Dispatch

'Boys Will Be Boys'

In India's largest state, a misogynistic family-run political dynasty wants to pretend a rape epidemic doesn't exist.

On the morning of May 27, villagers in the Badaun district in India's Uttar Pradesh state found two teenage girls, raped and murdered, hanging from a mango tree. The girls had disappeared the night before, never returning after wandering into the fields near their home to go to the bathroom. The attack came days before a series of brutal assaults across the state: Four men gang-raped a 17-year-old girl, and another group of men beat the mother of a different rape victim after she refused to withdraw an official complaint. On May 30, reporters confronted chief minister Akhilesh Yadav in the state capital of Lucknow about the recent wave of sexual violence.

But the 41-year-old leader of India's most populous and arguably most lawless state was unrepentant. "Aren't you safe?" Yadav shot back, standing amid a gaggle of microphones, his aides smirking behind him. "You're not facing any danger, are you?"

The remarks were consistent with what has become a disturbing party line. Yadav is one of the leading politicians in the Samajwadi Party ("Socialist Party"), a left-leaning group that has built a reputation as one of the most anti-women parties in the country. In April, Yadav's father, party head and former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, opposed capital punishment for rape, citing that "boys will be boys ... they make mistakes." Just days later, Abu Azmi, the head of the party's Maharashtra state branch, argued that if men were hanged for rape, then women should be hanged for having premarital sex. In July, Mulayam sparked controversy again by claiming that out of all Indian states, Uttar Pradesh had the most people but the fewest rapes -- a blatant lie. (Reached through a party spokesperson, Yadav and his father declined to comment.)

A combination of uneven development, a flawed judiciary, and systemic police corruption have made Uttar Pradesh among the most difficult places to be a woman in India. The state -- with a population of roughly 200 million, enough to make it the fifth-largest country in the world -- reported over 32,500 incidents of gender-based crime in 2013, ranking second only to the admittedly less populated Andhra Pradesh. Of those, 3,000 were rapes -- more than a 50 percent rise from the year before, according to the Ministry of State for Home Affairs, which oversees the national police service. Yet these numbers don't tell the whole story; rape carries significant stigma in India, and can often lead to abuse directed towards the victim, causing sexual assault to go widely underreported.

The scale of gender-based violence in Uttar Pradesh is likely much worse than the already disturbing figures suggest. That is not the way the party sees it, however. "This whole thing about violence against women -- this is propaganda," Rajendra Chaudhary, a Samajwadi Party cabinet minister and spokesman, told Foreign Policy. "These incidents are unfortunate and we're trying to fix them, but this is a social problem. We can't say that this is happening because of government."

Meanwhile, the Samajwadi Party has resisted efforts to reform rape laws, refused to reserve a portion of seats in its parliament for women, and opposed increased penalties for sexual crimes after the now-infamous 2012 Delhi gang rape, where a young woman was brutally -- and fatally -- assaulted on a bus in the capital. In Uttar Pradesh "violence against women," said activist Kavita Krishnan, who runs the All India Progressive Women's Association, a women's rights organization, "seems to be a feature of governance."

While the state's leaders have long presided over an inept administration that enables widespread sexual violence, the younger Yadav was supposed to be different. Australia-educated, well-spoken, and charismatic, Yadav ran as a reformer who could fix Uttar Pradesh's corrupt and sclerotic bureaucracy -- and, in turn, upend the state institutions that had abetted impunity for criminal perpetrators. But two years later, he has done little to distinguish himself from the party's old guard; sexual assault remains pervasive in his state. It's a product of a systemic rape culture, according to Krishnan, that very much still "flows from the top."

* * *

Mulayam, the sitting chief minister's father, founded the Samajwadi Party in 1992, after his first short stint as chief minister ended the year before. Allied with the Indian National Congress -- the center-left party that dominated national politics until its dramatic defeat in this year's general elections to the center-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi -- the party pushed a grassroots, socialist platform in Uttar Pradesh, promising to boost welfare spending and reservations for minorities. But Mulayam, a former wrestler, asserted power through patronage. He forged coalitions with local strongmen from Muslim communities and with members of his own caste, who could drum up votes in exchange for favors. He also courted khap panchayats -- powerful councils of men that often rigidly enforce outdated, patriarchal traditions, including threatening couples who marry across caste lines or restricting young women from carrying cellphones.

The chief minister even supported the political careers of gangsters like Munna Bajrangi, a contract killer (now in jail for the 2005 murder of a BJP assemblyman) who also specialized in securing government contracts. "The problem with the Samajwadi Party is the whole party structure is basically built on local mafias," said Badri Narayan Tiwari, a columnist and political scientist at G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, a leading university in Allahabad. The mafias dominate the local levels of the party, he added, "so when they come into power, they become free from any punishment."

Mulayam served a total of three stints as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, and as national minister of defense in the 1990s; he remains one of the most powerful politicians in northern India. The political environment he fostered during his most recent run as chief minister, from 2003 to 2007, sheltered criminals from law enforcement. By the 2012 state elections, nearly half of the Samajwadi Party's 401 candidates had criminal records. With a graft-ridden justice system and power decentralized among patriarchal, local-level strongmen, accountability for sexual violence was rare.

Still, the younger Yadav, then an MP, built support for his campaign by promising a clean break from the corrupt, inefficient governance that characterized the tenure of both his father and the then-ruling Bahujan Samaj Party, a socialist party focused on the traditionally marginalized Dalit caste. His campaign promises included free laptops for students who passed 12th grade, greater health care spending, and investment in the education of young girls. He even publicly denounced his father's friend, D. P. Yadav, a powerful mafia don and liquor bootlegger.

In that March 2012 election, his Samajwadi Party nabbed 224 seats in the 403-seat state assembly. At the age of 38, Yadav took office as India's youngest chief minister. "In a country where the public hunger for change is palpable, yet where politics often seems unchangeable, Mr. Yadav is suddenly, unexpectedly, a symbol of a new generation," a New York Times profile read.

But that euphoria was short-lived. In his two years in office, Yadav has done little to dismantle the architecture of official corruption his father built. Mulayam, his father, maintains significant control over the state bureaucracy, often reappointing officials with a history of corruption to high-level positions in the administration. Yadav's first cabinet had 47 members, allegedly handpicked by his father; 12 of them faced serious criminal charges like murder, rape, and assault. In December 2012, Uttar Pradesh's highest court ordered the administration to remove Rakesh Bahadur, a former chairman of Noida, one of New Delhi's satellite cities, who was implicated in a roughly $820 million real estate scam; this July, Bahadur became the chief minister's top advisor.

Critics say that Yadav has simply been unwilling, or unable, to challenge the old guard that continues to profit from state institutions. "It's a typical traditional Indian feudal family: Whatever father says is law," said Sharad Pradhan, a journalist and political analyst who has tracked both father and son through their political careers. Yadav "lacks [the] will and determination and grit that [he] demonstrated during the campaign."

Yadav's failure to tackle corruption has serious implications for the women in his state. In what remains an unprofessional and inept justice system, impunity for sexual violence is the norm. And like his father before him, Yadav empowers local, male-dominated councils that employ problematic tribal law as a means to counter sexual assault. Meanwhile, Yadav's party has opposed provisions that would advance the status of women, campaigning against tougher anti-rape laws passed by Parliament after the 2012 Delhi rape.

Sexual violence is particularly pervasive against Uttar Pradesh's Dalits, a historically marginalized group of roughly 35 million that ranks low on India's caste system hierarchy. Part of this could be a revenge tactic, activists say, since the former government under Mayawati, a Samajwadi Party rival and a Dalit woman herself, invested specifically in Dalit leaders, fueling tension among the other castes, like the Yadavs, the chief minister's caste (and namesake).

According to Askari Naqvi, a human rights lawyer based in Lucknow, sexual violence is often also a statement of caste power and revenge. "Although you voted for [a certain candidate], don't you dare think you are equal or anything," he said. "The dominant castes are feeling very, very powerful. So they are trying to show Dalits that they cannot claim some kind of equality. Especially with these hangings," he said, referring to the highly publicized Badaun case in May. The Yadav-caste police officers in the village initially refused to register the murder case, allegedly even threatening to murder the Dalit girls' family members, according to local media reports and investigations from human rights groups. "Because she was born as a Dalit she doesn't have a right to say no to rape or the use of her body or violence against her body," said Vimal Thorat, a leader of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, an advocacy group that fights against caste discrimination. "And if she raises her voice she will be killed."

* * *

Chief Minister Yadav's inability to stem pervasive sexual violence in his state seems born more out of weakness than malice. With no concrete efforts to clean up law enforcement, build judicial capacity, or combat the caste system that divides communities across the state, his efforts seem to address the symptoms and not the disease. "The chief minister needs to set an example, to say we are ending this now -- we are absolutely not going to make any more excuses" for sexual violence, says Krishnan of the All India Progressive Women's Association.

Yadav's party offers little hope for a more effective and humane public debate on rape, insisting instead that the state has been made a scapegoat on the national scene. "This is a problem for everyone in the society, but this doesn't mean we're worse off," said Chaudhary, the Samajwadi Party spokesperson. "People want to make this political instead of social. There is investment from the government on this but every time it gets sidelined by politics."

Yadav has at least begun to acknowledge that violence against women is a problem in his state. After a 38-year-old woman was gang-raped in June, he told AFP that "the government must sincerely work to make sure such incidents do not happen." He has made small efforts to support women, establishing a safety hotline for women to directly reach law enforcement without leaving their homes and proposing a martial arts program for girls across the state. But until the costs of inaction outweigh the benefits of his half-hearted approach, little is likely to change for women. "The challenge is to create an alternative discourse that makes it politically costly to be sexist," Krishnan says. In the Yadavs' Uttar Pradesh, that will be very difficult.

Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR

Dispatch

How Do You Say 'Kimchi' in Kinyarwanda?

South Korea is offering lessons from its own economic ascent to Rwanda and other African countries -- and bringing business, cuisine, and rice paddies along with it. 

GIHOGWE, Rwanda — Standing in the middle of a rice paddy in the Rwandan countryside, Lim Hong-hoon cuts a striking figure. A microbiologist from the South Korean city of Daegu, Lim, 48, took a hiatus from Korea's grueling corporate hierarchy last year, trading in his lab coat for a wide-brim hat and gumboots -- and a new life in central Africa. Now, as a volunteer with World Friends Korea, his country's Peace Corps-style international service program, Lim is tasked with advising a rice-growing cooperative covering 30 acres, established with financial and technical support from the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), South Korea's bilateral aid bureau.

The farm is part of a larger rural development project in Gihogwe known as Saemaul Undong (meaning "New Community Movement"), modeled after an initiative of the same name that was launched in the 1970s by South Korea's post-war strongman Park Chung-hee. The program, which began with small-scale self-help projects in villages and expanded to encompass larger irrigation, land consolidation, and rural electrification schemes, is credited with boosting South Korea's agricultural productivity and narrowing the gap between urban and rural living standards that had developed during South Korea's export-led industrialization. Since 2011, KOICA has integrated the Saemaul Undong model into its rural development work throughout the world, including in Rwanda, one of 21 African countries where there are active KOICA projects.

Although Lim had not worked in agriculture before coming to Rwanda, his days in the equatorial sun appear to be paying off. According to Léonce Ndagijimana, president of the 166-family cooperative that manages the rice farm, incomes in Gihogwe have increased significantly since residents, who previously farmed small plots of cassava, beans, and maize, mobilized to launch the rice project. (KOICA has helped provide the families with seeds, fertilizers, irrigation schemes, and technical expertise.) Jacqueline Kayitesi, 32, who used to spend her days toiling with a hoe, is also happy. "This is very, very easy," she says after plowing a section of the rice field with two bulls.

"She's using a traditional Korean style," Lim says. "In this part of Rwanda, people had never before plowed with animals."

South Korea remains a relative newcomer to Africa-related aid, trade, and investment. It was long a marginal player on the continent, and a foreign aid recipient itself from the end of World War II until the late 1990s. Yet over the last decade, driven by a thirst for natural resources, shrinking business opportunities at home, and a desire to disseminate lessons from its own development, Seoul has placed growing strategic priority on Africa. Although bilateral South Korean trade with the continent remains far behind that of Asian giants India and China, it grew more than fourfold, from $5.7 billion to $22.2 billion, between 2000 and 2011. This spike was driven predominantly by an expansion of Korean exports bound for Africa, including electronics, mobile phones, automobiles, and shipping equipment. During this period, however, South Korean official development assistance (ODA) to Africa, including both loans and grants, also rose from $43 million to $452 million, representing 24 percent of South Korean total ODA in 2011.

"Africa is potential," says Hwang Soon-taik, South Korea's ambassador to Rwanda. "Many people say Africa is the world's next locomotive for growth. But the Korean government is not interested only in the economic aspect. We're not so cold like China and some other countries. We also want to provide our hands-on development experience." 

For many African policymakers, the South Korean tale of rags to riches is a model worth trying to emulate. In 1960, following its devastating war with the North, South Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world. By 2013, after a half-century of industrialization, its per capita GDP, calculated on a basis of purchasing-power parity (PPP), had risen to $33,140, on par with those of Italy and Spain. Today, South Korea is at the forefront of the high-tech global economy, with an economic footprint -- from container ships to smartphones to K-Pop -- that extends far beyond its Indiana-sized half-peninsula, home to some 50 million inhabitants.

Despite big injections of foreign aid, mostly from the United States and former colonial power Japan, South Korea's rapid growth -- often dubbed the "miracle on the Han," after the river that slices through its sprawling capital -- was largely engineered at home. Under the leadership of Park, who seized power in a 1961 coup, the country turned to export-oriented manufacturing, gradually shifting from labor-intensive light industries, such as garments, plywood, and wigs, to heavier goods, such as steel, machinery, and chemicals. Eventually, it moved on to the likes of memory chips, televisions, and mobile phones.

Driving this whole process were a handful of family-owned conglomerates, or chaebol, which benefited from several favorable government policies. They rose to become some of the world's biggest companies. Korea's largest chaebol, Samsung, which was founded in 1938 as a noodlery and grocery store, has grown to become an international leader in electronics, shipbuilding, and construction, with sales of $327 billion in 2013. Its most notable subsidiary, Samsung Electronics, is now the world's largest information technology company by revenue.

Rwanda, one of KOICA's eight "priority partner countries" in Africa, has little in the way of industry, yet its parallels with an earlier incarnation of South Korea are striking. Like Korea in the 1960s and ‘70s, Rwanda -- home to 11.5 million people on a territory about the size of Maryland -- is a compact, resource-poor nation with a recent history of fratricidal conflict. Like Park, Rwandan President Paul Kagame is a military man who has pursued a top-down, state-driven model of economic development, one frequently lauded for its effectiveness despite his government's poor human rights record. Rwanda, which is landlocked and home to some of the highest shipping costs in the world, is unlikely to experience a Korean-style, export-oriented manufacturing takeoff, yet it has taken an outward-looking approach to growth. Today, there is an emerging focus on information and communications technology, higher education, and mastery of the English language.

In countries like South Korea and Rwanda, operating under size and raw-materials constraints, "the incentives to become global are strong," says Kent Calder, director of the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. "You have to upgrade your workforce, address technical skills, stress communications. You have to get outside of your little narrow corner of the world."

Rwanda and South Korea's similarities have helped drive the nature of their aid and investment relationship. Korea's largest investment in Rwanda, a $140 million joint venture launched in 2013 between the telecom firm KT and the Rwandan government, seeks to bolster the African country's ambitions to become a regional information technology (IT) powerhouse through the establishment of a 4G LTE wireless broadband network; it will eventually cover 95 percent of the country. KOICA, whose 2014 grant aid to Rwanda totals approximately $12 million, also focuses on areas that helped accelerate the miracle on the Han and have been identified as critical to Rwanda's future growth. These include IT, technical and vocational education, and rural development.

Notably, despite South Korea's successful transition to democracy in the late 1980s, the country's aid to Rwanda eschews significant involvement in the promotion of democracy and human rights. This is in contrast to many of Rwanda's Western development partners, including Britain and the United States, which briefly suspended aid to Rwanda in 2012 over its alleged support of rebels in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo and which have grown increasingly intolerant of Kagame's suppression of political opponents

According to Hwang, Rwanda -- like Park's Korea -- has experienced development largely because of a "strong government" that is comparatively free of corruption. "In world history, people get to think about freedom and democracy after solving their basic needs," he says. "This was the case in Europe and America, too."

To whatever degree that South Korea's expanding Africa footprint has been informed by its own successes, the process also exposes some of the Korean growth model's limitations. Aside from several oil and mining deals, much of Korea's activity in Africa, including a major push by Samsung into the mobile phone market, can be linked to increasingly saturated consumer markets, and therefore limited growth potential, at home. From a workforce perspective, too, Korea's hierarchical office culture and lengthy working hours have raised the attractiveness of overseas business and aid assignments. Jeong Jun-ho, chief strategy officer of Olleh Rwanda Networks, the KT-Rwandan joint venture, says he volunteered for his placement largely because it meant he'd have more time with his family. (He relocated with his wife and children.)

Then there are entrepreneurs like Shin Ji-yoon, who was driven to Africa in part by the influence of Korea's chaebol, which, despite playing an essential role in driving the country's growth, are increasingly blamed for inhibiting small and medium enterprises, discouraging entrepreneurship, and stifling innovation. "In the United States, everybody can be an entrepreneur and if they fail, oh OK, they can do another business," Shin, 26, says over coffee at Rz Manna, a Korean-style cafe and pastry shop that he and five university colleagues opened in Kigali, Rwanda's capital, last year. "In Korea, if I fail the first time, everybody will say, ‘You're a loser.' And if I succeed, and I invent a really good thing, a big company will just come and take it over."

Shin and his partners, who started their café with close to a million dollars in KOICA seed money, may not be paragons of high-risk frontier market capitalism. (The money, Shin says, is linked to Rz Manna's status as a "social enterprise," a designation he deems appropriate because the business treats its employees "like family," donates leftover bread to orphanages, and displays the work of local artists). Yet others have flocked to Rwanda without such institutional support. 

A short walk from Rz Manna, in the upscale Kigali neighborhood of Nyarutarama, Lee Kyungbo owns Monmartsé, Rwanda's only authentic Korean restaurant. Dressed in sky-blue Marmot hiking gear and loafers, Lee is a serial expatriate entrepreneur who relocated to Kigali last year after previous stints in Tanzania, Nepal, and Madagascar. The 58-year-old, who first traveled to Africa as a translator for Korean missionaries, eventually found his way into minerals and gemstones, and is now waiting for a Rwandan government license to mine for the tin ore cassiterite. In the meantime, he's become something of a one-man conglomerate, establishing the restaurant, launching enterprises that import fish and cars, and planning a forthcoming rotisserie chicken business.

Although few Rwandans have taken to Lee's cooking (he also serves as Monmartsé's head chef), the restaurant has attracted steady business from foreigners, including a growing number of local Korean residents and business travelers. One July evening, a group of Korean businessmen -- part of a consortium working on a master plan for Rwanda's new international airport -- arrive to eat and, in the spirit of Korean hospitality, invite me to join them for dinner. Soon, the group is toasting to rounds of soju, as fatty strips of samgyeopsal, a popular cut of pork belly, sizzle on the tabletop grill. All of the men, it turns out, are on their first or second visit to Rwanda, and they are curious to learn more about the country. Notably, some also are surprised with what they've seen -- a reaction that may be similar to that of many Western business travelers visiting South Korea in the midst of its rapid takeoff.

"Rwanda is different than I'd imagined," says Jun Young-soo, an engineer on his first trip to the continent. "I thought Africa would just be suffering. But this place is really starting to develop."

EPA/YONHAP