Hathras and Balrampur Rape Case: The intertwining factors behind the Structural violence against Dalit Women
This post is written by Arshia Sekhri, 2nd year BBA LL.B, OP Jindal Global University.
In Uttar Pradesh, Manisha Valmiki a Dalit woman was reportedly tortured, abused and raped by four Thakur men in Hathras. She struggled for her life for two weeks before succumbing to her injuries in Safdarjung Hospital, Delhi. The assault on her body, however, continues ever after her death. The brutal way in which the UP Police deprived the victim’s family’s to cremate her body deserves the highest denunciation. Just after 24 hours after she was wrongfully cremated a 22-year old girl of Balrampur, UP has met with the same fate and died after succumbing to her injuries. What is much worse than the wrongdoing of the police is that the narrative spun by individuals who frame the incident only as a gender- based violence and not as a caste atrocity.
The violent sexual offences against Dalit women is being portrayed as isolated cases of crimes rather than brutal crimes which are a bi product of systematic and deeply ingrained misogyny and casteism, reflecting the prevalent casteist mindsets. It is extremely important to recognize that there are a variety of intersecting factors resulting in this form of systemic violence like institutions, identity, cultures, creed and hierarchies. Women are not a homogeneous group, they are impacted differently by different forces like the power of caste, class, ethnicity, faith and race. Dalit women’s social position is at the lowest level of the caste, gender and class hierarchy which results in various kinds of prejudices and targeted violence being faced by them. Caste-based sexual harassment is not just a crime involving a male and female. Offences like rape and other forms of sexual abuse are intended to show caste dominance to teach a lesson to affirm that Dalits do not have a place in the mainstream society. For
Instance in 2015, an all-male village council in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, ordered two Dalit sisters( 23 and 15 years respectively) to be raped, and paraded naked with their faces blackened as a punishment for their brother eloping with a married woman of the dominant Jat caste.
As per the NCRB report of 2019, approximately 10 Dalit women are raped each day in the country with the Uttar Pradesh recording the highest number of cases amongst all the other states. This figure is likely to be a substantial undercount as the data is not disaggregated by caste or religion for the overall number of cases of sexual assault, thus the exact number of females from marginalized backgrounds reporting sexual assault and harassment remains undisclosed. Often due to the fear of increased retaliation from the dominant caste, such cases aren’t even registered.
Similarly, in the Hathras rape case, reports indicate that the police originally did not want to file a case against the four suspects, all of whom belong to the dominant caste of Thakur. The presence of caste- based discrimination in the village that continues to practice untouchability was rejected by a member of the ruling party, denied that the incident of gang- rape had occurred in Hathras.
The real question that lies here is on whose conduct was the police acting on? The structural punishment of abusing the dignity and rights of Dalit women and the social capital and networks of immunity that are leveraged by men from the dominant castes is appalling. Thus, when individuals say that they don’t need to mention or discuss caste, they don’t realize that it affects the gender dynamics. These factors make Dalit women more prone to sexual harassment and assault.
In the cases like these, sexual harassment is mainly the product of Saravana men claiming the bodies of Dalit women are solely their property. Historically, this has occurred, and it continues to take place in many villages where Dalit women working in the fields of dominant caste families are not only workers but are also considered to be sexual slaves of their male employer. Secondly, such crimes happen because criminals enjoy a sense of impunity that they can walk freely after committing such a heinous crime because of their privileged caste.
Dalit women contribute to suffer in denial of their fundamental rights despite constitutional protection as well as special laws such as the Scheduled caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. The state has repeatedly refused to provide Dalit women with even the most basic security. Justice and accountability appear to be elusive and remote. The roadblocks lie in proportional access to justice and preventive action as well as restorative justice, all of which are important for addressing the underlying causes of structural circumstances and state’s apathy that allows for sexual assault, harassment and targeted violence against Dalit women. Thus, at every point in this case (Hathra case) the derogation of rights and the violation of law and protocols are clearly visible. The sanctioning of barbarism, the lack of due diligence by law enforcement agencies and the assurance of impunity illustrates the importance of acknowledging the structural injustice and abuse faces by Dalit women differently from women of non- Dalit background.