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No person or institution killed the Badaun girls. I’d say we all did | India News


Padma, a 16-year-old singing lover, had just embroidered a parrot with a furry beak. Lalli, her 14-year-old poetry-loving cousin, had always wanted to be “something.” Then, on May 27, 2014, their bodies were found hanging from a tree. The chilling image prompted London-based journalist and writer Sonia Faleiro to return to her home country to investigate the cruelly reported and carelessly investigated tragedy that rocked Badaun in UNTIL. The result of repeated visits to the village over four years is a powerful new book called ‘The Good Girls’. Faleiro tells Sharmila Ganesan Ram how he unraveled the tangle of different eyewitness accounts to tell his story.
What prompted you to delve into the story of the two girls?
Like many people, my first introduction to the case was an image of the hanged girls, which a journalist circulated on Twitter. Barely two years had passed since the gang rape on the Delhi bus. By then I had already moved to London, but decided to go back to India and visit the town where the girls had lived to find out what had happened to them. Meeting them, she hoped to learn why crimes against women continued unabated.
Why does the title of the book call it “An Ordinary Murder”?
It is a comment on how many people: policemen, investigators, politicians and even some family and friends saw the death of the girls.
What was the hardest part of your six-year research trip?
Reconcile yourself with the fact that no person, institution or policy was at fault. If you ask me who killed the girls, I’ll say, “We all did.”
Did the cruel media coverage and police investigation complicate your investigation?
It didn’t complicate things as I am confident in my own findings, but it gave me some insight into how even dire events are handled for the sake of PRTs. For example, a cable news channel decided to reconstruct the events by showing a strangled woman. Two male actors perched on her, spreading her legs.
What was your most revealing insight into the stories of the two girls?
The fact that even though they had hopes and dreams, like anyone their age, they knew that these dreams would never come true because they were girls in a village in India.
In what way is Katra Sadatganj from Badaun, a blink from a village in northern India, representative of the country?
Katra Sadatganj is undergoing a modernization and experimenting with modern ideas, as in many places in India. But the process is not without its challenges. To name just one example, girls can use phones, but they can’t have phones, unlike boys. So while girls have access to modern ideas, they are expected to follow the old ways. And this naturally leads to both frustration and friction.
Why does honor still prevail over the lives of women in India?
There has been no concerted effort to guarantee equal rights for women. Women make up 48% of the population, but they have not benefited equally from economic growth. Female infant mortality, literacy and employment remain areas of great concern. As long as women are denied access to the same rights as men, they will be treated as second-class citizens who will be forced to accept the narrative that men impose on them. One such ongoing narrative is that women are trustees of family honor.
The book also details the effects of patriarchy on men. Why is it important to acknowledge this narrative?
It is important to show that the rules of behavior we have established, ostensibly to protect women from harm, cause irreparable harm to both women and men. Men are forced to watch over their own sisters, wives and daughters, and this is not without repercussions.
How does rape complicate the bastion of the caste system, especially in rural India?
Being forced to live in a hierarchy, where some people are naturally considered superior to others, will always complicate access to justice because it means that some people will have to work harder to be believed while others will get away without punishment.
Is the economic independence of women the answer to reduce crime?
The argument for financial independence is not that it will protect women from sexual assault. For that to happen, we must continue to strengthen our laws, train our police force, and work to improve our criminal justice system. But financial independence will allow women to choose and control their own lives, two things that many of them are denied.
As a writer, were there parts that you had trouble with?
It was extraordinary to face such a tangle of eyewitness accounts. The night the children disappeared, dozens of people came looking for them, but originally it seemed that everyone saw and heard something different. One reviewer called The Good Girls a “modern Rashomon” and I must admit I certainly felt that way.
How has the book changed you?
It was a reminder to persevere. The most important stories take longer to reveal.

Times of India