TW: This article is about caste based violence.
“Breaking up the caste system was not to bring about inter-caste dinners and inter-caste marriages but to destroy the religious notion on which caste was founded”. – Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.
Womxn and girls in India have always been and still are subjected to several forms of violence throughout their life, like domestic violence, sexual violence, legal injustice, and pre-birth elimination of females. However, the group of individuals who are most vulnerable to injustice and oppression aside from womxn are the Dalit. They have to experience caste discrimination and violence due to the strongly imbalanced social, economic and political power equations. When the risk factors of being a Dalit and a female are combined, the exposure to violent situations increases while the ability to escape these situations decreases and that is due to their socio-economic and political paralysis.
India’s caste system is probably the longest surviving social hierarchy and it has existed for thousands of years, and still does, despite the fact that untouchability was abolished. Dalits are murdered, assaulted and shunned, but their narratives are not covered by the mass media. Little to no coverage of their struggle, leads privileged and ignorant people into believing that casteism doesn’t exist anymore. But it still exists and is very real, and their stories need to be heard.
According to this report, the highest number of sexual assault cases reported were from Uttar Pradesh with 3,065 and Rajasthan with 6,000 out of which 18% from UP and 9% from Rjasthan were Dalit women.
The most recent case of four dominant Thakur caste men sexually assaulting and murdering a 19-year-old young Dalit woman. The young woman was admitted into a normal hospital ward and was kept there for more than a week before being shifted to the ICU, and then later, to Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital, where she passed away. Her family report that they were not even allowed to see her or were informed about her condition. Later, the police forcibly and quickly cremated her body without the consent or the presence of her family. The methodical dispensation to violate Dalit womxn’s rights and dignity, and the social capital and the culture of impunity that is used by the ‘dominant’ castes is appalling.
It hadnt even been 24hrs since the Hathras incident when another case of rape and murder by a gang upon a 22 year old Dalit young woman took place in UP.
The patriarchal society with its hierarchical structure holds a long history of gender based violence. The main reason to use the salient social identities – gender, caste and class – in this bigoted society is because these factors play a serious role in shaping structural aspects of gender based sexual violence against womxn. The underlying patriarchy is the common feature in the rape cases. Enduring physical assault not only affects the victim’s life but also the lives of the people connected to them like family and friends.
The Nirbhaya case of 2012 instigated the government to take severe measures. However, this might have just led to higher levels of reporting but did not necessarily increase the conviction rates. These are just two of the latest incidents that took place, which were recorded.
One of the older incident’s include a dominant caste man who raped a 24-year-old woman from Jammui district, Bihar. The mother of the young woman was assured by the police that the perpetrator will be arrested. However, upon hearing this the accused along with ten men of his caste broke into the young woman’s house, kidnapped the mother and the young woman, and gangraped them both for 18 hours. They were left with a treat of death if they took the matter any further.
In the cases above, gender, class and caste intersect with the discriminatory society which results in an inconsistent police response which is controlled by the patriarchal mindset. There are thousands of incidents like this out there that are not even recorded because the negative perception of ethnocentrism towards Dalits affects the police response and societal reaction. This prevents many from seeking justice against these ‘dominant’ castes. And even if they are willing to take the risk to seek justice, they are shunned, beaten and have to live in fear for the rest of their lives as they do not receive the justice they deserve.
How do we break this vicious cycle
To break this vicious cycle, the first thing that needs to be done is to undo centuries of lies that have been told. The lies that Dalits are not good enough, that they need to obey the rules that were set down a long time ago. The upper caste people need to talk, not only to their families but also the people in their social circle to bring about change on the perspective of how the Dalit community is regarded and treated.
We need to have open conversations about sex, about desire and love and about acknowledge the emotions around these incidents. Having meaningful conversations at home, or creating social groups to understand the reasons behind these incidents can be helpful.
We can all collectively grieve the loss of these Dalit womxn who would have done a lot more with their lives if they had not been a victim to these gruesome violent acts. Another violent act does not need to occur for us to take a stand and raise our voices together against caste violence. There is a long list of brave Dalit womxn who are taking risks to make sure that certain sections of the society don’t have to suffer just because they were born in a family that has been discriminated for the last two thousand years.
We need to pass on the mic. Let Dalit voices take Center stage in speaking for their lives and experiences. If you are on social medial follow the voices of Anti-caste pages to educate yourself.
This article is written by our writer and psychology student Insha Fatima