In a heart-wrenching video taken in Deoria City in the Uttar Pradesh State, India, police are seen trying to retrieve the body of Neha Paswan as onlookers stand by. The 17-year old was beaten by her extended relatives, including her grandfather and her uncles, on Monday, July 19th. The severe beating rendered her unconscious. This prompted Neha’s assailants to say that they were bringing her to the hospital. Her mother, Shakuntala Devi Paswan, was baffled as to why she could not accompany her daughter to the hospital. On the next day, they found her dead body hanging from a bridge.
Deoria City is one of the least developed areas in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The city and other extensive areas in India are still rife with extremely conservative and patriarchal customs. Neha’s case was not an isolated incident. Many girls in India are ostracized and attacked verbally and physically, including by their immediate families, for wearing “western clothes.”
Shakuntala Devi explained that her daughter had been admonished many times by her grandfather and other male relatives about her wearing of denim jeans. They have had multiple arguments about it; in which Neha would respond, “jeans were made to be worn,” and she would refuse to stop wearing them. When Shakuntala looked back on the last days of her daughter she said, “She had kept a day-long religious fast. In the evening, she put on a pair of jeans and a top and performed her rituals.” Neha’s grandparents vehemently objected to what she was wearing during her religious fasting. An argument started, resulting in Neha being beaten unconscious with lathis (a heavy bamboo stick often used by police for crowd control) and rods. Her body was found the next day, lifeless and hanged.
Reports have not been specific regarding Neha’s death. According to Shriyash Tripathi, a senior police officer, several arrests were made. A total of ten people were arrested, including members of her extended family, her grandfather, and two uncles. It is still unclear whether Neha died due to the beating or if she was killed by hanging. Deoria City police did not indicate a possible autopsy but insisted that the investigation is ongoing.
Attacks on women in India’s backwater traditionalist culture have been plaguing rural areas. The highly conservative views are also slowly trickling into the cities; this has slowed down and even halted the progress for women’s rights. Rolly Shivhare, a gender activist, calls it shocking “that in the 21st Century, we are killing and assaulting girls for wearing jeans.”
Amarnath Paswan, Neha’s father, working as a construction laborer in Ludhiana, Punjab Province, came home as soon as he heard the news. Amarnath said that he has been working hard to send her children to school, including Neha. Shakuntala said that Neha wanted to become a police officer, “her dreams would never be realized now.”