On 14th September 2020, a 19-year-old Dalit girl was gang-raped by 4 upper caste men belonging to the dominant ‘Thakur’ community, in the Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh. During the initial days of her treatment, she was kept under observation in the normal ward of a nearby hospital. Later, she was shifted to the Intensive Care Unit by the doctors. Despite this, the victim’s family alleged the doctors of not attending to her regularly. She was finally shifted to Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, where she succumbed to her injuries on 29th September. She was hastily and forcibly cremated at 2:30 AM on 30th September by the UP Police. This incident has drawn flak from citizens, activists, and Opposition leaders who have thronged the streets since this news broke out of UP.
So, why is there so much outrage against this case?
“But why is mentioning the girl’s caste so important? Rape is rape, and we must never give such incidents a caste or communal angle.”
This is a question most of us would’ve either encountered or asked ourselves. Caste is a lived reality in India, even today. Our ignorance towards the caste of the victim is reflective of the extensively pervasive casteist mindsets, that dupe us into viewing this incident in isolation and not as an atrocity that stems from the deep-rooted caste-ism and misogyny that are rife in our society. Rape has much less to do with a man’s libido. Rather, rape is used as a tool to maintain power relations and oppressive systems, such as the caste system in India.
Tyranny perpetrated with impunity, by upper castes has majorly been targeted against Dalit women. Their position at the bottom of all - caste, class, and gender - hierarchies makes them even more vulnerable to such instances of violence and assault. It is important to take cognizance of the variety of intersecting factors, such as institutions, hierarchies, social stratification, and identities, that influence the patterns of violence against Dalit women, who are among the most oppressed and marginalized groups. Upper caste women are subjugated under the patriarchal structures upon which our society thrives. However, Dalit women are hit with a double whammy of patriarchy and casteism.
Why the Hathras case shouldn’t be seen as an isolated incident:
The Hathras case should not be seen as an isolated incident, rather as a single incident in a long string of atrocities committed against Dalits and women. ‘Violence Against Caste Impunity: Narratives of Dalit Women in India’, a report compiled by a coalition of Dalit women and released at the UNHRC’s 38th session, highlighted data from the National Family Health Survey that over 33% women experience physical violence by age 15. According to a report by the National Crime Records Bureau, 10 Dalit women are raped everyday, on average. This is a horrifying figure, as many of the cases are grievously unreported, and hence unprosecuted. The same report suggests that crimes against Dalits have risen by 37% in the last decade, whereas conviction rates are still abysmally low, at 2.5%.
An examination of sexual assault and violence against Dalit women also unearths a dreadful network of impunity enjoyed by both state and non-state perpetrators, as can be seen in the hurried cremation of the Hathras victim’s body. An iconic example of this is also the Bhinwari Devi Case (1992), in which the accused were acquitted in 1995 on the grounds that upper caste men could never indulge in such acts for reasons if upholding their ‘purity’.
As atrocities against Dalits, specifically, women, continue to increase and our institutions continue to fail Dalit women in bringing them justice, it is time to throw our weight behind them and amplify their voices.
This article has been written by Ishaan Singh for The Paradigm
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