The tree the couple were tied to on 20 January. Photo: Madhusree Mukerjee
The tree the couple were tied to on 20 January. Photo: Madhusree Mukerjee

The 13 men from Subalpur

Sonia Faleiro's book on the Birbhum gang rape is riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions.

The night she was gang raped in a Delhi bus and thrown onto a street to die, the young woman, whom the Indian media would name Nirbhaya, had been trying to get home after watching the movie Life of Pi. The film is about a shipwreck that left a lone survivor, a boy, who relates his adventures in enthralling detail. He shares the boat with a full-grown tiger, and through grit and ingenuity manages to beat incredible odds. This story, shared with personnel from the shipping company, becomes the official one. Only later is another narrative wrung out of him – brief, gruesome, and clearly true.

Nirbhaya's own story has only the one, horrific version. And it is one we know well. Revived most recently by a controversial BBC documentary, India's Daughter, the protests that followed the rape changed the conversation around sexual violence in India and led to the most progressive legislation yet on such crimes. And it so galvanised the nation that when news of another sexual atrocity broke in rural India a little more than a year later – "Woman gang-raped on orders of 'kangaroo court'," as a BBC headline put it – journalists from around the world rushed to report on it, and commentators to demand swift justice.

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Himal Southasian