Roth
Ernest R.about a year ago

@ Lee R. "You would think that in a culture where a belief in karma and reincarnation is pervasive" It works the other way. The rapists feel that the women must have done something terrible in a past life to have such bad karma as to become their victims.

Demy Lohan
Demy L.about a year ago

Made me cry...

Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapaabout a year ago

Thank you

Past Member about a year ago

It's what it is always about... power and control.

Rhonda B.
Rhonda B.about a year ago

Disgusting people.

Tina Loflin
Tina Loflinabout a year ago

This pattern of attacking women(often by boyfriends and family members) in India, Pakistan, and other places distresses me no end. It is a deliberate repudiation of all things female...showing an utter lack of respect and sense of value for a female, be she old woman, child, or young woman. She 'has to be shown her place...' which is a fallacy: women often are the only breadwinners in the family. They are trusted with microloans to start businesses which improves the financial well-being of the community at large, not just the woman and her family.
For this attitude to change, a sea change must occur from not only top officials--making protection of women a priority, through laws, prosecution of offenders, and programs to help women--but also education: teach the country that women are the backbone of any country, they are the wheel upon which a nation turns.
Otherwise, this devastating series of crimes will continue...leaving only sorrow and pain behind.

SANJEEV Yadavabout a year ago

The corrupt political system has eaten up the country completely...its a miracle that this country is growing against all odds....things are quiet bad in this country.

LMj Sunshine
LMj Recovering Sunshineabout a year ago