Horrific acid attack on 17 y.o. coed is sadly typical of India’s routine mistreatment of women

A beautiful 17 year old Indian college student didn’t respond to the advances of three fellow students.  So one day the young men came up to Sonali Mukherjee and threw acid in her face.  Her face literally melted away, and she instantly lost the ability to see, hear, eat, walk and talk.

The men who maimed her for life?  Two years in jail.  They’re out now.

Welcome to life as a woman in India.

It’s a gruesome story with horrific images.  But you really need to watch it.  At the very least, click through and look at the photo at the top of the page on CNN.  It’s horrible. Ghastly. Disturbing. And necessary for you to see, so that you can share this story with others.  It’s a story about the officially-sanctioned misogyny that is India, and it’s something that really needs to stop, now.

By now, many of you are probably familiar with the problem of rape in India, and more generally, the officially-sanctioned mistreatment of women by men in private families and in government.

indian-woman-burned-by-acid

Sonali Mukherjee, before and after the acid attack that took away her ability to see, hear, eat, walk and talk. (Source: CNN report)

I’d written about one particularly nasty recent story, which led to nationwide protests, in which an Indian woman, traveling with a male friend on a public bus, was attacked by six men who beat and raped her, and even went so far as inserting an iron rod into her body.  She was left with a lung infection and brain damage, and died shortly thereafter.

The official Indian government react to the rape was, shall we say, somewhat lacking.  The President’s son described the women protesting the rape as “dented and painted,” comparing them to a damaged car.  And India’s Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde equated the protesters to Maoist rebels.

As for the authorities generally, India’s police have a long history of ignoring rapes.  They routinely belittle rape victims and refuse to file cases against their attackers.

In one famous incident, an Indian woman was gang-raped last November, and police of course refused to file charges and instead started harassing the girl who was raped.  The women committed suicide a month after reporting the rape to the police.

Enough already.

India is now more than 17% of the world’s population.  So in a very real way, the abuse of women in India is abuse faced by nearly 1 in 5 of the world’s women.

Fortunately, people are beginning to pay attention.  India’s growing reputation as a place for foreign women to be gang-raped has not exactly helped spur tourism.  And the solution needs to be far beyond passing news law. It’s about changing a culture of sexism and misogyny:

Analysts feel that India needs more than just a new rape law that came into force in March this year as rape incidents continue to make headline.

Women’s rights activist Madhu Mehra said: “Have we ever looked at the kind of Indian masculinity that is promoted in this country? What is considered normal for an Indian man is predatory and offensive to Indian women. I think that needs to change. We need to tackle the way we bring up our boys. We still live with very strict gender stereotype and if we are expecting men to be kind, benevolent and protective towards women, that’s not equality, that’s paternalism. We don’t want paternalism.”

And let’s not even get into India’s long-standing problem with female infanticide, where young baby girls are murdered because, of course, it’s better to have a boy than a girl:

One-month-old baby girl Khushi, which means “happiness” in Hindi, would not have been alive had her mother, Sumanjeet, given in to pressure from some relatives and neighbors.

“They would cry and yell, ‘What are you doing giving birth to a girl? Push her off the roof of the building, kill her! Why are you keeping her?’” the 25-year-old mother says.

Sumanjeet says people kept telling her to get an ultrasound check and abort all four of her daughters. They told her she wouldn’t have enough money for a suitable dowry. Although Sumanjeet wasn’t quite sure how she was going to raise them, she knew it was a crime to get rid of them.

At some point, India has to pay an international price for its inaction on this issue.  Foreign trade is reportedly 35% of India’s GDP.  Perhaps it’s time that India’s politicians were put on notice that they’re no longer going to be given a pass on mistreating 1/5 of the world’s women. Enough is enough.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

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  • R G

    guess how many years would white teens get for the same act against a muslim?

  • R G

    doesn`t this make the judge a racist?

  • Hue-Man

    This story from tonight’s Vancouver TV news is a reminder that India has exported these misogynistic attitudes and violence. There have been multiple identical stories and each has had extensive press coverage. Too often the murdered wives have found successful positions within their new community, adding to the tragedy to family, friends, and the community (one brutally murdered wife was a much-loved school teacher).

    “Manmeet Singh is accused of stabbing his estranged wife, Ravinder Kaur Bhangu, to death at the offices of the Sach Di Awaaz Indo-Canadian weekly newspaper. She was working there as an administrative assistant.”

    “Friends said Bhangu had a deep passion for dance, and used to compete in the United States. She taught dance for free in Surrey and volunteered helping new immigrants adjust to life in Canada.” http://globalnews.ca/news/628374/man-who-stabbed-his-wife-in-surrey-newspaper-office-to-stand-trial-today/ The link has video and court documents filed in the case.

  • cfdman

    thank you for bringing muslims into this affair for no reason and how India will enlighten them.

  • Badgerite

    I wonder what would happen legally in India to a couple of women who decided to throw acid on the face of a man while he slept? I’m guessing it would get them more than two years in jail.

  • Badgerite

    It seems to me that the religious right is really missing the boat on these kinds of issues. If the purpose of one’s purpose driven life is to make the world a better place, how is that evidenced by attacking non-offending gay people and glossing over abominations such as this one. Getting gays killed and imprisoning anyone who approves of them seems to be high on their agenda with respect to Africa, but stopping the harm done to women there or in other countries, not so much. The money, energy and talent that could be going to make a serious effort to combat these kinds of violent attitudes toward women, they waste on the lost cause (in my opinion) of gay-bashing. That is not a good purpose. There is so much to be concerned about in the world, and they waste their resources on that!

  • FLL

    It grieves me to see people come to that conclusion, although I can see why you and other people come to that conclusion. One of the reasons for the problems in the Middle East is that the Muslim countries have no history of democracy. Yet India has always been a beacon of hope for all the countries in Africa and Asia because it’s the oldest democracy. India has been a stable, fully-functioning democracy since the end of WWII. Likewise, gay and lesbian rights are woefully behind in the Muslim world, but India provides a beacon of hope again, having legalized consensual sex for everyone in 2009. The gay rights movement in India today is experiencing the same kind of optimism that the gay rights movement in the U.S. experienced during the 1970s.

    I don’t disagree with you on the issue of women’s rights in India, karmanot. I just think that there’s a huge amount of good that India can do by influencing the surrounding Muslim countries. It’s well known that there are lots of Indians working in the Arab Gulf States, like Dubai, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar, and that could only have a positive influence on gay rights in the Gulf States. I think Indian society is reacting to the crimes against women. Last year, they changed the law to impose a ten-year prison sentence for acid attacks. I hope things work out for the best in Indian society. I can only see the Muslim world being influenced by two sources of progressive change: Lebanon and India.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    These barbaric attacks by Indian men on women and the indifference of its police and judicial structures critically exposes the fact that India is no longer among civilized nations.

  • pluky

    melting away of subcutaneous tissues almost on contact — more likely sulfuric acid.

  • silas1898

    Sulfuric acid is common battery acid. Hydrochloric Acid is a common swimming pool treatment. The piece didn’t say which was used.

  • Ford Prefect

    I’m all for helping women everywhere. And children. And anyone else who has to face institutionalized injustice (or any other kind), as is the case in many a country. So to suggest I’m somehow excusing anything at all is ridiculous.

    I’m just saying that as a nation, we allow our institutions to become centers for rape. We allow all sorts of injustice–we pay the taxes and elect the people who design and run these nightmarish institutions. And yet we also feel the need to tut-tut others for doing horrible things as well. My problem isn’t with being against all of these things. My problem is with the hypocrisy that allows a nation to turn a blind eye when it’s inconvenient to see and the way a lot of these “awful foreigners” posts are often as much about helping Americans feel superior as helping anyone.

    1/3 of all women in the military will be raped. That too is institutionalized rape, which is to say its persistence is policy-driven. Who do you have a better chance at helping? I’m not even saying you have to choose between the two. I’m simply saying that ignoring the home version to focus on the foreign version almost implies a desire to solve neither problem.

    I saw that Pro-Publica piece and damn near lost my lunch, which is why reaction in this instance wasn’t all that grand. There are people right here at home being brutalized in our name and folks ought to take some interest in ending the horror. So I saw this piece about a place half a world away and thought, “Yeah, that helps us feel as if we’re somehow more civilized, doesn’t it?”

  • emjayay

    The gay liberaton (as it used to be called) movement is based on much more than legalities.

    Of course in the Western world hundreds of years ago women were in my opinion way ahead of women in general in places like India and the Middle East today. Or for that matter the covered up women in Muslim immigrant and Hasidic communities in the US today. In the US the Seneca Falls resolution, women’s suffrage, the modern feminist movement were all part of the story of women’s rights. Meanwhile for black people there was the abolution movement, post-slavery black equality movements, finally MLK and the Civil Rights and Voting rights acts. These movements are related. All were a combination of cultural and legal.

    We were sort of the last of these. Gay rights got going with the Mattachine Society in the 50′s. But what really got particularly gay rights going and women too was the hippie subculture social change in the 60′s. In the immortal words of the musical Hair:

    “You know kids, I wish every mom and dad would make a speech to
    their teenagers and say kids, be free, be whatever you are, do whatever
    you want to do, just so long as you don’t hurt anybody. And remember
    kids, I am your friend.”

    So now we have radically changed attitudes in the US and other culturally similar countries about gay people and marriage equality. Who knew?

    Somehow Pew seems to skip India in their surveys, but here’s a map. Unfortunately the nearby countries surveyed are more Muslim than Hindu. Oh, and note Russia. And how the US, where Gay Liberation not to mention 60′s subculture started, is relatively retarded compared to a lot of countries. Thankyou Chrisitianists.

    (Steps off soapbox)

  • http://heimaey.us/ jim morrissey

    John complains quite a lot about about the atrocities the US performs. So let’s be fair here. I think the point here is global – if 1 out of 5 women in the world are going to face this type of abuse then it’s a shocking statistic. Also, we are becoming a more global world, so this ultimately will affect us too – maybe sooner than we think (not to mention the number of Indian immigrants we have in the US). So get off your high horse already, we all know women are not treated fairly in the US a lot either and this blog post doesn’t contradict that fact.

  • Hatfield

    Dude, John has a blog. He’s not the US Government. He posts articles he thinks are of interest, period. If you think this is not a blog, you need therapy.

  • GoBlue

    John, my FIRST thought was the same as yours, i.e., horror, outrage and pity. Since other commenters have expressed my thoughts adequately, I didn’t need to add anything. And I didn’t use the S word.

  • Zachary Smith

    I see my own post replying to Ford Prefect was ‘moderated’ out of existence. Fair enough, it’s your blog.

    *** It’s about helping women who are raped and burned and murdered. ***

    A blog post is going to do all that, but only if a laser-like focus is maintained! Ah, but the power of wishful thinking.

    Not that anything awful happens HERE in the God-fearing Law-abiding US of A. Hundreds of thousands of prison rapes. Tens of thousands in the US military. Lord only knows how many unreported ones outside the prisons and the services because going to the police will likely hurt the victim as much as the rapist. Or more so. Perhaps the Holy Men in India bugger children at even higher rates than in Good Christian America. I wouldn’t know.

    What I do know is that I wasn’t making “excuses”. So far as I can determine, Ford Prefect and I were merely paraphrasing Jesus: “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

    It’s about the high moral ground. About cleaning up your own messes before going ape over those of others. About shedding the blinkered/tunnel vision.

    Time to go.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    It’s about helping women who are raped and burned and murdered. It’s not a competition. India has a serious problem that well known and documented in this area. So I’m not really interested in finding ways to excuse men who pour acid on women by suggesting that men elsewhere also hurt women. Yeah they do. And it’s not a reason to try to somehow excuse what’s happening in India.

  • Zachary Smith

    This post is a good reminder that we in the US have some dirty hands too.

    You could have mentioned the Texas case of murdering a prostitute and walking free. Or the Stand Your Ground laws. Or when a congressman’s son is caught with a car load of dope and gets off scott-free while a poor man’s son doing the same crime will spend half his life in jail. Finally, I’ll never forget the case of Leslie Cayer Ohta. That bitch seized millions of dollars of other people’s property using the drug laws, but when her own son was caught dealing drugs, all of a sudden she was immune from the law.

    No, we’ve got plenty of problems here too.

  • Ford Prefect

    Lest anyone delude themselves we are somehow any better, here’s this ditty from right here at home:

    Hundreds of teen-agers are raped or sexually assaulted during their stays in the country’s juvenile detention facilities, and many of them are victimized repeatedly, according to a U.S. Department of Justice survey.

    The teens are most often assaulted by staff members working at the facilities, and fully 20 percent of those victimized by the men and women charged with protecting and counseling them said they had been violated on more than 10 occasions.

    http://www.propublica.org/article/rape-and-other-sexual-violence-prevalent-in-juvenile-justice-system

    Hey folks, our legal system rapes children! Still feel superior?

  • pappyvet

    Sometimes.I just dont know what o say.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    I would suggest that rather than it being the best time, it’s actually the worst time to criticize someone, when they’re trying to help you. I just think that your first thought on reading this post, about a woman’s life being destroyed, and 1/5 of the women in the world living in a country that mistreats women, should not have been to remark on my sexism.

  • GoBlue

    So am I, John, but that’s kind of like saying that now is not the time to talk about gun control. If not now, when?

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Co-ed is a lot shorter than “female college student” – and every bit of headline space sadly matters for advertising (moving the ads further down when the titles go long) and for going viral (longer titles don’t go viral, and if they don’t go viral, we don’t make money, and then we close down :) So I’m sympathetic but only to a point. At this point, I’m more concerned about women having their faces melted with acid than about the word “co-ed” :)

  • JPlattim1933

    It’s worth considering how laws covering gender discrimination are
    being repurposed to help protect LGBTs (and especially the
    transgendered).­ ­http://mybestfriendmakes65dollarsper&#46qr&#46net/kkEj

  • Indigo

    Is there a global boycott of Indian products in place or is this an entirely fresh undertaking? Either way, it needs to happen.

  • Monoceros Forth

    Just a little reminder that a society that values goddess-worship can still be hideously sexist. See also ancient Greece.

    Where did those three murderous rogues get the vitriol, anyway? I guess it’s probably not too difficult if you’re a college student.

  • GoBlue

    Define “well.” Just as in China, indian male children are preferred over female, which is the reason there are so many abortions of female fetuses and female infanticides. Male children are supposed to take care of their parents in their old age; female children are married off and spend their best years taking care of their HUSBANDS’ parents.

    On the other hand, there are so many more Indian males than females that hundreds of thousands of men may never marry because they can’t find wives. The law of supply and demand would seem to dictate that because there aren’t enough women to go around, they should be protected and cherished. But a severe imbalance of males over females is almost always a recipe for social unrest.

  • GoBlue

    “Coed” is shorter than “college student” and thus fits more easily in headlines, but anyone committed to equality really should not use the word “coed” as a noun. The very existence of the word “coed” implies that male is the default student and female a deviation from the norm. If that were ever the case, it isn’t now, since more women than men are enrolled in colleges and universities.

    After all, there is no corresponding term for the masculine gender: a male college student is simply a college student. Why doesn’t the same apply for a female student?

  • NotoriousPAT

    Are men in India treated well?

  • A helpless Indian

    A humble request to people in Western economies (especially women).
    Please vote with your wallets. Please STOP sending your money to India, or Indian companies. Put pressure on US companies to STOP outsourcing to India. Do not buy “Made in India” products.

    This needs to continue until Indian government provides basic human rights to women.

    This will hurt the workers but they don’t have any dignity anyhow and by conducting business as usual, the West is simply encouraging bad and lethargic behavior of the Indian government.

  • Zorba

    All of these rights are human rights. Period.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    It’s worth considering how laws covering gender discrimination are being repurposed to help protect LGBTs (and especially the transgendered).

    It -is- all related, as you say.

  • Zorba

    I agree.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I know, that’s why I allowed for the fact that I know that attacks on women in India weren’t as noticed back then as they are now.

    But like I said, subjectively speaking, it really does seem like there’s an epidemic now. Maybe I’m wrong.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    What bothers me is the seeming contempt from the police and the country’s leaders. That’s a lot different than simply saying it’s a macho culture that’s difficult to change – those leaders are fully aware of what’s right. If they act this way too, then they need to be hit hard by the international community.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    It’s possible that, like here, once we get to the point where you are free enough to complain about a problem, there are more complaints, and it looks like a problem is getting worse, rather than you’re finally hearing about the complaints. It’s hard to know which.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    What’s interesting is when you look at recent gay rights victories, especially in the Supreme Court, and see that our victories are based in large part on pro-choice court victories. The mantra about the issues being related is more than just PC talk.

  • Zorba

    Exactly so, John. If India will not change because it’s way past time the right thing to do, then economic sanctions may get their attention.
    Sadly, I don’t see this country getting on board with this any time soon. :-(

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Having spent some years living in India, I can attest that the culture of institutionalized misogyny runs very deep. Even in an urban setting like Bangalore, it is very rare to see a woman working as a store manager, but very common to see them working as clerks and cleaners, and not even all that many of those.

    Then there was the problem I identified by the acronym WWWF — and no, that’s not about wrestling. It stands for “Walking While White Female.” Simply being a foreigner would draw unwanted attention. But being a foreigner female walking down the street, with or without my wife, we were like magnets for every beggar and scammer within blocks. On the whole, we were treated decently, but still…

    We had heard some stories about the crimes against women, but I have to say, I think something’s happened over there in the last five years or so. There’d be occasional reports of crimes happening — rapes, assaults, thefts — but now it seems to have become an epidemic of anti-woman violence. And I don’t think it’s just increased visibility of what’s been happening all along, but actual skyrocketing instances.

  • voltronforce

    We need to stick up for Womens Rights Globally. Liberated Women are the foundation of every other minorities rights I have found.

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