Tuesday, April 22, 2014

India: Marginalized Children Denied Education

India: Marginalized Children Denied Education

Use Monitoring, Redress Mechanisms to Keep Pupils in School

(New Delhi, April 22, 2014) – School authorities in India persistently discriminate against children from marginalized communities, denying them their right to education, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Four years after an ambitious education law went into effect in India, guaranteeing free schooling to every child ages 6 to 14, almost every child is enrolled, yet nearly half are likely to drop out before completing their elementary education.

The 77-page report, “‘They Say We’re Dirty’: Denying an Education to India’s Marginalized,” documents discrimination by school authorities in four Indian states against Dalit, tribal, and Muslim children. The discrimination creates an unwelcome atmosphere that can lead to truancy and eventually may lead the child to stop going to school. Weak monitoring mechanisms fail to identify and track children who attend school irregularly, are at risk of dropping out, or have dropped out. 

“India’s immense project to educate all its children risks falling victim to deeply rooted discrimination by teachers and other school staff against the poor and marginalized,” said Jayshree Bajoria, India researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Instead of encouraging children from at-risk communities who are often the first in their families to ever step inside a classroom, teachers often neglect or even mistreat them.”




Detailed case studies examine how the lack of accountability and grievance redress mechanisms are continuing obstacles to proper implementation of the Right to Education Act. Human Rights Watch conducted research for this report in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Delhi, interviewing more than 160 people, including children, parents, teachers, and a wide range of education experts, rights activists, local authorities, and education officials.

The Indian government should adopt more effective measures to monitor the treatment of vulnerable children and provide accessible redress mechanisms to ensure they remain in the classroom, Human Rights Watch said. According to the government, nearly half – over 80 million children – drop out before completing their elementary education.



In drafting the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, the central government recognized exclusion of children as the “single most important challenge in universalizing elementary education.” But many education department officials at state, district, and local levels have been unwilling to acknowledge or accept that discrimination occurs in government schools, let alone attempt to resolve these problems, Human Rights Watch said.

“The teacher tells us to sit on the other side,” said “Pankaj,” an eight-year-old tribal boy from Uttar Pradesh. “If we sit with others, she scolds us and asks us to sit separately. The teacher doesn’t sit with us because she says we ‘are dirty.’”

Marginalized groups continue to face discrimination in India despite constitutional guarantees and laws prohibiting discrimination, Human Rights Watch said. School authorities reinforce age-old discriminatory attitudes based on caste, ethnicity, religion, or gender. Children from Dalit, tribal, and Muslim communities are often made to sit at the back of the class or in separate rooms, insulted by the use of derogatory names, denied leadership roles, and served food last. They are even told to clean toilets, while children from traditionally privileged groups are not. 


“Non-discrimination and equality are fundamental to the Right to Education Act and yet the law provides no penalties for violators,” Bajoria said. “If schools are to become child-friendly environments for all of India’s children, the government needs to send a strong message that discriminatory behavior will no longer be tolerated and those responsible will be held to account.”


Most state education departments have failed to establish proper mechanisms to monitor each child, and intervene promptly and effectively to ensure they remain in school, Human Rights Watch said. Because there is no common definition for assessing when a child is considered to no longer be attending school, various states have different norms: in Karnataka, students are regarded as having dropped out of school after seven days of unexplained absence, in Andhra Pradesh it is a month, and in Chhattisgarh and Bihar it is three months. This lack of a common definition hinders efforts to recognize and address the problem.

The Right to Education Act provides that children who have dropped out of school or older children who never attended school should be offered “bridge courses” to bring them up to speed so they can return to mainstream schools in an age-appropriate class. But state governments do not maintain proper records of these children, provide the additional resources needed for appropriate bridge courses, or track these children through completion of elementary schooling once they are in an age-appropriate class.

Children of migrant workers, many belonging to Dalit and tribal communities, are most vulnerable to dropping out due to lengthy absences from school while searching for work with their parents. Yet the state governments do not keep track of these children in any systematic manner to ensure that they continue their education. The labor departments at state level are not properly carrying out programs meant for bringing child laborers back to school. And state education departments are not following up once a child is admitted to a mainstream school, which often results in the child’s return to work.

Central and state authorities are not adequately supporting creative community-based mechanisms envisioned under the Right to Education Act such as “school management committees.” Parents told Human Rights Watch that they do not have adequate representation on these committees, and so they do not complain when there is injustice against their children because school authorities ignore the complaints or even reprimand the students. Guidelines adopted to address grievances have often not been implemented.

India is a party to core international human rights treaties that protect children and provide for the right of everyone to education, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. International law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, ethnicity, social origin, or other status. The Convention on the Rights of the Child obligates India to take measures to encourage attendance and reduce dropout rates, and ensure that the rights of the children are protected through effective monitoring. 

Prior to the national elections in India in April 2014, the major national parties made commitments in their election manifestos to improve elementary school education. The central and state governments should create clear indicators to detect and address discrimination in schools, and to lay out appropriate disciplinary measures for those found responsible, Human Rights Watch said.


The government should create a system to monitor and track every child from enrollment through completion of elementary schooling, up to Grade VIII. The government should initiate proper training of teachers, so that they end exclusion and facilitate greater interaction among children of different socio-economic and caste backgrounds.


“India’s political parties focused on education during the election campaign,” Bajoria said. “But whoever takes office will need to do more to ensure that children attend classes. An important law is set to fail unless the government intervenes now.”

For select statements from interviews, please see below.

During the embargo period, “‘They Say We’re Dirty’: Denying an Education to India’s Marginalized” is available at:



Upon release, it will be available at:



For more Human Rights Watch reporting on India, please visit:



For more information, please contact:
In Delhi, Jayshree Bajoria (Hindi, English): +91-8130-737878 (mobile); or bajorij@hrw.org. Follow on Twitter @jayshreebajoria
In Mumbai, Meenakshi Ganguly (Bengali, Hindi, English): +91-98-2003-6032 (mobile); or gangulm@hrw.org. Follow on Twitter @mg2411
In Washington, DC, John Sifton (English): +1-646-479-2499 (mobile); or siftonj@hrw.org. Follow on Twitter @johnsifton

Selected Quotes
The names and identifying details of interviewees have been withheld to protect their safety. All names of children used in the report are pseudonyms.


“Whenever the teachers are angry, they call us Mullahs. The Hindu boys also call us Mullahs because our fathers have beards. We feel insulted when they refer to us like this.” – Javed, a 10-year-old Muslim boy, Delhi


“The teacher always made us sit in a corner of the room, and would throw keys at us [when she was angry]. We only got food if anything was left after other children were served…. [G]radually [we] stopped going to school.” – Shyam, a 14-year-old Dalit boy, Uttar Pradesh 



“We were asked to massage a teacher’s legs. If we refused, he used to beat us. There was a toilet for teachers, which is the one we had to clean.” – Naresh, a 12-year-old Dalit boy, Bihar

Monday, April 21, 2014

BJP leader’s Pak comment reflects their frustration, desperation: Civil society


Varanasi-based activist Lenin Raghuvanshi said that such comments show frustration of Giriraj Singh and his party.
 

“There is a mindset of fascism in our country but people are not taking it seriously. The performance of BJP is going to be worst and they are making such statement in desperation. They want to play communal card and polarize voters in their favour,” Raghuvanshi, who is also general secretary of People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, told India Tomorrow.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The need of the hour is to create new dynamics and debate within India: Lenin Raghuvanshi

We had a strong Dalit movement before formation of RSS in 1925. We have saints like Kabeer, Raidas who were an epitome of our syncretic, plural and tolerant Indian culture. Hindutva has nothing to do with Hindu religion per se. The Hindutva ideology was a manifestation of British colonialism. The greatest ideologue of RSS Guru Golwalkar himself advised RSS cadres not to fight against the British occupation. They have an expansionist ideology. On one hand they are exploiting the dalits and on the other they are attacking other nationalities. They are even unhappy with me as I am fighting against casteism that forms a fundamental feature of their ideology. But the unfortunate part of the whole matter is that now major political parties are influenced by Hindutva ideology. http://thekashmirscenario.com/prominent-activist-co-founder-peoples-vigilance-committee-human-rights-pvchr-lenin-raghuvanshi-conversation-mushtaq-ul-haq-ahmad-sikander-early-life-influences-work-h/

Prominent Activist and Co-Founder Peoples Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), Lenin Raghuvanshi in a conversation with Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander, about his early life, influences, work, Hindutva and future plans
Tell us something about yourself?
I was born in plural family. Each member was different from another, yet they lived under one roof. My Grandfather was Gandhian, but there was contrast in him as he was a socialist and atheist too. My grandmother was religious. My father initially joined RSS, but Grandmother told him that the uniform black cap of RSS is anti-Hindu. Then my dad became a communist, but he is still religious. There was always an ideological tussle going on between my grandparents and parents. My Grandfather wanted me to be a Gandhian and my Father wanted me to become a communist. Hence this tussle gave me an exposure to varied shades of opinion since my childhood. Later on I self studied various philosophies, ideologies and religions, and five great people influenced my life and thoughts particularly and they include Prophet Jesus (pbuh), Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), Karl Marx, Buddha and Dr.B.R Ambedkar. I grew up in the Eastern part of Uttar Pradesh (U.P) that has nationalist links with mainstream India. Though in certain parts of U.P, RSS and Congress type mentality also prevails. But I envisage that we create different nations within India, as India has the potential for tolerating many sub Nations.
What is your educational background?
I studied Indian Medicine system at a Gurukul Kangri in Haridwar.
Keeping in view your professional education background, how were you inclined towards activism?
As I stated earlier that my father wanted me to become a full time Communist Party worker, but I wasn’t inclined to it whole heartedly. In 1989, I joined United Nations Youth Organization and started my activism with that. In 1993 I came to head its U.P chapter. In the same year we started Bachpan Bachao Aandulan (Movement for saving childhood). During that movement, I witnessed that there were no child laborers from upper caste people. Meanwhile I also got married in 1992, and my spouse also helped me in my activism and believed in my work.

So when and what reasons led to the establishment of Peoples Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR)?

In 1996, I along with my wife Shruti founded the PVCHR. It is a community based organization, to break the closed, feudal hierarchies of conservative slums and villages by building up local institutions and supporting them with a high profile and active human rights network.  The caste based violence, exploitation of poorer sections of the society and the marginalization of Dalits and Adivasis led to the establishment of PVCHR.

What kind of activities does PVCHR engage with?
We work against the Caste system and the structural prejudice associated with it. We work for the reconciliation among communities. We are also working for making the environment conducive for Truth and Reconciliation. We are initiating a discussion about democracy and human rights in the cow belt. Presently we have more than fifty thousand members and in more than four hundred villages we are carrying out our activities.
So did your efforts help in bringing any Positive change?
Yes, there is a lot of change in more than two hundred villages. Since 2000 there has been no communal violence in Banaras, heart of the cow belt. Many religious leaders have united against Hindutva Fascism. The Mushar community has become confident and an indigenous leadership has evolved among them. 2/3rd Dalits, Muslims and OBCs are elected members in Governing Board of PVCHR from 2010.
Do you face any threats or intimidation regarding your work?
Yes the threats and intimidation tactics are very common, both by State and Non State actors.
Is PVCHRs particular focus presently on torture victims?
Yes, we are strongly focusing on the victims of torture. Since 2008 we are using Testimonial Therapy developed by PVCHR and Danish Organization Research and Rehabilitation center for Torture Victims (RCT) for the survivors of torture, in order to make them overcome the aftermath trauma associated with torture. Our testimonial Therapy model are using by partners of RCT in Srilanka, Cambodia and Philippines.
You have been talking and writing about what you call as the “Culture of Impunity” as prevalent in India. What does this Culture of Impunity mean?
Peace without Justice and suffering in silence is culture of impunity. Our constitution is modern but the rules are colonial. The Police Act 1861, can be a reference point. It was implemented by the British in India after the 1857 mutiny. It was anti India in its connotations and stature, but still there has been no change in it despite the fact that British left India in 1947.
So how to Fight and Resist against this culture of impunity?
The culture of impunity breaks humans. During the freedom struggle Muslims were fighting alongside with other communities, but where are they now? This culture of impunity has wrecked much harm and is responsible for numerous atrocities against minorities, dalits and adivasis. It helps the guilty, culprits and perpetuators of these atrocities go scot free. We still have draconian laws like Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) imposed on various parts of India, where the security forces have committed grave human rights abuses because of this blanket culture of impunity. We must educate, organize and agitate against this culture of impunity. We must be able to provide Psycho-Social support to the victims. Then there is a need to create debate about this culture of impunity. For Justice to be established we need to tell the truth and put up the facts before the people.
What is your opinion about the Hindutva fascism and their suppression of minorities?
We had a strong Dalit movement before formation of RSS in 1925. We have saints like Kabeer, Raidas who were an epitome of our syncretic, plural and tolerant Indian culture. Hindutva has nothing to do with Hindu religion per se. The Hindutva ideology was a manifestation of British colonialism. The greatest ideologue of RSS Guru Golwalkar himself advised RSS cadres not to fight against the British occupation. They have an expansionist ideology. On one hand they are exploiting the dalits and on the other they are attacking other nationalities. They are even unhappy with me as I am fighting against casteism that forms a fundamental feature of their ideology. But the unfortunate part of the whole matter is that now major political parties are influenced by Hindutva ideology.
You have also been writing that caste based structural biases and violence is embedded in our system. How do you explain the same?
During childhood days my grandma used to tell me, not to eat while facing south, neither sleep keeping your legs in the direction. Elderly in the village said not to visit southern quarter of the village. Since childhood I used to wonder what the secret of this word ‘Dakhkhin Tola’ (south ghetto) is.
As I grew up, started reading, started social activism, fought for the rights of bonded labours and traveled across the globe then I realized that in the south of every village there is South Africa (a Dalit quarter ) as ‘culture of silence’.
The silence imposed by draconian suppression sanctified by religious rituals of the Upper Caste was such that the outside world knew little about this colossal cruelty. Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer, former Judge, Supreme Court of India described the plight of the Dalits in the following words, “Courts to them are alien, laws their enemy and human justice their despair.”

The caste system continues to determine political, social, and economic lives of a billion people in South Asia. The caste system, straddling across the scrawny shoulders of the Untouchables, is like that Old man in Tolstoy’s story, who has all the sympathy for the poor bearer and would like to do anything but to get off his shoulder. The most significant aspect of caste is its ability to resurface without a trace of remorse on the part of the perpetrator. It is like that chemical addiction which once had makes you vulnerable to its guiles forever.
American modern conservative thinker Edmund Burke says correctly about India many years before, “In that Country the law of religion, the laws of the land, and the law of honour, are all united and consolidated in one, and bind a man eternally to the rule of what is called his caste.”
Traditional political system and  Hindu fascist forces are trying hard to maintain the old system of the power game. Money and muscle power, together with political string-pulling, often result in denial of justice for the hapless ‘have-nots’, especially the Dalits (untouchables), ravaged by poverty and illiteracy.
Atrocities and extortion on the Dalits, fake encounters, refusal to register complaints against the well-heeled, arbitrary arrests on false charges, illegal detention and custodial deaths are in commonplace.
In the absence of a modern social audit system, the keepers of the law often unleash a ‘police raj’, especially in rural India. A crippled National Human Rights Commission and its state subsidiaries with limited recommendatory control and a dysfunctional Legal Aid System depict a gloomy picture indeed.
Ironically, even after having shed the colonial yoke, its legacy continues in the administrative framework of our independent India marked with widespread corruption which has rendered many government-sponsored schemes in rural India a failure.
You have also written that Indian police has learnt the tactic of Community Punishment from caste system. How can these two be related?
You can witness this fact in India. If an upper caste person commits a crime, if ever he is punished, he will bear it solitarily. But if a lower caste person commits any crime the whole community will be punished for one man’s deeds. The Police have learnt community punishment from casteism. Also see how the Caste and Class structures are reinforced by the state machinery. Why are the regiments named on caste and class denominations like Rajputana, Dogra etc, whereas such amalgamations are contradictory to the constitution?
The Police atrocities against common people particularly the marginalized sections of society are growing with each passing day. What are the reasons responsible for that?
Police is the prime executive for the protection of Human Rights of common people. But in India the mindset of Police as inculcated by 1861 Police Act is synonymous to the British period when the Police saw all Indians as enemies. Even after Freedom Indian police witnesses citizens as its enemies. Hence the police reforms are must. We also need representation of minorities and marginalized sections of society in the police in order to change its outlook, bias and perception about them.
In most cases where the Police is found guilty of committing atrocities against the innocent civilians, we witness that they usually go scot free, while the innocent continue to suffer?
The prevalent culture of impunity is responsible for the guilty policemen going scot free. In Crpc and AFSPA the police and army have got the legal impunity that makes their persecution or punishment impossible.  We want to amend and remove these draconian laws. Armed Forces Special Power ordnance was imposed by the British colonial administration to crush the Quit India Movement that started in 1942, but even after Freedom Indian State implemented more draconian law as Armed Forces Special Power Act(AFSPA). Indian State is still not ready to pass the Anti Torture Bill. How can in such an environment you hope for policemen to be punished. These black laws create problems for National integration. We need to fight the mindset that is obstructing the amendment or revocation of these draconian laws, under the veil of National interests and sovereignty.
The growing corporatization is having severe ramifications on Nation Building and integrity. How can we resist this onslaught?
We need to strength the Neo Dalit movement. Neo-dalit campaign is against politics of division, exploitation and hatred with an alternative of unity of broken masses on base of reconciliation, democracy, secularism and non violence. First unity is unity against caste system, a historical system of exclusion i.e. unity among the lower castes people that have been suppressed since centuries with the progressive anti-caste people born in upper caste. This will be first of its kind unity, which will not be against any person born in to upper caste communities neither against any religion. Second unity is unity among minorities and communities who suffered with communal fascism, those who believe in communal harmony and people with secular values against neo-fascism. Unity of all poor from all communities against the suffering with neo-liberal policy is the third kind of unity. Fighting against neoliberal policy is not against democratic capitalism for people. Since those broken with different kinds of suppression and exclusion means dalit therefore these three kinds of unities is base of impart the neo-dalit movement. These three need to join hands and unitedly fight against the menace of corporatization based on exclusion, anti-people and anti-environment norms. We are opposing the corporatization whereas attacking cultural imperialism too, and trying to build pressure on Government through people demand for more budget on social structure such as education, health etc . If we will not fight against corporatization, they will make the country and people slave to their corporate goals.
Given your busy activist schedule, how do you balance that with your personal family life and its demands?
My wife Shruti is also an activist, while our son Kabeer is an independent child. We still live together in a joint family and I visit my parents when I find time.
So what are the future plans of PVCHR?
We are going to work in Kashmir, not for political negotiations or for solving Kashmir issue. We want to meet the victims and survivors of torture. We want to ask for pardons for the atrocities committed by the Indian State, and start reconciliation with people of Kashmir. We also want to offer psychological support to the victims of torture through Testimonial Therapy.
Any message for people?
The people must believe in themselves. The need of the hour is to create new dynamics and debate within India. The people musty make alliances with Dalits, Anti-Hindutva Movement and other marginalized people. The debate about Kashmir must be initiated within Indian particularly the cow belt, and it is obligatory on Kashmiris to change the mindset of the inhabitants of cow belt as far as Kashmir and other issues are concerned.
Lenin Raghuvanshi can be reached at pvchr.india@gmail.com
Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander is Writer-Activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir and can be reached at sikandarmushtaq@gmail.com

Monday, April 14, 2014

With 1,39,56,010 enslaved citizens, why is slavery not an agenda for Lok Sabha elections?

The real plight, however, lies in the collective apathy, explains activist Lenin Raghuvanshi, a member of the District Vigilance Committee on Bonded Labour in Uttar Pradesh.
Lenin, who is also the founder of People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) reveals, “In just the last two and half years PVCHR released and rescued 243 bonded labours.”
He observes, “All the released labour belonged to Dalits, tribal, OBCs and minorities communities. So, it wouldn't be so far fetched to say that existence of caste system​, communalism and patriarchy are the real causes of persistent slavery.”
Corruption or non-performance of safety nets and practices of land grabbing and asset domination by high caste groups leaves people without protections. 
Further asserting this hypothesis, he adds, “Landless poor, agricultural labourers, some artisans and those without employment are the main victims of this system. Workers employed therein are members of SC, ST and minorities who are mostly non-literate and non-numerate and do not easily understand the arithmetic of loan/ debt/ advance and the documentary evidence remains with the creditor and its contents are never made known to the debtor.”

साम्प्रदायिक फासीवाद और साम्राज्यवाद के गठजोड़ को बनारस में परास्त करें

बनारस के बहुलतावादी समावेशी संस्कृति के लिए आज जितना साम्प्रदायिक फासीवादी ताकतें खतरा हैं, अवसरवादी अराजक राजनीति करने वाले भी उतने ही खतरनाक हैं | यह याद रखना जरूरी है कि जो दिखाई देता है वही सच नही होता है | जैसे दिखाई देता है कि सूर्य पृथ्वी के चारों ओर घुमता है जबकि पृथ्वी सूर्य के चारों ओर घुमती है | ऐसे में बनारस व् बनारसीपन को बचाने के लिए मोदी और केजरीवाल दोनों को शिकस्त देनी होगी |

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Saturday, April 12, 2014

In rural India, women want politicians to deliver


Associated Press published and released a big story "In rural India,women want politicians to deliver",where our staff and member of Management committee of PVCHR,Ms. Chhaya Kumari(photo number 2) and village Sarai(model village of PVCHR-Dignity initiative) came in to international light. 




SARAI, India (AP) — Trudging home after a long day harvesting wheat, Veena Devi has little time for the political workers swarming her northern Indian village seeking votes for their candidates.
"They come to us each time promising piped water, public toilets and factory jobs. But these political leaders will disappear after they win," said the gray-haired Devi, sitting outside her thatched-roof hut in Sarai, a village just outside the Hindu holy city of Varanasi.

Women form more than 49 percent of India's 814 million voters, but many of them, especially in rural India, feel their concerns are not taken seriously by political parties, and that they take a back seat to men in everything from health care to education to legal protection.
Nearly seven decades after independence from Britain in 1947, India has had many formidable female leaders. The best known, Indira Gandhi, was prime minister for 15 years. The current leader of the ruling Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, is the widow of Indira's son, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
India has had a woman president, a woman speaker of Parliament and women leaders of political parties. Two of India's biggest states have women chief ministers.

But few Indian women feel these leaders have served them well. And women leaders have rarely made women's issues a priority.
Women in West Bengal were particularly incensed last year when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the state's top elected leader, tried to play down a rash of rapes in the state and said her administration was unable to speed up trials of rape cases that have been pending in courts, sometimes for decades.
Amendments to India's constitution that would reserve for women a third of all seats in Parliament and state assemblies have been hanging for more than a decade.
"Most women leaders are careful not to identify themselves with women's causes. They fear they will be marginalized in their own parties," said Suniti Kumar, a shop manager from Varanasi. "In that, they are not so different from the men."
For millions of Indian women, the national elections that take place every five years are merely a minor distraction in their quietly desperate lives.
Every day Devi, a 42-year-old widow, wakes well before dawn to accompany her teenage daughter to the nearby field they use as a toilet. They collect buckets of drinking water before heading to work in the landlord's fields. On days when there is no farm work available, she toils at a nearby brick kiln. The money Devi earns, and the pittance her daughter gets doing odd jobs, is just enough to feed her and her three children.
While India has a growing middle class, tens of millions of women still struggle with illiteracy, poverty and little social status. For these women, political choices are often still made by their husbands or male community leaders.
Chaya Kumari, a field worker with a nongovernmental organization in Varanasi, makes her own political choices, and knows she is in the minority.
"My husband wants me to vote for his candidate. I refused and there is little he can do about it," she said, her voice filled with determination.
Kumari said she can defy her husband because she holds a steady job and is not financially dependent on him.
For most Indian women, safety remains their biggest concern.
Outrage seized India more than a year ago when a young woman was gang-raped on a moving New Delhi bus and later died of her injuries, becoming a symbol of the dangers that millions of women face every time they leave their homes.
An outpouring of protests pushed the government, and political leaders of all hues, to join the cause. Since then, voyeurism, stalking and the trafficking of women have been made criminal offenses, courts dealing with sex crimes have become faster and men who are repeatedly convicted of rape have become eligible for the death penalty.
Political parties also promised to find ways to empower women — though have done very little to follow through. Except for the high-profile female leaders, most parties field few women candidates. The last general election saw 59 women, or a little over 10 percent, elected to the lower house of Parliament, out of 543 members. India ranks 99th in the world in terms of female representation among legislators.
Few women politicians have the money they need to fund campaigns, making them dependent on parties for financial help. Fewer still get that help.
"The biggest hurdle women in politics face is from within the political parties to which they belong," said Sehba Farooqui, a New Delhi-based political activist.
Major parties are careful to include women in their platforms, though the communists are the only one that favors setting aside one-third of legislative seats for women.
The Congress party says it will "provide women equal access to social, economic and political opportunities," and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party says it will "transform the quality of life of women in rural India." But the most serious attempts to reach women voters are done with free saris and pressure cookers.
"Women see through these ploys. They want politicians to deal with their real problems. They want jobs ... if not for themselves, then for their children," Kumari said.
In Sarai, Devi's woes stem from the abject poverty that grips the region, in Uttar Pradesh, India's biggest state. Decades of poor governance have left literacy levels low, health care abysmal and other public services lacking.
Devi cooks over a small fire she makes with sticks, and gets water from a hand pump shared by nine families. Rusted pipes reaching from an irrigation canal some distance away end abruptly near the village, evidence of failed promises made during a 2009 election.
"When politicians want our vote, they say: 'Sister, we will get you water pipelines, we will get you higher wages,'" said Devi.

"They win, and then they forget their sisters."