By Sharanya Gopinathan
The New Indian Express reported on a man in Madhya Pradesh, whom they referred to in their headline as a “cow killer”, who has been ordered by a caste panchayat to marry his seven year old daughter to an eight year old boy from a neighbouring district. Three years ago, Jagdish Banjara threw a stone that hit a calf, causing it to die. When it happened, the panchayat ordered him to bathe in the Ganga, and host a “non-vegetarian feast” for the members of his community. He says that his family has been ostracised since the event, and that they are not allowed to draw water from the local well.
Now, three years later, the elders have now decided that it is Jagdish Banjara’s fault that nobody seems to want to marry into their village, and have come up with the ridiculous diktat of ordering him to marry his daughter to another child. Jagdish started raising money for this engagement, but his wife wasn’t having any of it, and went straight to the sub-divisional magistrate of Aron in Guna district and narrated the chain of events. Magistrate Neeraj Sharma told The New Indian Express that he had made the people who had ordered the illegal marriage sign bonds saying that they wouldn’t take law into their own hands, and had warned them that the marriage must not take place.
This story has lots of horrifying implications. In addition to the obviously casteist implications of ostracising a family because one member accidentally killed a cow, and stopping them from using the community well due to reasons of purity and pollution, the panchayat’s idea of punishment also reveals their belief that women and girls are commodities or tokens to be used and exchanged as a form of punishment to a man they’re “tied” to. It also drives home how commonly women’s bodies are a site of violence, both at the family and the community level.
In another case, a UP woman named Rehana Hussain was divorced by her husband of 18 years through triple talaq all at one go (meaning that he did not pronounce it over a stipulated three month period) over mobile phone, six years ago. She did not accept the divorce, and is in the process of contesting its validity. Yesterday, it was reported that her in-laws threw acid on her to make her leave their house. An FIR has been registered against five people in this case.
Clearly, violence against women knows no boundaries of age and religion, and manifests itself in horrifying ways in different circumstances. These cases also show how quickly women’s bodies are turned to in order to be used to inflict violence and punishment.