By Pallavi Ghosh:
In Shahajhanapur’s Hareva village in Uttar Pradesh five Dalit women were forced out of their houses, stripped and paraded naked on the streets this Tuesday on May 18, 2015. The dispute arose over the elopement of an OBC girl with a Dalit boy in the village.
The parents of the girl allegedly went to Santosh Kumar’s – a boy belonging to the Dhanuk caste – house along with 14 other caste members demanding them to return their daughter. Sarvesh Kumar Kashyap has accused the Dalit boy of kidnapping his daughter while she had gone to an agricultural field with her mother.
Parading these Dalit women naked through the streets once again highlights how women and their bodies have been marked as sites for appropriation. Entwined with this is the issue of ‘consent’ and agency women have, regarding their own lives. It is another instance of how women’s bodies become instruments of control in daily lives. It also shows how even caste- based violence, which is at times treated as an isolated discriminatory practice, is not in fact separated from gender discrimination; it is indeed another arena where power relations are re-defined in terms of gender.
The 15 OBC men thought it was their right to punish the Dalit women by using their bodies as objects of public humiliation or dishonour, not only for themselves, but also for their families and community. This is despite the possibility that Santosh’s family might be equally in the dark about the alleged conspiracy and thus, in the same position as the girl’s family.
Neither is the approach towards the eloped girl- believed to be their own from the caste perspective, any different as it re-enacts the need to regulate women’s bodies through punishment and claims of ownership.
The girl, being a minor, raises immediate concerns regarding consent that make any union-sexual, marital or both, illegal and criminal under Sections 354 and 362of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). As a result of this, any consent given on the part of the girl stands legally nullified. Further it also provides legal sanction to conduct criminal procedure against the boy. Even the police investigations focusing on rescuing the girl seem to be weighted against the boy. This is despite the possibility that the couple might have indeed eloped together with consent. And herein lies the problem with ‘consent’ in our society.
According to a recent finding by The Hindu on sexual assault cases filed in six of Delhi’s district courts, it was revealed that 40 per cent of the cases involved elopement of a young couple, wherein charges of rape were subsequently levelled against the boy by the girl’s parents.
Even where consent has been established by witness accounts, parental and social pressure often tend to make them turn hostile and retract their consent. Displacement of individuals and subsequent psychological disorders amongst such young couples are, thus, understandable given the series of challenging circumstances they face. Moreover, the issue of consent is altogether silent with regard to marital rape, which is still not considered a crime according to the Indian legal system.
Both the law and the investigation are operating from a pre-supposed position of a necessary violation – with its own definition of what is considered to be violation and what is not, of the woman’s body by the man. The issue of the woman’s probable consent, thus, takes a backseat during the entire procedure of conflict resolution.