A Double Tragedy in India and the Search for Elusive Answers

It became known, inaccurately as it would turn out, as the “Badaun rape case,” after the district in Uttar Pradesh — “Horror Pradesh,” on...

It became known, inaccurately as it would turn out, as the “Badaun rape case,” after the district in Uttar Pradesh — “Horror Pradesh,” one news channel called it — one of India’s most politically significant and poorest states, where people survived on grass in lean times. Photographs of the dangling bodies were seen around the world, the girls’ mothers and grandmother crouching beneath them, veiling their faces, refusing to be moved. Children and men stood, forming a ring around them.

Credit…Jonathan Ring

When Faleiro began visiting the village in 2015, it was to research a planned book about rape in India. But the case cracked open to reveal a honeycomb of histories, resentments, secrets, competing interpretations. The nature of the crime kept shifting. Was it murder or suicide? The families of the girls laid the blame on a local boy and his kin, of a more powerful caste. This was a story of caste violence, it was decided.

No; the police began suspecting the fathers. This was, in fact, a story of honor killings — of a world in which “reputation was skin” and “the taboo against premarital sex was greater than the stigma of rape.” Or was it a news story, about the proliferation of soap opera narratives and the Indian media’s taste for them? Or a story of jagged modernization, of a country in which cellphones were cheap and ubiquitous but toilets scarce? (The girls had gone out in the night to use the fields.)

“You get as much story as you can take,” the writer Adrian Nicole LeBlanc has said. And, perhaps, you can tell as much story as skill and structure allow. Faleiro has a talent for ramifying plots and slippery characters — for a narrative that resists easy formulation. Her books include “Beautiful Thing,” a portrait of Mumbai’s dance bars, and “13 Men,” a study of another shocking crime that, on second look, might certainly be a crime but of a very different sort. “The Good Girls” gathers all these strands: of sexual violence and caste, new types of media narratives and ancient taboos — no story exists in isolation after all. In brisk chapters, some just a few pages long, with the sort of headings one associates with Victorian novels — “Cousin Manju Observes Something Strange”; “Nazru Sees It Too”; “A Finger Is Pointed” — we glide swiftly, smoothly, only to realize that we’re not approaching a clearing but being led into a darker, more tangled story.

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Newsrust: A Double Tragedy in India and the Search for Elusive Answers
A Double Tragedy in India and the Search for Elusive Answers
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