Kannauj Widow: Apparently We’re Still Tonsuring and Parading Women in the 21st Century


Kannauj Widow: Apparently We’re Still Tonsuring and Parading Women in the 21st Century

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

If one were to look at the kind of headlines coming out of Uttar Pradesh recently, it would be easy to assume rule of law has fallen apart in the state. Shootouts between cops and gangsters, extrajudicial killings, multiple rapes and murders, and now, mob justice as well. And all of this in only the last two months! The latest upsetting story from the north Indian state comes from Kannauj, where a widow and her male companion were assaulted, publicly humiliated by having their faces blackened, heads shaved, and garlanded with slippers, and then paraded through the streets. The perpetrators of this ugly incident were said to be the relatives of the woman’s dead husband, who disapproved of her relationship with her male companion.

The fact that such an incident even took place in a democracy in 2020 is startling enough, but what’s equally shameful is that perpetrators were bold enough to film their misdeeds, as if confident in the righteousness of their actions. If that doesn’t indicate a deep-seated misogyny and disdain for the rule of law, nothing else comes close. The impunity with which mobs record their violence is a worrying signal that lynchings and mob justice are becoming normalised in the public’s thinking. The video made it to national news channels, and caused an outrage as it was broadcast across the nation.

After the video from Kannauj started going viral, criticism of the state government and police began pouring in for their lapses in letting such an incident occur in the first place. The police have since jumped into action. A First Information Report (FIR) has been registered against eight persons seen in the video, according to a report by NDTV. Meanwhile, a Hindustan Times report quoted a police official as saying two arrests had already been made.

Incidents like this continue to be reported with alarming persistence, furthering the image of Uttar Pradesh as a state sliding toward lawlessness.