"The Silent Suffering of a Cop Who Fought for India's Women"

I was going to write up a chatty narrative of some baking I did today, but while I was eating dinner and reading the newspaper, I was totally derailed by this longform piece. Levity has no place here, but I was so engrossed that I didn't notice the cat stealing my fajita meat. (TW rape, death, & fury. Seriously.)

I found the article online, unabridged here*. The title in the paper was "The Silent Suffering of a Cop Who Fought for India's Women", which is more appropriate and comprehensive than the tacky, reductive title you'll see online.

It's the story of Preeti Dhaka, a young woman in India who became a cop during the wave of rape-protest-rape-protest cycle that made bigger headlines than usual. She did it to help women. She sounds amazing, ferocious, tenacious, and bold: a Tamora Pierce protagonist, a bright spark igniting in the darkness of a rape culture landscape.

Spoiler warning, because you don't find this out for sure until the last few paragraphs:

She's dead.

She killed herself because – if the evidence tells the story correctly – she was a victim of the culture she was fighting to protect other women from. It's heartbreaking to see so viscerally how women can take to the streets with knowledge, skills, and courage to do battle, but that they are battling from inside the warzone,and the warzone is their own landscape.

The article speaks for itself, so I am going to pull quotes and hope the narrative takes shape.

Ms. Dhaka's regular beat was to protect women from crimes, and her heart was with the demonstrators her bosses sent her to restrain….In her first year, she pursued rapists, harassers and a man who tried forcing his teenage wife into prostitution….One reason Ms. Dhaka joined the police was to protect women. As a child, her sister and mother say, she didn't put up with bullying from boys.

But tradition is hard even for some policewomen to defy, says Ajay Chaudhry, a police official who was once Ms. Dhaka's superior. Society sends the message that "you have to behave in a particular manner, you must respect the family into which you are going," he says. "Only your dead body should come out of the house in which you have been married."

The writer describes Ms. Dhaka's experiences as a cadet in the police academy, then as a junior officer assigned to a precinct and partnered with a veteran (female) officer. Then the narrative twists inward:

Back home, Ms. Dhaka's future was taking shape more traditionally. In February 2012, her mother began marriage talks on her behalf with a family that had a son, Sunil Mund, a Border Security Force officer.

They were engaged in April.

Some context and foreshadowing:

Pressuring a bride or her family for wedding gifts is against a 1961 law passed in an effort to end dowry abuses. The dowry tradition persists, with a woman's family often giving lavish gifts to her fiancé's family.

Dowry disputes remain a prevalent cause of violence against women, usually by husbands or in-laws who think a dowry was too small. According to government crime statistics, nearly one woman was killed every hour in India last year over dowries. In Delhi, "dowry comes a lot" in police complaints by women, says Ms. Insan. "In the village, the girls don't come forward. They prefer to protect the home."

Some descriptions about some of the cases she pursued to bring justice to victimized women. Some quotes from her fellow classmates about their experiences doing similar work. Then back to her personal narrative:

At that time, she was also facing pressure from her future husband, Mr. Mund, who wanted her to visit him in Rajasthan state as he prepared for a civil-service exam, she told her sister. Ms. Dhaka resisted, but finally agreed to stay in a hotel with him, her sister says.

About a month before the wedding, Mr. Mund told Ms. Dhaka that his colleagues were getting cars and apartments as dowries and that he wanted similar gifts, she told her mother. Her mother says Mr. Mund one day phoned her, too, saying he wanted a car.

A widowed schoolteacher, the elder Ms. Dhaka says she made it clear that she was providing household furniture, a refrigerator and a flat-screen TV for the couple. Ms. Dhaka's mother says he later phoned and apologized.

Ms. Dhaka married Mr. Mund in November.

She returned in late December to a capital inflamed by protests over the Dec. 16 gang rape.

On Dec. 31, she wrote the note her sister found, which was viewed by The Wall Street Journal. She wrote that after the wedding, Mr. Mund had told her: "If you were not in the world I wouldn't be sad at all. Why can't you take a step like that so that I can be free of you and marry again?" She wrote that his sister had also asked her for more dowry and that his mother was turning Mr. Mund against her.

In early January, Ms. Dhaka took leave to visit Mr. Mund, who was training in Gujarat state.

On Jan. 12, her body was discovered hanging by a scarf from a ceiling fan in her husband's quarters, according to a police report.

Police charged Mr. Mund, his mother and his sister with harassing Ms. Dhaka into killing herself and inflicting cruelty on her. They are awaiting trial.

They are denying wrongdoing, blah blah blah.

Ms. Dhaka's family gave her note to the police. A police official familiar with the death investigation says experts determined the handwriting is hers.

In a format reading like a legal affidavit, she began: "I Preeti Kumari Dhaka…in full cognizance, write…" She went on that Mr. Mund pressed to get a car and house from her family, saying: "If you won't give me all this, then I will shame you and I'll make it so you won't be able to show your face anywhere and I'll kill your family."

She wrote that he used trips they took together before marriage to threaten to discredit her. "I was afraid my mother and I would be shamed in front of the whole community so I couldn't do anything," she wrote.

Mund's lawyer proclaims the couple was in love.He brandishes pictures of the couple hugging. Yes, she looks like a radiant bride in the above picture [ETA: that was sarcasm].

Some statistics about reports of rape and about female police force staffing.

Horrific conclusion to the article:

In August, men stopped a policewoman driving in Jharkhand state and gang-raped her. Police only discovered the crime while investigating a robbery by the same assailants.

"Just like any other woman, she has also that tendency not to report things because it may go against her," says Michael S. Raj, the police officer in charge of the district. "She may not be accepted in the family."

Ms. Dhaka's mother still struggles with her daughter's death. "I didn't teach my daughters to bear things," she says. "Why did she take it?"

Why, indeed?This woman was a fighter for other women.How deeply shitty is the human condition that this world can snuff out this tiny, bright, hopeful spark.

Don't answer that.


*Update: It looks like the WSJ has since plopped the article, insufferably titled "Delhi Policewoman Finds Tradition Mighter Than The Badge", behind their paywall. I did save the paper copy.