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'The Good Girls' Aims To Uncover The Story Behind The Deaths Of Two Indian Girls

<em>The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing</em>, by Sonia Faleiro
Grove Press
The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing, by Sonia Faleiro

Two young, inseparable teenagers, called Padma and Lalli, were found hanging side by side from a mango tree in a small village in India in May 2014.

Though many have heard of the story, India law prevents the identities of victims of certain crimes to be revealed, so these are not the girls' real names.

Sonia Faleiro investigated their true story, which has now become her book, The Good Girls: An Ordinary Killing.

Interview Highlights

On the girls' identities – and the fact that they were so close

Padma and Lalli were first cousins, they lived in what we call a joint family, so they shared a household, they shared a courtyard, they were also best friends. And although they didn't have a lot of free time because they helped at home and they helped in the fields, when they got the chance to escape — which meant going to graze the goats — they took that opportunity to talk about their hopes and dreams and their place in the world.

On whether the girls' hopes and dreams were limited by where they grew up

They grew up in a little village called Katra Sadatganj, which is about six hours outside Delhi. And so you would think, given the proximity to the national capital, that it wouldn't be so very different. But it was like another world. There were no toilets. There was a school, but it wasn't good enough to educate the children so that they would one day be able to get a job. And while they had access to phones, because they were girls they were not allowed to own phones. And because they were girls, they were in a way treated like they were objects themselves. I mean, they were loved. Don't get me wrong, they were loved. But they were treated like belongings. And that meant that everything that they wanted to do with their lives stayed within them because it was decided for them by someone else.

On why it was alarming that they were speaking on mobile phones to someone who observed them

[Mobile phones] are awash in India and India has the cheapest data in the world, so you can't go anywhere without seeing somebody pouring over a phone. But Padma and Lalli were girls in a rural part of the country where the life of a girl is considered the business of everyone. And the fact that the children were away from their family — even though they were five minutes away from the family home on the family property — was a cause of suspicion and fear for the villager who saw them. And the villager didn't know them. He didn't know their family. But the fact that they were on a phone somehow seemed to suggest to him that they were up to something that would tarnish them and tarnish the village and that, more than anything else, concerned him.

On how the attention of the Indian media didn't help the case

Over the last few years, the Indian media, especially cable news, has undergone a complete, in fact, a shocking transformation. It looks more like a soap opera with very bright visuals, incredibly loud music. So in this particular case, for example, one TV channel thought it was appropriate to re-enact what they thought had happened to the children. So with this mind set off, looking for something that will get people's attention and keep it in a world where all our attentions are fleeting, you can imagine the questions that were asked, the things that were said, and the rumor immediately spread that the children had been raped and murdered and then hanged by dominant caste men to show that they were still powerful. In a rapidly changing country, in a quickly modernizing country they wanted to make it clear that they had control and that was the narrative that everybody believed.

And so when I arrived a year later, I expected to find an open and shut case, you know, famous last words. But within a few days, it was so clear to me that what I was hearing was not what I knew. And that's eventually why I decided to stay on and continue reporting for the next four years.

On how this story shakes up the reader

One of the things that I found most troubling about reporting this case is that there was an absence of malice. And what there was, instead, was a lot of not caring enough — so at every level from the police, the five police officers who were first told that these two children had disappeared, to the politicians who showed up the next day with money to compensate for the death, to the investigators who slapped their way through the investigation, through the reporters who asked the most sickening questions, and to friends and family.

It's not that they wanted to cause harm. It's that they didn't care one way or the other — and it is an absence of caring that is most profound in how the Indian state functions today and the impact that it has, particularly on the lives of the poor and on the lives of women and children.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.