Sunday, 3 February 2013

Silence Over Dalit Rape Victims

Silence Over Dalit Rape Victims                                                                                                                                                                       Are they not the Daughters of India?                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Arun KumarA
Ambedkar Mission Society, Beddford,  UK

Delhi saw an unprecedented public outrage over the recent cruel gang rape and vicious attack on the 23 year old girl. This incident brought out many people to protest against this heinous crime. This brutal attack must be strongly condemned and perpetrators of this offence severely punished so that no body dare to commit such a crime in future.
Judging the public anger, it appears that no such incident had happened before Delhi rape case. What happened in Delhi is not an exception. Many more cases are hushed up regularly or are not reported. The National Crime Records Bureau records reveal that during 2011 India witnessed 228,650 crimes against women, 24,206 of them of rape and 35,565 of kidnapping and abduction and majority of them were belonging to Dalit communities. Most of the crimes against Dalit women go unnoticed. In the most horrific cases of sex abuse, Dalit women have not only been raped, but mutilated, burned, paraded naked through villages, and even forced to eat human faeces.
Either the people are ignorant or just turn their blind eye to such incidents. Nobody from the so called civil society took notice of those crimes. In spite of all these sex offences against Dalit women, victims do not get even half the response neither from the social organizations nor from the media as was given to Delhi gang rape victim. A rape is a rape and all women deserve the same media attention, same justice, the same mass protests and the same political will.
India’s middle class wears such glasses from where they can only see the crimes committed against the upper castes. Their heart throbs only for their own clan. Women folk from the Dalit communities mean nothing to them. Society must feel guilty and act against atrocities against women irrespective of their caste or class.

Double standards of the upper middle class raise many questions which need answers. Shenali Waduge raises a very valid question, “While rape in any form is abhorred and should be severely punished by all nations what needs to be answered is what makes the recent gang rape by 6 men of a 23 year old on a bus in Delhi any different from the gang rape of a 16 year old Dalit women by 8 men who having taken photos of the crime had circulated it amongst the village leading to her father committing suicide out of shame?”(1) This Dalit girl was raped in September 2012 and Shenali questions why there were no mass protests, no media attention for her or calls to arrest the perpetrators but the recent rape has turned into a mass protest all over India? Can somebody from the civil society answer these questions?

Similarly where were all Indians when Khairlarnji massacre occurred in 2006 when a Dalit family was lynched in Maharashtra? In Khairlanji, on 29 September 2006, 44-year-old Surekha Bhotmange and her daughter Priyanka Bhotmange were stripped, paraded naked, and raped repeatedly. Surekha's sons Roshan and Sudhir were slaughtered. The entire village was involved. The Bhotmanges were Dalits. The Bhotmanges have been forgotten. After all, two Dalits are murdered every day in        India. (2)  The Indian media didn’t even bother to cover this incident until Dalits in Nagpur came on streets to protest. Unfortunately all India was sleeping as if the Dalit women were not the ‘daughters of India’.

Dalit rape victims in Ajmer district in Rajasthan are waiting for justice for the last seven years. There are 68 reported cases of rape in the district since 2006 but only one accused has been convicted in 2007.  Just in the months of September and October, 2012 around 19 Dalit women were raped in Haryana.  An 18 year old Dalit girl in Badhshapur village in Patiala committed suicide on December 26, six weeks after being raped by three men as she couldn’t tolerate humiliation and tormenting by police and culprits anymore.  Her mother stated that when she went to complain to the police they humiliated the girl with lewd questions. On 5th January, a 16-year-old Dalit girl was abducted, raped and forced to eat some poisonous pesticide by an upper-caste man and dumped outside her house in a village in Faridkot district in Punjab.

The tale of sexual abuse doesn’t end here. In an article in Counter-currents, Cynthia Stephen quotes a Dalit girl from a village in Tamil Nadu as saying “There is no girl in our lane who has not been coerced or raped by the dominant caste men when they go to the fields to fetch water or for work.”(3)  Men from the dominant castes threaten the Dalits with dire consequences if they dare complain to the police. Sexual violence against Dalit women is a systemic way of enforcing status quo of the Dalits. Rape is often used as a tool for political and social subjugation of Dalit women. Rural areas are full of such incidents. Vast majority of crimes against Dalit women are not reported owing to fear of social exclusion and threats to personal safety and security. Every village in India has such tales to narrate.

Instead the leaders such as RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat give us lesson on Indian culture and advocates that gang rapes and sexual abuses happen only in urban areas as a result of Western influence and not in rural areas. If this Hindu ideologue tries to preach us about ancient Hindu culture, he must feel ashamed of Davdassi system in South India where girls as young as 6 years old become “brides of gods” and are raped by men of higher castes in temples. Young women are also later forced into prostitution through this system. Violent atrocities occur regularly in the names of tradition and religion. When are we going to get rid of hypocrisy? Other holy man blamed girl for the rape as she didn’t beg enough for mercy. Women are placed on the pedestals and are worshiped daily. On the other hand, the same women are treated as toys to play with and discard them when they are not needed. There is a plenty of evidence in Hindu scriptures where women’s low status is justified. The verses from the scriptures are still recited where cattle, drums and women are considered worthy of beating. That is why Dr. Ambedkar publically burnt down Manusmrity, a manifestation of inequality and cruelty towards women, and condemned other scriptures which contain humiliating strictures against women. Women don’t want the status of goddesses but need equal treatment and respect.

Unprecedented outcry and coverage surrounding the recent Delhi gang rape has forced the government to act fast. They have set up a fast track court for a quick trial and also a commission to bring changes in the law to deal with rape cases. They are positive steps to pacify the feelings of general public but one should not have high expectations from the politicians, police and administrators. As a result of the high profile rape case in Delhi, it is expected that police would be more vigilant and conscious and act promptly.  But right under their nose another women was raped on 6th January, 2013 and her body was dumped in Noida, suburb of Delhi.

Of course there are flaws in the laws relating to rapes and other offences against women. But what is worst that even the existing laws are not implemented fairly and speedily. Speaking on the merits of the constitution, the architect of the Indian constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar stated, “I feel, however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it, happen to be a bad lot. However bad a Constitution may be, it may turn out to be good if those who are called to work it, happen to be a good lot. The working of a Constitution does not depend wholly upon the nature of the Constitution”. Same principle implies to the existing legislation on sexual abuse. The problem lies in the lack of political will to implement laws. It doesn’t matter how good laws are made to prevent sexual offences, it depends upon the law enforcing agencies how quickly the offender is caught and prosecuted. So far the laws have done little to change the attitudes and are often ignored.

The ground reality is that politicians, administrators, police and even judiciary collude with each other and offender gets free to offend again. Justice Ashok Ganguli, retired judge, Supreme Court of India,   himself admitted on national Television that judiciary didn’t treat women with dignity.  The cases pertaining to sexual violence are delayed for 10-15 years. Justice delayed is justice denied. In majority of cases, the kith and kens or supporters of politicians and bureaucrats are involved in such cases. That is why police don’t dare to take action against those culprits.   Even they, themselves, face criminal charges pertaining to sexual offences.  According to the National Election Watch (NEW) and Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), in last election   there were 260 contesting candidates from various political parties who were charged under different sections of Indian penal Code for crimes against women such as outraging modesty of a woman, assault, insulting the modesty of a woman etc. What justice is expected from these people? Such politicians should be named and shamed in public, expelled from the political parties and debarred from the public office

What we need is the overhaul of administration and police. Coupled with tough laws, it is essential that an intensive training is imparted to the officers dealing with the atrocities on women. Only women police officers should be deployed to handle such cases where victim feels free to lodge the complaint. They need an easy access to the police. Fast track courts are important to deal with all sexual offences so that victim is given justice in a specific time limit. Most importantly, Indians must change their mind set and treat women with respect and give them equal status irrespective of class or caste. It is only possible if every member of the society feels responsibility and is sincere to treat women with respect and dignity. Mere lip service won’t help. One must be bold enough like Dr. Ambedkar to condemn, if needed, the religious dogmas which preach hatreds against women.

1.       Shenali Waduge, ‘Rape In India: Why Are There No Mass Protests For Raped Dalit Women’        Eurasia Review on 28th December, 2012,
2.       Anand Teltumbde, 'Khairlanji - A strange and bitter crop'
3.       Cynthia Stephen, ‘Feminism And Dalit Women In India’,16 November, 2009

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