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How The UP And Haryana Gang-Rape Highlight Rampant Caste Discrimination, Lack Of Toilets And Poverty

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By Anshul Tewari:

There’s a slim chance that you were not exposed to the brutal images of the two minor girls who were gang-raped and hanged from a tree in a village in Uttar Pradesh’s Badaun district. The girls, cousins, were on their way to a nearby field, which the villagers used as a toilet due to the lack of one in their own village. “I always keep my girls’ safety in mind. I always accompany her and other girls in the family to the field. But that evening I had to help my husband in tending some animals so I let them go on their own. I asked them to be quick.”, told the mother of one of the girls to BBC’s Divya Arya.

Villagers stare at the hanging bodies of the two minors raped in Uttar Pradesh.
Villagers stare at the hanging bodies of the two minors raped in Uttar Pradesh.

The parents of the girls and the local villagers, belonging to a Dalit community, claimed that this was another case of rampant caste discrimination that they have to go through. When the parents reported the case to the police, the cops ridiculed them for their lower caste. When questioned by a journalist about rampant violence in the state, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Akhilesh Yadav shot back, saying, “Aapko toh khatra nahin hua? (it’s not as if you faced any danger?)“.

A similar incident occurred in Bhagana village in Haryana, where on 23rd March, 2014, 3 minor girls belonging to a Dalit community were sedated and raped by a group of higher caste Jat men. The girls were on their way to the nearby fields to relieve themselves.

What these incidents, and many like these point towards is the high degree of caste discrimination and conflict in states like Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, and rape as a tool of oppression and power used by men from upper castes on women from lower castes. As Neha Dixit points out in her report in New York Times, “The tensions (between Dalits and Jats) manifested themselves through Dalit women remaining in Bhagana. Many girls were harassed at school and chose to stay home, including three of those who reported they had been raped in March.” The report also points at the long-going disturbance between the upper and the lower caste communities in Haryana and how violence on the lower caste is rampant there. Divya Arya’s interview with the local villagers in UP where the most recent case occurred points at the same.

Since ages, Dalits have been subject to discrimination in India by upper castes, who often harass, rape and even murder people from lower castes over disputes of property, land and often, just to prove a point and dominate power. The local police authorities often take side of the upper caste people, who are more influential and powerful. In the UP case as well, the girl’s father, who is a farm labourer, was harassed for his low-caste status when he approached the police. “The first thing I was asked was my caste. When I told them they started abusing me,” he told Divya Arya of BBC.

Uttar Pradesh and Haryana still remain divided on caste lines, and the political situation furthers the divide with every politician tapping to cash in votes. In the UP case as well, all the main accused are from the influential Yadav upper caste, including the two constables who were suspended for inaction in this case, and for taking the side of the culprits.

Caste is not the only issue at hand here. In both these cases, the common thread lies in the fact that the girls had to defecate in the open and travel to a field away from their village to relieve themselves. Open defecation remains a rampant issue in India, with more mobile phones than toilets in Indian households. Women and girls face shame and a loss of personal dignity and safety risk if there is no toilet at home. They have to wait for the night to relieve themselves to avoid being seen by others, and even then, they are faced with harassment extremely often. Apart of being one of the biggest contribution to the deplorable sanitation conditions in India, lack of toilets also creates an unsafe environment for women and girls.

Over half of India’s more than a billion population does not have access to toilets, and the problem becomes much worse for rural women, specially during menstrual cycles. To top it all, poverty in these communities means that they cannot get toilets built at home.

Protests broke out in Delhi demanding action on the cases.
Protests broke out in Delhi demanding action on the cases.

India has had the dubious distinction of being known globally for its rape culture. A culture whose building has been formulated due to our deep rooted patriarchy and discrimination to a level now where rape has become a tool to showcase power and dominance over women, and over those of lower castes. The response of politicians and decision makers still remains abysmal on this issue. Addressing a rally in Moradabad in April, Mulayam Singh Yadav, father of UP Chief Akhilesh Yadav and premier of the Samajvadi Party had said, “Ladkiyan pehle dosti karti hain. Ladke-ladki mein matbhed ho jata hai. Matbhed hone key baad usey rape ka naam dey deti hain. Ladko sey galti ho jati hai. Kya rape case mein phansi di jayegi? (First, girls and boys become friends. Then, when differences occur between them, the girls accuse boys of rape. Boys may make mistakes, but should they be hanged for it?)”. His loathe-worthy comment points towards how little our leaders understand sexual violence and how their ignorance towards something so rampant and serious has taken over any possibility of a solution.

Gender rights activists note that such incidents are very common, and are often accompanied with attempts to intimidate witnesses, or family of the victims. Police often sides with the richer or more powerful, usually the perpetrator and tries to shun the case.

In 2012, the UPA led Government at the center became known to have badly handled the 16th December rape case, which also led to one of the largest youth protests the country has ever seen. The peaceful protesters were incited, beaten and jailed for demanding justice for the horrifying rape case.

As protests broke out in Delhi and many other parts of the country, the lack of Government remains not only towards growing gender violence, but also towards the harmful gender discrimination that fuels violence and abuse as a form of creating dominance and asserting power. There is a pressing need to act on the appalling situation of sanitation for women, rampant caste divide and no safety for India’s women – unless we are competing for tragedy.

To know more about what I think, follow me on Twitter @anshul_tewari.

You must be to comment.
  1. Saem Hashmi

    The rape cases not only highlight caste discrimination but also brings into light the failure of policy implications (Nirmal Bharat Abhiyaan) and the various laws given out by the government to abolish the caste system and untouchability. The recent ratification of the Untouchability Bill and improvement have yet again shown off the loop holes and the lack of seriousness that the state and its institutions have over such practices.

  2. Monistaf

    Can we please not refer to them as “upper” / “higher” vs lower castes. Those words have connotations that one is better than the other.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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