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Shocking Assaults in India

Out of India have come disturbing reports recently of brutal assaults on girls as young as 5 years of age. In central India, one 5-year-old girl died on April 29, succumbing to a brain injury inflicted when her rapists attempted to smother her cries. In New Delhi another 5-year-old was raped by two men over a two-day period. The stories of these incomprehensible attacks follow the account last December of a fatal assault by a group of men on a young woman returning from a visit to a cinema. Does the sudden rush of these sordid reports indicate a new criminal phenomenon? Probably not.

Unfortunately, gender bias has long undermined respect for the human dignity of girls and women in India—a problem, of course, not isolated to India—and attacks like these have been going on for a long time. Their frequency, however, may be on the rise as a vast social dislocation continues as armies of young people in India are driven from subsistence agriculture in the countryside and into work of all kinds in the nation’s rapidly growing urban centers.


If there is any good news to be found in these reports, it is the fact that they are being reported at all. Caste and poverty biases figure in the problem; police often do not respond to assaults on poor women and children. Many low-caste and poor victims and their families have never even bothered to report their suffering before. Now national media are publicizing the problem and pushing for more thorough investigations and other reforms. The news reports have outraged the public and have awakened it to the problem. Perhaps this new attention may result in fewer girls being so horribly victimized in the future.

Courage on the Court

“I’m a 34-year-old N.B.A. center. I’m black. And I’m gay,” wrote Jason Collins in Sports Illustrated (5/6). All his life he had faced pressure to meet social obligations he naturally could not. He dated women and was even engaged, he said. “I kept telling myself the sky was red, but I always knew it was blue.” He endured years of difficulty, he wrote, and went to “enormous lengths to live a lie.” Now Mr. Collins is the first openly gay athlete in a major professional sport. In his case, courage defeated fear, acceptance trumped self-doubt, and truth overcame dishonesty.

In a pastoral letter, “Always Our Children,” the bishops of the United States in 1997 wrote that same-sex attraction, in itself, “cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose.” They continued: “God loves every person as a unique individual. Sexual identity helps to define the unique persons we are, and one component of our sexual identity is sexual orientation.” When a person freely chooses to reveal that he or she is gay, sometimes at great personal risk, that person deserves the respect and support of others. The bishops also reminded us that when a person “comes out,” when he or she speaks the truth in this way, it can have a positive, even transformative effect on others. “Love can be tested by this reality,” they wrote, “but it can also grow stronger.”

“The truth shall set you free,” says Jesus. Speaking the truth about one’s sexual identity is consonant with—not opposed to—a life of integrity and faith. No one should be pressured to reveal his or her sexual orientation, but no one should be ashamed to do so either. The choice to tell this particular truth, moreover, is distinct from other personal, political or moral choices, which may be justly criticized. If we cannot make this distinction, a distinction embedded within the church’s living tradition, and support Mr. Collins and others as our brothers and sisters in Christ, then the call to respect and love all of God’s children is nothing but a clanging cymbal.

Mr. Collins, a 12-year N.B.A. veteran, becomes a free agent on July 1. He hopes to continue his career and, he wrote, to be “genuine and authentic and truthful.” Our hopes and prayers are with him.

Poverty and Generosity

Ken Stern, author of With Charity for All, reported in The Atlantic (April 2013) that the wealthiest Americans (the top 20 percent in earnings) in 2011 gave only 1.3 percent of their income to charity, while the bottom fifth of Americans gave 3.2 percent.

Why do the rich not give more? Some say the drive to get rich is inconsistent with the idea of communal support; they are more likely to prioritize self-interest. On the other hand, when both groups are shown a video on child poverty, their willingness to offer help becomes identical, according to research by Paul Piff, a psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley. Another study revealed that those who live in exclusively wealthy neighborhoods give less than those who live in diverse surroundings. Perhaps the wealthy would be more generous if they knew better how the other half (or 99 percent) live.

Mr. Stern writes that the poor are more likely to give to religious and social service organizations, while the rich give to universities. The pity is, concludes Mr. Stern, most people like to believe there is a connection between personal success and generosity toward others. There is, but not the way they think.

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