To my admittedly addled mind, the following story -- combining the worst elements of contemporary female repression with old-school Bible-outlawed homicide, in a conspiracy that would seem absurd on a soap opera, and yet has been unfolding in real time on Indian TV stations for the last two year but especially in the last week -- exerts a singularly perverse, post-Modern pull.
Welcome to Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, and home to a low-level politician whose party won't disavow him despite a string of crimes and his utter unimportance in national affairs.
This surreal, sordid drama began in Unnao, UP, in June of 2017, when a woman who was just herself 17 traveled to the house of a state legislator -- Kuldeep Singh Sengar -- to discuss a possible job.
Instead, the politician raped her, according to her account and a corroborating investigation.
In 2018, the victim lit herself on fire in front of a chief minister because of his inaction in her case -- because her attacker, still in office, had gone unpunished. Because the chief minister was buddy-buddy with her assailant.
The next day her father was beaten to death by a group of thugs, including the rapist's brother, according to some detailed accounts.
On Sunday -- three days ago -- the episode became more gruesome, vile, incomprehensible. The rain was falling hard on Raebareli, a small city on the banks of the Sai River, where an average hotel room costs $17/night. The victim was traveling with two aunts (one a witness in her legal case) and her lawyer -- when a speeding truck with blacked-out license plates rammed their car head-on.
The two aunts died, and the victim and the lawyer were rushed to a hospital, where they remain in critical condition.
This isn't a movie. A politician charged with raping a girl is seemingly trying to have her and her family offed. If you saw this on-screen, you'd consider the evilness unsubtle, the narrative without nuance.
On Monday, at the urging of the victim's uncle, local police charged 10 men, including Kuldeep Sengar, of murder and criminal conspiracy.
The report also alleged that local cops had tipped off Sengar about the victim's movements (which would explain why the truck was able to locate her car).
On Tuesday, these local cops were compelled to hand over the inspection to the CBI -- India's equivalent of the FBI. Later, the political party to which Sengar belongs -- which has faced criticism for not booting out the thuggish predator -- claimed it had secretly suspended him in 2018.
The Times of India asked for proof and received none.
Right now, as I type this on Wednesday morning in the US, the CBI is inspecting the site of the truck-auto crash. And a national congressional committee is fasting -- basically on a mini-hunger strike until Sengar's ruling BJP party actually expels him.
Of course, there are opportunists. Members of an opposing party protesting in front of a Gandhi statue cackled like little kindergarten snitches who now have the plastic Flintstones phone all to themselves.
Sengar is in Sitapur jail, after having been moved already from another facility (for his own safety or more nefarious purposes I couldn't ascertain). Sengar's own family, including his two daughters, has gone into hiding, as have political aides.
Sengar's history is being reexamined. To reach his current seat of power, the former jeweler recruited voters from a particular caste (don't get me started on that system) and from the Muslim community and sealed their affection for him with 10,000-rupee gifts to certain brides in his electorate. This planning was always cynical but never hinted at what has transpired in the last week.
Which leaves the victim, whose name Indian media have omitted. While someone abused as a minor deserves every bit of protection, this anonymity has also rendered the woman a non-entity. She can't be described physically and so can't be conjured with words. What we can attach to her are only the hardships she has endured and her bravery in facing them (although I find self-immolation to be something other than "bravery," but that's really not for me to say; I have considered the subject, though -- in 1349, the Jews of Oppenheim, Germany, a small town on the Rhine, were either killed or forced to convert to Christianity -- ostensibly because they had helped bring about the Plague; some of them, abhorring the idea of conversion, decided the rightful thing to do was indeed to commit suicide by self-immolation, and so they did).
No doubt she deserves the right to be defined on her own terms and not by the way her society has stripped her of dignity first, personhood second and actual family third. So I will go with the detail we do have: She is being treated post-crash in King George's Medical University in the state's capital -- whose alumni magazine, Georgians, printed a poem about language a decade ago, before this ordeal ever began. An excerpt:
We take English for granted, but if we explore its
paradoxes, we find that
quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square...
English should be
committed to an asylum for the verbally insane
My brain feels like a blown fuse box, a sun-melted circuit board.
So I have opinions -- about why Andre Berto's musculature was never right for boxing, for instance (that Haitian wrestler body he inherited from his pops, replete with popping pecs and bulging biceps, was always too densely knotted for this sport; of course, I wish him well in his recovery from a torn biceps anyway).
But I can't tease out my own thoughts. Not with precision or grace.
I do recommend "Contratiempo" on Netflix -- a good Spanish film about an affair, a murder and a car accident, even if you'll anticipate the twists and take issue with certain easy contrivances. Also, looking for a 2-hour-and-50-minute Hindi MMA film? "Sultan" from 2016 checks that box (also, I'm down for the men's fragrance Sultan from perfumer Al-Rehab -- it's a nice, simple cedar, although the company's home base in Saudi Arabia gives me pause).