“We are victims of violence because we are poor, lower caste and ladies, so looked down upon by all,” a Dalit woman told researcher Jayshree Mangubhai some years ago. “There is not anyone to assist or represent us. We face more sexual violence because we do not have any power.”
Last week, it had been reported that a 19-year-old Dalit woman (the Dalits were once called “Untouchables”) was allegedly gang-raped and assaulted by a gaggle of upper-caste men in Uttar Pradesh state again. The news shone the spotlight again on the rampant sexual violence faced by India’s 80 million Dalit women, who like their male counterparts languish at rock bottom of India’s unbending and harsh caste hierarchy.
These women, who comprise about 16% of India’s female population, face a “triple burden” of gender bias, caste discrimination, and economic deprivation. “The Dalit female belongs to the foremost oppressed group within the world,” says Dr. Suraj Yengde, author of Caste Matters. “She may be a victim of the cultures, structures, and institutions of oppression, both externally and internally. This manifests in perpetual violence against Dalit women.”
The aftermath of the recent rape and murder of a lady in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, allegedly by upper-caste men, played out the way it always does when a Dalit woman is attacked: police are slow to register a complaint; investigations are tardy; officials raise doubts there was a rape; there are insinuations it had nothing to try to to with caste, and authorities appear, perhaps, to be complicit in siding with the upper caste perpetrators of violence. Even a number of the media, from newsrooms dominated by upper-caste journalists, question why sexual violence should be linked to caste.
In other words, the state and parts of society in India conspire to downplay or erase the links between sexual violence and therefore the hierarchies of caste.
After the alleged rape in Hathras last week, the govt of Uttar Pradesh, which is ruled by an upper-caste politician belonging to the ruling BJP party, hastily cremated the victim within the middle of the night and briefly barred the media and opposition politicians from visiting the victim’s village and family, prompting suspicions of a canopy up. In an unprecedented move, the govt hired a personal PR agency to push its narrative that this wasn’t an event of rape.
Dalit women across swathes of rural India are victims of sexual violence for as long as anyone can remember. In these regions, much of the land, resources, and social power remain with the upper and middle castes. Despite a 1989 law to stop atrocities against the community, there was no let-up in violence against Dalit women. They still are stalked, abused, molested, raped, and murdered with impunity.
Ten Dalit women were raped a day in India last year, consistent with official figures. The northern state of Uttar Pradesh has the very best number of cases of violence against women also because of the highest number of cases of sexual abuse against girls. Three states – Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Rajasthan – report quite half the cases of atrocities against the Dalits.
In a 2006 study of 500 Dalit women in four states across India on the sorts of violence that they had faced, 54% had been physically assaulted; 46% had been sexually harassed; 43% had faced domestic violence; 23% had been raped, and 62% had been verbally abused.
And Dalit women bear the brunt of violence of all castes, including their own. The Centre for Dalit Rights group examined 100 incidents of sexual violence against Dalit women and girls across 16 districts in India between 2004 and 2013. It found that 46% of the victims were aged below 18 and 85% were but 30 years old. The perpetrators of the violence came from 36 different castes, including Dalit.
One of the explanations why the Dalits – especially women – bear the brunt of the violence is because they need to be begun to talk up.
The turning point within the history of violence against Dalit women in India was in 2006, when four members of a Dalit family – a lady, her 17-year-old daughter, and two sons – were brutally murdered by upper caste men after a protracted conflict over land. The incident during a remote village called Khairlanji in Maharashtra state began with the 2 women getting to the police to file a complaint about a land dispute with upper castes within the village. “This gruesome incident stirred the conscience of Dalits and highlighted their social suffering and discrimination,” says historian Uma Chakravarti.
The upper castes are rattled by increasing assertion by Dalits and are striking back. within the Hathras case last week, reports suggest the family of the victim had a two-decade-long dispute with an upper-caste family.
Source: bbc news