Thursday, June 30, 2022

From Nirbhaya to Hathras, Women and Dalits Remain Oppressed Voices in Indian Society

From Nirbhaya to Hathras, institutional apathy and political decadence strengthen crime against women and weaken the force of a society premised on equity and justice.

The Nirbhaya Case(2012) seemed to have jolted the nation’s collective imagination and invoked a deep sense of pain and anguish among people as they held the nation-state accountable for allowing systematic decadence and the creation of an environment where misogyny in the form of sustained violence against women seemed to have become normalised. The brutal assault and murder of the young woman in the country’s capital seemed to have ignited the flame of consciousness among people as they staged protests, spoken vehemently against the perpetuation of a rape culture in the country and held their leaders responsible for allowing such atrocities against women to thrive. 

While it did look like a watershed moment, it certainly wasn’t and we continued to witness multiple instances of violence against women, many of which were greater in their degrees of heinousness and brutality.Today, the brutal assault and death of a nineteen year old girl in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras seems to be jolting our consciousness and making us think as to whether nothing really changed after the Nirbhaya incident and whether the apathy of the district administration only goes on the reflect wider institutional decadence and a culture of shielding crime in Indian politics. 

From the reluctance of the authorities to allow the family to register an FIR in the case to locking up the victim’s family in some sort of a house arrest to burning her without her family’s consent in the odd hours of the night- the Dalit gang-rape victim from Hathras really reminds us of our collective socio-political rot. It also reminds us that while governments come and go, very little changes about the plight of ordinary people and they continue to find themselves weak, vulnerable and helpless.

The incident has angered the people of the country and they are seeking an answer from the administration as it is the state’s administration that must be held accountable for the heinous crime that not only took place but was also shielded under its nose in the entire course of the episode. Reports are suggestive that precious forensic evidence that could have strengthened the charge of a gang-rape was also not collected on time and the victim was not even cremated with dignity and in the presence of her family members. While the family was locked up, their loved one was cremated in the dead of the night by the police personnel and even the customary last rites were not allowed to be performed. From denying the media entry into Hathras and denying leaders of the Opposition a chance to meet the victim’s family in Hathras, the administration is quelling all voices of protest against the crime. The family of the victim has also been denied permission to share their concerns with the media. The family has also shared their own concerns regarding safety as the administration seems to be threatening them and asking them to refrain from making any statement to the media in this regard. 

The victim’s mother said that she was the one to have first come across the body of her gang-raped daughter and then she was admitted to a hospital for treatment. But reports are suggestive of the fact that the semen test that is conducted to verify rape was conducted only after 11 days of hospitalisation and no semen had been detected from her body. Such negligence and lack of medical responsibility on part of the authorities did not allow the gang-rape victim’s allegations to be taken seriously and also weakened the case despite the family’s repeated appeals to take an action regarding the matter. 

The girl’s succumbing to her injuries and dying the most brutal and pathetic death possible only go on to remind us that, we continue to live in a society where the lives of common and ordinary citizens are seldom taken seriously and their grievances seldom acted upon. 

India is a Caste Society and the Dalit Woman’s Body is a Battleground 

It has been over seven decades since India gained independence and the Indian Constitution which is premised on the ideals of equality and justice came to be adopted. But it is paradoxical that India continues to be a society which is primarily guided by caste and not the Constitution. We are compelled to say this because one’s caste continues to dictate the resources one has access to, both manifest/concrete and intangible along with predicting a life trajectory and one’s access to societal dignity. Along with being a society premised on caste, we are also a society defined by patriarchy and gender based discrimination. 

While violence against the lower castes is seen as a potential tool for enhancing the power/social reputation of the upper castes, when it comes to perpetrating violence against a lower caste woman, the sense of empowerment seems to have doubled.

Thus, when a Dalit girl in Hathras was dragged and brutally raped, it only reminds us of how entrenched both the caste system and patriarchal violence are in India. 

The girl came from the Valmiki community, one among the most downtrodden castes in the Hindu caste order and thus one which had no access to land or other resources. Within the caste dictated feudal village economy, they are penniless workers dependent on the upper castes for mere survival.From ploughing the fields, to cleaning excreta and burning the dead, these caste groups are meant to offer their labour and in return live a life of poverty and gathinalisation. It is for this reason that it becomes extremely important for us to speak of the location of the victim and the perpetrator in a context like India because here violence is not just an individual act but an act of socio-political significance.

Data from the NCRB shows us that while rape is widely common in the country, those against Dalit women are also on the rise. Data shows that four Dalit women are raped in India every day, there are instances of custodial rape, lack of interest on the part of the authorities to register rape complaints by Dalit victims and even when such cases are registered upon pleading, there is a reluctance to apply the SC/ST Atrocities Act. This data is also proof of the fact that while a very few rape cases where Dalit women are the victims are reported, the conviction rates are far lower in cases where victims are Adivasis or Dalits. Given this situation, is it impossible for us to notice a pattern of institutionalised and structural violence against Indian Dalits?

With sustained institutional apathy, incompetence on the part of authorities and the lack of accountability, time will tell whether the Hathras gang-rape victim will get justice or not. Let us not forget that the Nirbhaya incident had punctured the UPA-2 and given a bad name to Sheila Dixit’s government, it is time that the BJP government begins to take strict action against the culprits and ensure that justice is meted out to the victim’s family. The brutality and apathy with which the nineteen year old teen was violated and killed is unmatched and any civilised society must speak up and demand justice and accountability of the authorities. The need of the hour is to ensure a free and fair probe into the matter, listen to the voice of the victim’s family and acknowledge that in a free and democratic society like ours, the lives of Dalits matter. It is his time that institutional discrepancies and apathy are replaced with action and speedy justice. Justice for the Hathras gang-rape victim must become the central demand of India’s people at the moment and the society as a collective must launch a sustained fight against the brutalisation and victimisation of Dalits in the country. 

 

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