Nicholas Kristof: One Woman’s Stand

Outrageous, infuriating – and inspiring. And, of course, China comes to mind with the very first sentence. Be sure to read about the lynch mob on the next page – harrowing and vivid. First time I ever rooted for the lynchers. (And they do more than ring the bad guy’s neck. Every man’s nightmare.)

In India, One Woman’s Stand Says ‘Enough’
Published: January 15, 2006

The central moral challenge we will face in this century will be to address gender inequality in the developing world. Here in India, for example, among children ages 1 to 5, girls are 50 percent more likely to die than boys. That means that every four minutes, a little girl here is discriminated against to death.

One reason for such injustice is that many women docilely accept it – even enforce it. But that may be changing, as I found in a slum here in the central Indian city of Nagpur.

For more than 15 years, the mud alleys of the slum were ruled by a local thug named Akku Yadav. A higher-caste man, he killed, raped and robbed in this community of Dalits – those at the bottom of the caste ladder – and the police paid no attention. One woman, according to

people here, went to the police station to report that she had been gang-raped by Akku Yadav and his goons, and the police raped her.

Neighbors tell how Akku Yadav forced a man to dance naked in front of his teenage daughter. They say that he chopped one woman into pieces in front of her daughter, and that another woman burned herself to death after he and his men gang-raped her.

There was only one family that Akku Yadav’s gang didn’t torment – that of Madhukar and Alka Narayane – because from this squalor they sent all five of their children through college. In a neighborhood where many are illiterate and no one had ever gone to college, that was a heroic achievement, and it made gangsters wary about preying on them.

A daughter, Usha Narayane, now 27, studied hotel management and seemed destined to become a hotel manager. But one day in 2004 while she was on vacation back in the slum, Akku Yadav attacked the next-door neighbors. The gang warned Usha not to go to the police – and that’s when she went to the police.

Akku Yadav returned with 40 men and surrounded the Narayane shack. He waved a bottle of acid and threatened to disfigure Usha’s face, and to rape and kill her. She barricaded the door, shouted insults at him and telephoned the police, who didn’t immediately come.

Finally, Usha turned on the gas, grabbed a match and threatened to blow up everyone if the gang broke into the house. The gangsters backed off.

The neighbors, seeing somebody finally stand up to Akku Yadav, gathered in the street. Soon a mob burned down Akku Yadav’s house, and he turned himself over to the police for protection.

A bail hearing for him was set for Aug. 13, 2004, and word spread through the slum that he would be released. Hundreds of women marched from the slum to the courthouse. When Akku Yadav showed up, he spotted a woman he had raped and shouted that he would rape her again. She began beating him with her slipper.

Other women pulled out chili powder from their clothes and threw it in the faces of Akku Yadav and the police. As the police fled, scores of women pulled out knives and apparently took turns stabbing Akku Yadav and cutting off his penis. He ended up as mincemeat, and the courtroom walls are still spattered with blood.

The police arrested a handful of women, including Usha, for the murder, but she conveniently could prove that she was not at the courtroom that day. And then the hundreds of women in the slum jointly declared that they had all joined in the killing, on the theory that if they all claimed responsibility, no single person could be punished.

“We all did it,” affirms Rajashri Rangdale, a young mother. “We all take responsibility for what happened.”

“I’m proud of what we did,” agrees Jija More, a housewife. “We were all involved.”

As for Usha, she is out on bail, but the police harass her and her career as a hotel manager seems over. She is sure that other members of Akku Yadav’s gang will try to seek revenge by raping and killing her. But, undaunted, she is beginning a new life as a social activist, and she is now helping the slum dwellers make foods and clothing that they can sell together to raise their incomes.

I don’t want to condone a lynching. But in a land where police are utterly corrupt, and where so much misery arises from people passively accepting their lot, I’m proud to know Usha Narayane. She is a reminder of the difference that education makes, and I hope that she is a vision of the new Indian woman.

The Discussion: 8 Comments

Gang rapes, acid in the face, immolation, penis kebabs, the plague — India, wtf?

January 15, 2006 @ 5:56 am | Comment

Good on her! And the hundred women! They should have kept him alive – so they could revive him and punish him again and again. Right, blood thirsty much …

January 15, 2006 @ 1:28 pm | Comment

Jim, As for “penis kebabs and the plague”, and other kinds of bodily mutilation those are good old Chinese traditions.

By the way, one reason why so many Chinese men walk with a hunched posture – stooped over like they’re going to fall over – is because the old Eunuchs in Beijing became incontinent when they had their penises cut off. They were constantly pissing in their pants, so, they had to walk hunched over – and as they were government officials, their posture became fashionable, and other “fashionable” Beijing Men imitated them.

That’s why so many Chinese men – to this day – walk like they’re drunk. It goes back to the Eunuchs who walked that way – literally.

Anyway, point here is: It’s ridiculous to suggest India is somehow less civilised than China. Castration, mutilation, broken feet, murdering babies, plague (AIDS, SARS) – are all especially Chinese horrors…

January 15, 2006 @ 6:53 pm | Comment

“one reason why so many Chinese men walk with a hunched posture ….”

Actually, this is often because of osteoperosis and other body deforming conditions that have been brought on by a low protean low calcium diet.

I’ve seen this in whites too, though not as often, and mostly only from war and pre war generations

January 16, 2006 @ 5:12 am | Comment

>It’s ridiculous to suggest India is somehow less civilised than China

You have obviously never been to India nor read this post:

January 18, 2006 @ 4:41 pm | Comment

Like many Indians, we were very moved and shiocked by your sesitive article. I s there any fund set up for Ms narayane,s defense, which we could contribute to?

January 20, 2006 @ 11:58 am | Comment

Jim–why don’t you use a more scholarly website instead of to support your arguments? It may make your point a more credible one. And regarding this website, after spending seven days in a country, what gives anyone the authority to make gross generalizations? If I were in the habit of that, I would say that Jim is a bigoted individual, completely devoid of worldliness or cultural sensitivity–but I am not in the habit of that because I don’t truly know anything about you.

No one denies that lynching, castrating and violence is barbaric but perhaps you recall the state of America 50 years after independence from the British–oh right! we were lynching and discriminating too! For a good 150 years post independence in fact. And India may be the “land of cesspools of dirt, pollution, garbage, shit” but that’s no different than in American slums.
These women are strong who have endured much pain and harassment from their communities; I personally do not support violence in addressing this issue, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
My suggestion to you is to swallow your toungue and experience the world fully before you pass judgement on places you know little about, offending places that billions of people call home.

February 5, 2006 @ 9:26 am | Comment

We should all as human beings support this woman, and any in her situation. The scum who committed these horrific crimes was only deserving of the karma he projected. If there is any way I can help from here, please let me know.

February 23, 2006 @ 1:46 pm | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.