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She Was Molested By Hundreds of Men: 3 Questions Remain

January 21, 2011

Indian girl against the Indian flag (not a photo of Sunita Murmu) photo credit: Orange Tuesday (Chris). All Rights Reserved

In  January 2011,  Sunita Murmu, a 15- year-old girl from from a village in West Bengal was awarded The Bravery Award by the Indian Prime Minister at the Republic Day parade in the country’s capital.

Sunita Murmu’s story might have never come to light if it was not for the mobile video clips that had been circulating of the terrible atrocity that had been inflicted on her.

Sunita was in love with another teenage boy, a relationship that the village community did not approve of.  As a form of punishment they stripped her down and walked her through the village with men pouncing on her and molesting her all the way.  In a bid to escape her persecutors Sunita ran across fields and forests — a total of 8 kilometers covering 3-4 villages.  And every time she approached another village she did not find a rescuer.  What she found was more persecutors! The men of all the villages joined in, clapping, laughing and beating drums, and in the end through a 11 hour ordeal she had been mauled and molested by hundreds of men.

Sunita’s family kept quiet about the incident because they did not want to create friction within the community.   It is not hard to imagine what Sunita went through for 2 months following the incident.  In villages in India when incidents like this happen, the community marks the girl/woman as public “trash.”  It is for anyone to take any liberty with the the stigmatized girl, at any time and place.  And she is required to bear her fate silently.

How often do incidents like this occur?   One doesn’t know!  For the incidents that are known of, are ones that became public ONLY because there were MMS clips circulating.  The perpetrators had filmed their crime on their mobiles and had been circulating them!  In 2007 there was similar incident with another young girl in Assam.  And again in 2008 there was an incident when 2 girls out to celebrate the New Year, were molested by about 70 men near a beach in Mumbai.

Fortunately, for Sunita, some journalists came across the MMS clips and demanded police and legal action. It was only Sunita who had the audacity to identify some of the main perpetrators.  The rest of her family and community remained mum!  It is for this reason that Sunita is being given the Bravery Award.  Currently Sunitha is being housed in a government quarter and she has clearly indicated that she does not want to return to her family or to her community — the Santhal Tribal community.

THERE ARE A NUMBER OF QUESTIONS THAT THIS CASE RAISES AND WE WOULD LIKE READER FEEDBACK ON THESE:

  1. The first question has been raised by NGO organizations working for the welfare of girls and women.  They want to know why the government did not  “try to involve NGOs and social support groups to rehabilitate her within the close-knit Santhal community?” What do you think?  Should the government have made attempts, despite Sunita’s refusal to return to her community, to “rehabilitate” her with her village and community?
  2. The second question has to do with justice, specially in view of the fact that the award that Sunita is going to receive honors the Indian Constitution and hence the Indian system of law and justice. In a situation like this, where hundreds of men are involved, what in your opinion needs to be done to ensure a just trial? Sunita has named the gang-leaders? Does that mean there should be no legal accountability for the others?  Conversely, if you think this is an unfeasible case to try in court, then does this give communities the leeway to repeat this.  For what that would mean is that if one or two men commit a crime, then the law can come after you.  But if you attack in mobs — the justice system can do nothing?
  3. The most important question — Why is this happening so frequently in India? These men know that this is wrong morally and legally — then why do they do it?

PLEASE SHARE YOUR OPINIONS AND FEEDBACK ON THESE 3 QUESTIONS BELOW

© The 50 Million Missing Campaign. All Rights Reserved. Please see our copyright notice.


ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER

Chris is a member of The 50 Million Missing Photographers’ Group which is supported by more than 2300 photographers from around the world.  To see more of Chris’s works click here.

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. Malcolm Arnold permalink
    January 21, 2011 2:13 pm

    questn 1 surely if the girl wishes NOT to return then her wishes should be listened to , If the egos of the NGO’s is dented then that’s their problem
    Q 2 Legally , I guess , if the young lady cannot identify then it would be very difficult to prosicute . BUT of course the morality of their actions is between then n thier god ( if they have one) This in many ways is an easy way of explaining but am honestly at a loss of how to answer this
    Q 3 I have lived on the sub-continent for nearly 8 yrs and find this type of behaviour endemic in the minds of so many men . This is a blanket statement of course . Females are very very much regarded as lesser than men . Historically I cannot work out from where this mind set came . An answer ?????? beyond my ability ( I am afraid to admit)

  2. M.Sandvoss permalink
    January 21, 2011 2:19 pm

    !. Of course, the government should “rehabilitate” her in her village.
    2. The media, indian and western, should go to the court and see if everything goes approbriate. Also politicians shall be approached and should engage.
    3. There is lack of education, lack of understanding of the importance of heart.
    In such circumstances the weak get problems, means in this case a woman.

  3. Deepak Kumar Vasudevan permalink
    January 21, 2011 2:46 pm

    This is not an isolated issue. On one side women harassment in constantly on the rise not just on tribal sides but even in workplaces. The lecherous bosses pass lewd statements on the women staff and they want them to satisfy their bestial instincts as a pre-condition for job prospects and continued employment. The so-called Women commission is just an eye-wash in this category which can only frame draconian laws like 498a on the cover of safeguarding women but which damages the family fabric.

    I personally can list a number of women harassment incidents in my previous organization to my colleagues. I am damn sure NCW can not do an iota because the said manager is a very close associate of top brass in Chennai cops. Besides this sometimes there are bad rotten cabages in women too. I know of one HR associate in my previous organization who use to comment with temerity “What can I do? Whatever my manager/employer says I would do even if it is stripping in the public” She is one of the alleged ‘pimps’ who force other female staff and harass them.

    How are we going to tackle these issues when the cops themselves are hand-in-gloves over the grave issue?

  4. Elizabeth O'Gorman permalink
    January 22, 2011 8:18 pm

    My blood boils when I read about the brutality of these men. Does it ever cross their mind that these atrocities could be perpetuated on their Mother’s, sisters or daughters — or do they think so little of the female species that they consider them less than beasts of burden.The only punishment than fits their crime would be total humiliation — strip them, tie them up in public and have the women in their villages and towns cover them with excrement –see how they would like that!!! Let the women join forces — strenght in numbers — if the men –who control EVERYTHING — do nothing — then the women must band together and get justice.

    • Tes permalink
      July 7, 2013 1:30 am

      I agree with you that women should stand together but that is something that I don’t see happening cause some women’s mind are just as corrupt as their men.

    • July 7, 2013 12:58 pm

      Or maybe many of the women just see the patriarchy as powerful and are playing to it as a survival tactic.

    • monique d'hooghe permalink
      July 14, 2013 12:39 am

      we need more women in the gulabi gang to make other women and men understand that this is not acceptable (and to teach the police some rough justice too if they are complicit)

  5. January 23, 2011 2:13 pm

    Currently Sunitha is being housed in a government quarter and she has clearly indicated that she does not want to return to her family or to her community.
    +
    I hope, no one will force to go back to her “HOME”. It is good, that there are government quarters to support women, who had such experiences…

  6. Colleen permalink
    January 26, 2011 1:23 am

    i believe that this story has got to be complete fiction, it doesn’t even sound plausible. I am not going to claim that i know everything to kno about women’s issues in indian society and i am sure there r many subjugating things women deal with in rural tribal society but i don’t even understand how someone could be “molested” while walking by multitudes it sounds like something made up and not even very far thought out, the picture used isn’t even a picture of a girl close to age of the girl in this apparent tale. Seems to me she is just there to illicit an emotional response to something negative. There r many issues that women deal with that need real attention and do this belittles the causes that r real. Why do ppl still trust everything they read?

    • January 27, 2011 7:01 am

      @Colleen — You obviously have not read the whole post or clicked on all the links. Unbelievable as it is, the reason people believe this story is because they have read and have clicked on all the links! There are newspaper links in the post and if you did read you would have realized that there are MMS clips that were discovered by journalists who then brought the case to the notice of the police. You think the Prime Minister of India would give an award to this girl on Jan 26, 2011, on the basis of a story she fabricated. Unfortunately it is people like you who have neither empathy nor the initiative to read and understand, who are part of the societal problem of the violence that women have to endure. A pity, specially since you seem to be a woman!

    • Tes permalink
      July 7, 2013 1:37 am

      Women need to stand together nothing now a days seems impossible even the fact that after women getting raped the still get to be debowel now that sounds fictional but it is true and I have seen pictures. Why do we always have to find some negative. Yes you don’t know anything about whats going on in other countries so keep your negative comments to yourself. Traitor to women.

    • July 7, 2013 5:00 pm

      I believe you need to pull your ego and ethnocentric head out of your butt. Stories of women being gang raped, raped girls being whipped to death as if it was their fault and this sort of atrocity are common. So, put your money where your mouth is. Lets see you go there, strip naked and try to get help. Not up to the challenge are you?

  7. Janice permalink
    November 13, 2012 5:07 am

    Q1 I am not sure about this question. As Sunita is15yrs old and this happened to her not me, then I guess she needs to have the input.
    Q2. Once again, this is a question for Sunita. If she feels brave enough then justice needs to be served.
    Q3. It seems to me that they do it because they know they can get away with it.

    • November 13, 2012 11:54 am

      Sunita, herself does not want to return to the village. No woman or girl in her situation would. In India often, the traditional view of women and girls filters into how we approach the issue of addressing violence too. The traditional view is that they are not individuals with independent rights, but that they “belong” to a family and community. There is an ownership concept here. So they decide what to do with what they “own.” That’s why you often see women’s groups here agitating when women are raped and/or killed by men of another community, but not if they are raped/killed by men within their own family and community. This attitude needs to be challenged in our dealing with violence on women.

  8. Roger L. Hughes. permalink
    July 7, 2013 11:39 am

    Thank you for your deeply disturbing article on poor but dear Miss Sunita Murmu. I find this case extremely disturbing and probably would not have signed up to receive it had I known that the Missing 50 Million campaign was going to deviate from its original intent of drawing attention to the need to address the numerical gender-imbalance in India. Never-the-less I am grateful, although I could never tick the ‘like’ box. Men usually keep quiet on such matters for fear of being misinterpreted but I feel compelled to write.

    What experience I have had on the Indian subcontinent has mainly been in Bangladesh and I may be incorrect in my cultural appreciation of the Indian situation.

    1) Please do not blame this young woman’s parents for anything. They must operate in the community with its grossly unjust shame distribution, and with pressures and social norms that we as foreigners do not understand. NGOs, especially “local NGOs” are two a penny. Whether big or small, international or local, of the many shonky or of the few truly great, they are not generally equipped to give this poor lass the specialised support she needs. If she wants to be out of the community and start a new life then this is what she should be helped to do. She understands the social norms. However, we as ‘members’ of the Missing 50 Million campaign should not just make hollow noises. We should do something about it. It is now over two years since poor Miss Sunita M. has been struggling. Give the structure of attitudes of many men in Indian society she has many unfortunate co-sufferers. If the Missing 50 Million campaign organises are prepared to establish their own women’s-only-administered NGO to provide ongoing, accountable support to these young, and sometimes not so young, women, I am sure that our readers if properly motivated would chip in financially. I certainly would. Please members of the Missing 50 Million campaign give it some thought. Just think how awful it would be to be in Miss Sunita M.’s position!
    2) I am afraid that when a large group of men commit a crime and are ‘punished’ surviving the punishment is likely to be construed as a badge of honour. It needs to be remembered the men involved here are probably what most of us would call ‘uneducated’. Survival and status in the community are their two driving forces. Trialling all these men and putting them in prison would just make matters worse. Most of these men are pathetic followers. They will not offend again unless they either get a criminal record that then pigeon holes them, or another ‘leader’ comes along. By contrast the leaders have to be disgraced in their own community. Maybe there is another way but the only effective way that I can see is chemical castration. (I never thought that I would suggest such action especially when as a school boy the main argument against suicide seemed to me that somewhere out there was a girl that I might be letting down! I now have three lovely daughters, with son-in-laws, and a granddaughter, as well as my lovely wife. However, as there are so many more men than women in India that argument seems invalid.) Being a non-Indian I should not be suggesting how Indians run their country. Please forgive my impertinence. It is well intended if possibly misdirected. However, such an action would fix attitudes for many villages around with men sniggering at their false leader(s). Whether such action is legally possible I have no idea. It is awful but so is what Miss Sunita M. had to, and still has to, endure.
    3) I honestly do not know if the Indian sub-continent is any worse than anywhere else. It has a large population. There are decent men everywhere but there are also the less desirables. However, education, with a balanced assessment of self-worth to the community, must have something to do with it. For those with an over balanced self-worth, tolerance of corruption removes any remaining constraint.

    My apologies to readers. I recognise that I have gone over board but this bombardment and especially the case of young Miss Sunita M. have upset me greatly. I mean what I wrote in that we do need to set up something to help her and others.

    Sunita, if you read this or more likely someone translates it for you, you are a remarkable person the way you appear to have handled this situation.

    signed:
    Roger Hughes
    (Melbourne, Australia).

    • July 8, 2013 11:56 am

      dear Roger, Thank you very much for you obvious concern and sincerity in the comment you’ve posted. First of all, we are very happy with your use of the expression “our campaign.” This is a grassroots campaign, and it has grown and spread because of people’s involvement and we’ve always said our “partner” is the global public. Rape and female genocide are actually connected. The misogyny that leads to female genocide is what causes the oppressive patriarchy to also rape and kill at large. The problem is this misogyny. Rita Banerji, the founder says you’ve raised an important question, and that she will write a post for the blog addressing it properly, for there must be other people with the same question. But thank you for raising it.

    • July 8, 2013 12:00 pm

      Also just to let you know Roger, we did keep tab on Sunita. And she was housed in a Government Shelter Home for women, and will be able to finish her education and will get training in a work skill. Her family can visit her, but we are glad that the government officials refused to allow Sunita to be sent back to village against her will. This is what we are working towards.

    • Roger L. Hughes. permalink
      July 8, 2013 3:57 pm

      Thank you for your responses to my comments, much appreciated. I am so pleased that Sunita is okay. It must be terribly hard for her. I am sorry that I was a little emotional when I wrote my note.

      You mention Rita Banerji as the founder of The 50 Million Missing Campaign. Would she be the Mrs Banerji whom I have met at the All Bengal Women’s Union in Kolkata (Calcutta)? I hope so. They do wonderful work in providing a home and caring for the girls and women of all ages who have had a rough time.

    • July 8, 2013 4:00 pm

      Possibly. That’s where Rita is based 🙂

  9. Marijana permalink
    July 7, 2013 12:26 pm

    Q1: Santhal should not be tried to be rehabilitated to her’s village and community against her will. She had traumatic experience, and she is so young.. But the things should be put on the right places, to be clear that she didn’t do anything wrong, but the men did.
    Q2: She couldn’t see the faces of all men, so she couldn’t recognize them. But, it would be good to find the way to punish all the men who had molesting her, as punishment is one of the ways to stop things like this to happen
    Q3: I do not think that these men know that what they did is morally wrong

    • July 7, 2013 12:55 pm

      For Q3, why then would these men pick a woman in their village. They wouldn’t do the same for instance if they were transported to New York City?

  10. July 7, 2013 5:15 pm

    No … if she does not want to go back, do not force her. There is no rehabilitating this village, or reconciling what transpired.

  11. Political Correctness stifles real debate permalink
    July 7, 2013 5:18 pm

    Because they are cavemen.

  12. KimH permalink
    July 7, 2013 8:58 pm

    1. How dare anyone presume to do anything more to or with this person. She is an individual citizen and does not require nor need to explain further her decisions about her own life to anyone. This question is irrelevant. She does as she pleases and anyone or any entity in the vicinity’s only role is to either assister her in what SHE states or shut up, because they have no jurisdiction over her person or her actions. She does as she so chooses on her own. Period.
    2. Why would there need to be a just trial? Why do people only show consideration to such things only when it can help and assist the criminals. It’s quite simple. She makes a list of people and a recitation of her journey, and special officers go and get those people and take them to jail. People serve time in jails without trial for a LOT less. It’s not rocket science and I really don’t even know what anyone would find important about this question.
    3. Again, not rocket science. It’s happening over and over again because no one has the guts or morality to do what I suggest in answer #2.

  13. KVernac permalink
    July 8, 2013 12:07 am

    Regarding question 1: I do not believe Sunita should have to return to her home. We all know that that would not resolve the issue. Backward, ignorant people do not change overnight. Institute social programs in the smaller patriarchal villages of India without making Sunita endure the time it would take (possibly a generation or more) for minds to change.

    Question 2: Obviously you cannot prosecute every person to the fullest extent of the law, but you can:

    a) prosecute the ring leaders and those she was able to identify to the fullest extent of the law.

    b). Make the village(s) as a whole, both male and female, participate in education programs to help them come to understand that we are all human beings and we all deserve respect.

    Question 3: why is this happening so much in India? I do not have any formal training in this regard, but I believe there are three things contributing to this:

    a) socioeconomic factors causing the general populac to be frustrated with their lives and men feeling the strain of providing for their families causing stress. In a patriarchal society, I believe when men are frustrated and/or stressed, they take their frustrations out on underlings, in this case their women and children.

    b) the old teachings of numerous religions misinterpreted the relationship that should exist between men and women. The New Testament of the Bible teaches a different idea that did not get embraced by all people, Jesus Christ taught all people should love one another and treat one another as they would like to be treated.

    c) men that would not have the moral compass to not engage in this type of behavior have a hate of themselves, their fathers, and a disdain for their mothers who could not protect them.

    I pray for things to change as this is not how people should treat each other.

  14. dr.s permalink
    July 14, 2013 12:48 am

    to the first question, my answer is NO, why would you send her back into the same community which made her life hell?, especially when she herself is not willing?isnt that encroaching onto her freedom?
    to the second question, i think everyone involved in the crime should be punished or made to pay for it, only then will society get the message
    to the third question,the root cause of these incidences is our attitude towards women, unless the attitude changes, no amount of protests or laws will help

  15. July 14, 2013 3:37 am

    as usual, it hinges on religion.

  16. goat permalink
    July 16, 2013 7:49 pm

    I’m sorry, but once a whole bunch of people have molested and raped you, there is no such thing as reconciliation. Anyone who thinks it’s possible does not understand trauma and the betrayal of sexual abuse. As for the justice system, every crime should be tried, especially the worst ones. But I know India has a backlog already, so it’s hard to know how to make that happen. But beyond the individual crimes, this is clearly a social problem across Indian society – so a lot of social norms change needs to occur. The government should focus its efforts and money on public health education that can prevent things like this from happening in the future.

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