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Book review: The Good Girls by Sonia Faleiro

The Good Girls, An Ordinary Killing by Sonia Faleiro. Penguin Books.
 
If there is only one book you want to read to close your account for 2021, let it be this book, please.
 
Faleiro, whose writing style and credentials need no burnishing, goes to Katra village in western UP`s Badaun district, to investigate the case where two young girls aged sixteen and fourteen were found hanging from a mango tree in May 2014.
 
Everything points to rape and murder. Her family refuses to bring the bodies down from the tree, and that’s when the case catches the nation`s eyes and #BudaunRape starts to trend on Twitter.
 
News vans rush to the scene, politicians arrive, activists fetch up. Public anger grows, the less- than- efficient local police are both fearful in the face of that public anger and clueless about what to do next. The CBI steps in.
 
An arrest is made, several arrests are made. Then the father of one of the girls is asked what he would have done to protect the honour of the family if the girls had been alive. And he says, we would have killed them.
 
Long story short, this case with its twists and turns, is one that has seen no definite closure.
 
Faleiro delivers small nuggets of indelible and indisputable information, interspersing them with her own observations: that an Indian woman`s first challenge was surviving her own home. That the year these girls died, 12, 361 people were kidnapped and abducted in Uttar Pradesh, accounting for 16 per cent of all such crimes in India. That coverage of rural India made up only 0.23 per cent of the news. That money was always thrown to `clot immediate concerns` and the Katra case was no different; after everything was over, the family was given some money, a non-profit organization built a few toilets in the area, judgements were made and disputed, and nothing else really happened.
 
This is a story about women in modern India, the author states at the end of the book. But it is also about what it means to be poor. Women have some education but are forbidden from working. Fear of social ostracism and mob justice forces people to waive their rights, be held back and sometimes, keep others back, too.
 
A woman of the family which the dead girls belonged to, rues that the girls had no toilet at home, hence had to risk themselves by going out to the fields. Tellingly, she says her father- in- law built three toilets in the house and she `never went anywhere.`
 
The chapters are kept short, and as you read intently, you understand the meaning of the word `page- turner.` You will read this shattering account with deep despair. But read it, you must.
BadaunRapeKatra killingsPenguin BooksSonia FaleiroThe Good Girls An Ordinary Killingwomen in the heartland

Sheila Kumar • November 24, 2021


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